View Full Version : Laudanum

Jeb Hawthorn
07-21-2007, 03:11 PM

For my companies upcoming living history, I've been working on a reproduction label for a bottle of laudanum. I'd like to run it by you experts and see what you have to say. Much thanks. http://i15.photobucket.com/albums/a384/sidvicious21/resized.jpg

07-21-2007, 05:17 PM
That label is post-war. The label would not have poison symbols on it; nor would it be in color, nor instructions. Any directions would be written out on the prescription label, or what ever doctor's notes included. The laudanum bottle would simply have "Tinc. opii" and the manufacturer's name on it, black and white. Cork sealed flush with the top of the bottle, and a paper cover tied over the top.

07-21-2007, 11:13 PM

I concur with Noah. In our period, less is more. :grin:

Something simple as:

Tunc. Opii

T.S. Kindred, Chemist
Atlanta & Charleston

Then hand the patient a hand-written set of directions on a slip of paper. It was quite common to find these directions simply tied to the bottle, or affixed with a thin string or thread to the neck.


07-22-2007, 05:38 AM
. . .Paregoric, not laudanum.

It also depends on your situation. Is this laudanum purchased retail from an apothecary, then included in a Aid Society/USSC shipment? Mailed from home?

Here is what I wrote up in my pharmacy notes on laudanum and its cousin, paregoric. Peregoric is what you need for your scenario, as it is a more accessible to the general public OTC than straight laudanum.

92. Tinctura Opii (Laudanum)
DESCRIPTION: Reddish-brown liquid
USE: Stimulant narcotic; pain relief (anodyne)
LOOK-ALIKE: cola syrup with a dash of anise oil
Dose: Variable, 10 minums to a fluidounce

T.O. (as it was sometimes abbreviated in prescriptions) was used as the catch-all for basic pain relief. It was a powerful anodyne- a few drops were all that was needed to help combat pain. It was frequently dispensed using a glass dropper from the prescription bottle into a glass of water.

Among its many uses in the home -

It was rubbed on infant’s gums to combat teething pains.
women used it to relieve the pain and bloating from “female complaints” (PMS).
Relieved basic rheum pains.
Relieved basic headaches.

T.O. was administered right before major surgery to help relax the patient and prevent him/her from becoming too excited before s/he was anesthetized.

Wayne Bethard Lotions, Potions and Deadly Elixirs, page 188:
Opium had a very offensive, snuffy, and bitter taste. Suspending it in alcohol made it even worse. The main advantage to putting opium in whiskey was that the alcohol dissolved the narcotic constituents of the plant so it was more readily absorbed; and too, alcohol acted like a preservative to keep the opium “actively” fresh. Laudanum was little more than a . . . tincture of opium. Each lot varied in strength with the alcohol and form of the drug used.

Most laudanum contained the equivalent of ten grams of powdered or gum opium in four ounces of 80 proof liquor (the standard 40 to 50 percent content of most rotgut whiskeys of the period). The dose of this concentration was fifteen to twenty drops, which was less than one milliliter, or roughly a quarter of a teaspoonful. Most laudanum was sold in dropper bottles and dosed by by the dropper or fractions thereof depending on its delivery volume.

Laudanum is still available as a Schedule II controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration. It is not prescribed all that often today. See 71. Pilulæ Opii for more information on the effects of the opium in laudanum. (Last thing on this response.)

93. Tinctura Opii et Camphorata (Paregoric Elixir)
DESCRIPTION: Brownish-green liquid
USE: antispasmodic, diarrhea, nausea
LOOK-ALIKE: green sugar crystals, freeze dried coffee, licorice flavoring, peppermint oil and water
Dose: One to two teaspoonfuls four times daily, or once every six hours (as needed).

Bethard, page 190:
Paregoric, (1715 to date) also known as Camphorae composita tinctura, Tinctura opii benzoica, and Paregoricum elixir in British pharmacopioeas, was a camphorated opium tincture prepared by cold maceration of powdered opium (4.3 grams), anise oil (3.8 grams), benzoic acid (3.8 grams), and camphor (3.8 grams) for five days, occasionally shaking, in diluted alcohol, (nine hundred milliliters) and glycerine (thirty-eight milliliters). The resulting concotion was filtered and enough alcohol added to make the total volume 950 milliliters. Paregoric was (and still is) used for diarrhea, stomach cramps and coughs. The usual dose is one to two teaspoonfuls four times daily. Paregoric has a bittersweet, licorice-like odor and taste. In frontier times it was a popular sugartit additive for colic in babies. . .

