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Laudanum
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Laudanum

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

In the 16th century, a Swiss physician name Paracelsus (1493-1541) 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". 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 prescibed for ailments from colds to meningitis to cardiac diseases in both adults and children.

The Victorian era was marked by the widespread use and abuse of laudanum in England, Europe and the United States. Initially a working class drug (it 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); it gained wider popularity, including among literary figures (de Quincey, Byron, Shelley, Coleridge, and Dickens) and politicians (Wilberforce).

See also: paregoric.


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