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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

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


In the 16th century, Paracelsus 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, or from labdanum, the term for a plant extract. 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".[1] The limited pharmacopoeia of the day meant that opium derivatives were among the most efficacious of available treatments, and so laudanum was widely prescribed for ailments from colds to meningitis to cardiac diseases, in both adults and children. Laudanum was used during the yellow fever epidemic.

The Romantic and Victorian eras were marked by the widespread use of laudanum in Europe and the United States. Initially a working class drug, laudanum was cheaper than a bottle of gin or wine, because it was treated as a medication for legal purposes and not taxed as an alcoholic beverage. Literary figures of note who used laudanum include:

Political figures who used the drug included George Washington, William Wilberforce and Meriwether Lewis.

Innumerable Victorian women were prescribed the drug for relief of menstrual cramps and vague aches and used it to achieve the pallid complexion associated with tuberculosis (frailty and paleness were particularly prized in females at the time)[citation needed]. Nurses also spoon-fed laudanum to infants. The Pre-Raphaelite muse Elizabeth Siddal died of a laudanum overdose.

Depictions in fiction




  • In the Hornblower television movies "The Mutiny" and "Retribution", Dr. Clive (played by David Rintoul) freely dispensed laudanum to injured or beaten seamen, to the mentally unstable Captain Sawyer (played by David Warner), and to himself.
  • In an episode of the Little House on the Prairie television series titled "Blizzard", several children are experiencing pain in their hands and feet as they are warmed up in the schoolhouse after suffering from partial hypothermia and frostbite. To help them with the pain, Dr. Baker issues laudanum, but "just half a teaspoon!".
  • In episode seven of the first season of Bramwell, Lady Cora Peters (played by actress Michele Dotrice) suffered acute stomach pains which turned out to be appendicitis inaccurately diagnosed as tifilitis by her doctor who prescribed a small bottle of laudanum to ease her pain.


  • laudanum is the french electronic project of Matthieu Malon who releases several singles & also 2 albums with that name : system:on in 2002 & your place & time will be mine in 2006. his myspace page & his label.
  • Avec Laudenum is the title of the fifth release by the ambient group Stars of the Lid.
  • "Laudanum" is the title of the fifth track on the CD Wholesale Meats and Fish by Letters to Cleo.
  • Laudanum is mentioned in the song "The Legionnaire's Lament" by The Decemberists.
  • Laudanum is the name of a song by Montreal Guitar Prodigy Domininc Cifarelli's "The Chronicles of Israfel"
  • Laudanum is also mentioned in the song "The Byronic Man" by British band Cradle of Filth on their 2006 album, Thornography.
  • Laudanum and Poitín are mentioned in the song "The Snake With Eyes of Garnet" by Shane MacGowan (Shane MacGowan and The Popes) on his 1994 album, The Snake.
  • Laudanum is used by the character Mrs. Sedley in Benjamin Britten's opera, Peter Grimes.
  • "Halcion laudanum and Opium" is a line in Josh Ritter's song "Thin Blue Flame".
  • In the song "I Met Everybody I Knew" by Mark Sheridan, he describes his ennui with life and wishes to end it with laudanum

Today's status

Laudanum is still available by prescription in the United States. It is classified as a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act. Its most common formulation is known as "deodorized tincture of opium", (or DTO), and is manufactured in the United States by Ranbaxy Pharmaceuticals. Deodorized or "denarcotized" opium means that narcotine, one of the most prevalent alkaloids in opium, has been removed, usually by a petroleum distillate. Narcotine has no analgesic properties, and frequently causes nausea and stomach upset; hence the preference for denarcotized opium[citation needed].

The only medically-approved uses for laudanum in the United States are for treating diarrhea and pain. Laudanum, as deodorized opium tincture, contains the equivalent of 10 milligrams of morphine per milliliter. By contrast, laudanum's weaker cousin, paregoric, also known as camphorated tincture of opium, is 1/25th the strength of laudanum, containing only 0.4 milligrams of morphine per milliliter. Caution should be employed so as not to confuse opium tincture (laudanum) and camphorated opium tincture (paregoric), since overdose may occur if the former is used when the latter has been indicated. The United States Pharmacopia recommends that the abbreviation "DTO" never be used in place of "deodorized tincture of opium", since DTO is sometimes employed to abbreviate "diluted tincture of opium", which is a 1:25 dilution of opium tincture and water commonly employed to treat withdrawal symptoms in neonates.[3] Further, paregoric's synonym "camphorated tincture of opium" should not be used, since it could easily be confused with "tincture of opium" or "deodorized tincture of opium."

The usual adult dosage of laudanum for the treatment of diarrhea is 0.6 mL (equivalent to 6 mg of morphine) four times a day. There is no maximum dose; refractory cases (e.g. diarrhea associated with AIDS) may require doses as high as 4 mL (equivalent to 40 mg of morphine) every three hours.[citation needed]

See also


  1. Potter, Sam'l O. L. "Opium". A Compend of Materia Medica, Therapeutics, and Prescription Writing. Retrieved 2007-10-13.
  2. 10.1023 Gabler Edition
  3. "Hazard Alert! Recurring Consusion Between Tincture of Opium and Paregoric". Institute for Safe Medication Practices. Retrieved 2007-10-13.

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