Laudanum, an Old Fashioned Pain Killer

If you were to go back to the late 1800’s you would find laudanum being sold without a prescription over the Old-fashioned medicinal Laudanum bottle

counter. It was commonly used as a painkiller, cough suppressant and for the treatment of diarrhea. Laudanum is a tincture of opium and highly addictive.

Until the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914 restricted the manufacture and distribution of opiates, including laudanum, and coca derivatives in the US, you could purchase it almost anywhere without a prescription.

Today it is not normally used for medical purposes, although it has a proven record as a pain reliever. The possession or distribution of opium and laudanum are serious felonies, and I am in no way suggesting that you grow opium poppies or make laudanum.

However, for informational purposes only I am going to give you several old formulas that I found for the manufacture of laudanum. The first three formulas are copied from an 1890 publication:

(1) Sydenham’s Laudanum “According to the Paris Codex this is prepared as follows: opium, 2 ounces; saffron, 1 ounce; bruised cinnamon and bruised cloves, each 1 drachm (18 ounce); sherry wine, 1 pint. Mix and macerate for 15 days and filter. Twenty drops are equal to one grain of opium.”

(2) Rousseau’s Laudanum: “Dissolve 12 ounces white honey in 3 pounds warm water, and set it aside in a warm place. When fermentation begins add to it a solution of 4 ounces selected opium in 12 ounces water. Let the mixture stand for a month at a temperature of 86° Fahr.; then strain, filter, and evaporate to 10 ounces; finally strain and add 4½ ounces proof alcohol. Seven drops of this preparation contain about 1 grain of opium.”

(3) Tincture of Opium (Laudanum), U.S.P., attributed to the United States Pharmacoepia of 1863: “Macerate 2½ ounces opium, in moderately fine powder in 1 pint water for 3 days, with frequent agitation. Add 1 pint alcohol, and macerate for 3 days longer. Percolate, and displace 2 pints tincture by adding dilute alcohol in the percolator.”

Opium tincture is still used occasional for the treatment of severe fulminant diarrhea that does not respond to standard therapy (e.g., Imodium or Lomotil). The usual dose is 0.3 mL to 0.6 mL (about six to 12 drops) in a glass of water or juice four times a day.

The following is a Civil war recipe from “Dr. Chase’s Recipes” by A.W. Chase, M.D. 1874.

Laudanum.-Best Turkey opium, 1 oz.; slice, and pour upon it boiling water, 1 gill (1/4 pint), and work it in a bowl or mortar until it is dissolved; then pour it into the bottle, and with alcohol of 76 per cent proof, 1/2 pt., rinse the dish, adding the alcohol to the preparation, shaking well, and in 24 hours it will be ready for use. Dose — Form 10 to 30 drops for adults, according to the strength of the patient, or severity of the pain.

Thirty drops of this laudanum will be equal to one grain of opium.  And this is a much better way to prepare it than putting the opium into the alcohol, or any other spirits alone, for in that case much of the opium does not dissolve.”

The best information I have been able to find on dosages is as follows. The usual starting dose for laudanum in adults is 1.5 mL by mouth every 3 to 4 hours, representing the equivalent of 15 mg (approximately 1/4 grain) of morphine per dose. Opioid-tolerant patients may require higher than normal dosing. There is a danger of overdose in treating pain with opium tincture.

Again, I want to warn you about the dangers of trying to make or use laudanum or any other opium products. The dangers are both legal and physical. The misuse of opium products can kill you. Even in a severe emergency like TEOTWAWKI I would not recommend using laudanum without competent medical advice.

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