You could say paregoric was the “light beer” of laudanum, because the medicine strength did not pack the same medicinal anodyne punch laudanum did. Paregoric is still available as a DEA Schedule II controlled substance. See 71. Pilulæ Opii for more information on the effects of the opium in paregoric.

71. Pilulæ Opii (Opium Pills)
DESCRIPTION: dark brown
USE: sedative, pain relief
LOOK-ALIKE: whole allspice
Dose: Pills ranged in doses from one to three grains. One grain will keep you comfortably and socially numb for about four hours or so, assuming you have not built up a significant resistance to it yet. Doses and prescriptions are listed in Henry Beasley's 2900 Precriptions from pp. 251 – 260.

Bear in mind you can use opium as a powder or as a liquid as well, even though the description is listed under “opium pills”.

Mmmm, opium pills. It’s the best pain reliever known. Remember, these were labeled “stimulants” by the experts of the day, and their narcotic effect was considered secondary. Given internally in moderate doses, it actually promotes some excitement - quickening of the pulse, and flushing of the skin. Then sopoforic/anodyne phase, then depressed debilative phase - wanting to sleep, diminished senses and so on. Therefore it can be contraindicated in high state or inflammatory excitement.

Opium abates or banishes pain if present. It relaxes the muscles and decreases the secretions of the bowels (aka, “it dries up yer squirts”) but increases the skin, causing some sweating. Good for the promotion of sleep in excitable states like delrium tremens. Powerful antspasmodic for tetanus, colic and urethral spasms. Good for quieting coughs, or for tenesmus or strangurg. Continual small doses leads to opium eating (addiction), and OD leads to coma and death. (Evans) Laudanum (Tinctura Opii) was used when the effects were desired faster.

Beasley, page 251-
Opium is perhaps the most important drug in the whole Materia medica. It is the half-dried juice obtained by cutting the unripe capsule of the White or Eastern Poppy, papaver somniferum (Nat. Ord. Papaveraceæ). There are many kinds of Opium in commerce. The Turkey or Smyrna Opium, which occurs in small, irregular masses, covered outside with the capsules of a species of dock, is of excellent quality, and generally preferred. The various kinds of Opium produced in India are also very good.

Opium applied externally acts as a sedative, lulling pain. Given internally in moderate doses it first produces some excitement, quickening of the pulse and heat of skin. This effect is quickly followed by a tendency to sleep, and a diminution of sensibility. It abates or banishes pain if present. It diminishes irritation and relaxes the muscular system. It diminishes the secretion of the bowels but increases that of the skin, acting as a sudorific. Taken internally in small doses, it causes a kind of intoxication, as in opium-eaters. Taken in a over-large dose, it is a dangerous narcotic poison, causing deep sleep, with contraction of the pupil of the eye, succeeded by coma and death.

When not contra-indicated, it is the best anodyne and sudorific with which we are aquainted. A state of high fever or inflammation forbids its use, as its primary operation is that of a stimulant. It is seldom given when there is a parched tongue and dry skin. In most cases of great pain or irritation, in moderate fever with a moist skin and no cerebral disorder, in delerium tremens, in cancer, - in bronchitis, combined with camphor and ipecacuanha (as in Paregoric and Dover’s Powder), - opium may be prescribed. It is given to check the discharge in dysentery and diarrhea, as a diaphoretic in may cases, and as an antispasmodic in convulsive disorders. It may be combined with calomel [blue mass] in severe inflammations, as pleurisy; and Dr. Graves gives it in fevers with tartar emetic.

In cases of poisoning by opium, the stomach-pump should first be used, or an emetic of sulphate of zinc given; the patient must be kept awake by continual walking between attendants; after the vomiting, cold water may be poured on the face and chest, and an infusion of gall-nuts given, followed by brandy and coffee. Artificial respiration may succeed where all other means have failed.