Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Have a cold?

Or how about a terrible bowel complaint, or, like William Wilberforce, the famous British abolitionist, ulcerative colitis?

Then your nineteenth century doctor prescribes... opium!

Yes, opium, of indeterminate age, size or quantity, taken in granular form (or laudanum, a tincture of opium) so that one can never entirely control one's intake. Wilberforce himself took four grains three times a day for most of his life, and, despite the fact that he was hooked on narcotics, once remarked, "If I take but a single glass of wine, I can feel its effect, but I never know when I have taken my dose of opium by my feelings."

Wilberforce cannot be entirely held accountable for his addiction to opiates, as it was a standard treatment "to mitigate pain, to allay spasm, to promote sleep, to relieve nervous restlessness, to produce perspiration and to check profuse mucous discharges from the bronchial tubes and gastro-intestinal canal."

Gentle Readers, keep this remedy in mind the next time you or a friend wishes to check profuse mucous discharges from the gastro-intestinal canal.


  1. Opium was one of the milder remedies of that era. I've seen old ads touting the virtues of arsenic, strychnine, hashish, cocaine...good for whatever ails you!

    When reading 19th and early 20th century papers, it's not at all uncommon to find stories announcing the tragic death of someone who accidentally killed themselves with the contents of their medicine cabinet. Although I suspect in years to come, our descendants will think of some of our current remedies (such as chemotherapy) in a similar light.

  2. I'm always fascinated about the changes in medicine- Willian Wilberforce is one of my favorite figures from the period and I'm always stumbling across very... interesting descriptions of the goods of opium. One certainly doesn't see those today.