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Laudanum

From Academic Kids

Laudanum is an alcoholic tincture of opium, sometimes sweetened with sugar and also called wine of opium.

In the 16th century, a Swiss physician named Paracelsus (14931541) experimented with the medical value of opium. He decided that its medical (analgesic) value was of such magnitude that he called it Laudanum, from the Latin laudare, to praise, or from labdanum, the term for a plant extract. He did not know of its addictive properties.

In the 19th century, laudanum was used in many patent medicines to "relieve pain... to produce sleep... to allay irritation... to check excessive secretions... to support the system... [and] as a sudorific". The lack of any genuine treatments meant that opium derivatives were one of the few substances that had any effect, and so laudanum was prescribed for ailments from colds to meningitis to cardiac diseases, in both adults and children.

The Romantic and Victorian eras were marked by the widespread use of laudanum in England, Europe and the United States. Initially a working class drug, laudanum was cheaper than a bottle of gin or wine, because it was treated as a medication for legal purposes, not taxed as an alcoholic beverage. Notable addicted literary figures include: Coleridge, who miserably battled his addiction for much of his adult life; de Quincey; Byron; Shelley, who suffered raging laudanum-induced hallucinations; Dickens; Lewis Carroll and Baudelaire. There were also political figures (Wilberforce, Meriwether Lewis) who used the drug.

Innumerable Victorian women were prescribed the drug for relief of menstrual cramps and vague aches, and used it to achieve the pallid complexion associated with tuberculosis (frailty and paleness were prized in females at the time). Nurses spoon-fed laudanum to infants, many of whom mysteriously died from overdoses.

The character of Oscar Hopkins in Peter Carey's novel Oscar and Lucinda (1988) uses laudanum (initially under duress) to dull his hydrophobia during his expedition from Sydney.

Laudanum also features in historical fiction. In the Aubrey-Maturin series of novels (which starts with Master and Commander), the ship's surgeon, Stephen Maturin, both uses the drug professionally and battles his own addiction to it.


See also: Paregoric.



Laudanum is also the name of a Roman fortress in the Asterix comic books.


Children of Laudanum are a modern world music group from Canada who cite Coleridge, de Quincey, and other notable laudanum addicts as literary influences to their music.de:Laudanum fr:Laudanum io:Laudano

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