The infamous drug known as Laudanum (pronounced lôdnm) has made itself well known because of its uses and the art and literature that people have produced under its effects. The 'medicine' is a tincture of alcohol and opium that creates a powerful narcotic capable of sending the user hallucinating into a deep sleep. The drug's actual purposes include its ability to alleviate pain, aid insomnia, and reduce diarrhea. The opium would perform these actions by numbing the nerve bundles along the lining of the intestines and around the cranium. While the actual amount of laudanum meant for ingestion only accumulated to several drops, addiction of the drug became widespread since it was often self-medicated and thus heavy use ensued.

Many felt the Laudanum was a sociable and civilized way of relaxing during the late 1800's and a number of poets and authors found the drug wildly stimulating. Some poets such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning felt that she could only write under the effects Laudanum and others such as Poe and Coleridge believed that their bizarre creations only burst into their minds after taking their medicine and rapidly falling asleep. In fact, the hallucinations were so intense that poems like 'Kubla Khan', a rather trippy verse about a drug induced vision, by Coleridge resulted as the product of such dreams.

While this opiate operated as an anodyne, a source of inspiration, and social watermark, the prolong use and abuse led to the deaths of many. The drug's opium base remained one of the most sought forms of drugs and many bloody fights broke out on street corners and even between country boards over who should receive the shipments. Other forms of disorder came in the shape of opium smoke houses, which allowed people to come in anonymously and share a pipe of opium. These houses often contained prostitution and other heavy drugs such as heroin, which also grew in popularity during that time because it acted as a cheap alternative to morphine . Eventually, the Dangerous Drug Act passed in 1920 in the US made both heroin and opium illegal, which brought about a mainstream decline of the drug at least in America.

Lau"da*num (?), n. [Orig. the same wort as ladanum, ladbdanum: cf. F. laudanum, It. laudano, ladano. See Ladanum.]

Tincture of opium, used for various medical purposes.

A fluid ounce of American laudanum should contain the soluble matter of one tenth of an ounce avoirdupois of powdered opium with equal parts of alcohol and water. English laudanum should have ten grains less of opium in the fluid ounce. U. S. Disp.

Dutchman's laudanum Bot. See under Dutchman.

 

© Webster 1913.

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