What magical elixir could be recommended, in Victorian times, for conditions as wide ranging as infant teething discomfort, anxiety, loose stools, PMS, and insomnia? The answer, of course, was laudanum, the opium-derived narcotic painkiller, mood-lifter, and life destroyer of the ages.
God of Sleep... and Addiction
Laudanum contained all the opium alkaloids, including morphine and codeine. In order to make its bitter taste more palatable, it was often blended into a syrup which would contain vanilla, spices, sugar, and citrus. Barbara Hodgson, in her book, In the Arms of Morpheus: The Tragic History of Laudanum, Morphine, and Patent Medicines, says that "Opium, and after 1820, morphine, was mixed with everything imaginable: mercury, hashish, cayenne pepper, ether, chloroform, belladonna, whiskey, wine and brandy." Indeed, it was the combination of opium and alcohol which made it so effective, addictive, and deadly. Laudanum dulled or removed pain, produced vivid dreams, and led to deep and also disruptive sleep. There is good reason morphine is named after Morpheus, god of sleep.
Euphoria and Hallucinations
Pod, when lacerated weeps latex, or opium
For the downsides of its use, a brief reading of Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas de Quincey (free kindle copy here); he recounts the paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations he suffered, even while he consented to continue indulging his addiction.
Fame and Infamy
In the Victorian Era, laudanum was used world-round, particularly by artists, writers, and woman. The Encyclopedia of Psychotropic Plants claims that Edgar Allan Poe wrote most of his work while under its influence. Baudelaire, a sometimes collaborator with Poe published, a collection of poems entitled, The Flowers of Evil, which explored his experiences with opium. Mary Todd Lincoln was said to be addicted to laudanum, as was Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Like addicts of any ages, once in the grasps of the drug, it was hard to free oneself. Then, as now, certain people were more disposed to fall under the guile of opiates than others.
Although it is now highly regulated, laudanum does remain available even today, by prescription, in the US and the UK.
For more about Sandra Byrd's new Victorian Gothic Romance series, Daughters of Hampshire, including the first book, Mist of Midnight, please visit her website at http://www.sandrabyrd.com/