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 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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13 Responses to Laudanum, an Old Fashioned Pain Killer

  1. Cody says:

    I wish it was the 1800.s I.SUFFER From severe migraines on a daily basis to the point where my prescription percocetes don’t even work at all.

    • JoAnn says:

      I’m in a pain management clinic and have daily migraines. I am on a cocktail of Norco or Vicodin and Fioricet. One of the medications almost catches it, but both together do. I’ve also been told not to drink caffeine. But, if you notice, most migraine medication has caffeine. Have a strong cup of coffee. I’ve had the migraines for over 30 years and have been on every mood elevator, doggie downer, blood thinner, supposed migraine medication, sumatriptans, etc. I’m sure you’re getting the picture. The medication cocktail seems to work. They are trying to get me to do Botox, but I will not do that. (If you notice on the commercials, they are advertising it for migraines and diarrhea-is the a general catchall medication that has to be repeated every 3 months). I don’t like needles

      • Niels says:

        Both my wife and mother in law suffered from severe migraine. They removed sugar from their diëts completely and haven’t suffered since!
        Sugar is added to nearly all products now a days, so it takes some effort…

  2. Help says:

    Cody, see if your doctor will switch you to Norco. It worked better for my back pain.

  3. D.L. Clark says:

    Ask your Doctor about you trying Morphine. You will need to go to a Pain Management Doctor.

  4. Delores says:

    Notice is better than being addicted to this cocktail, trust me you are harming you brain, liver, kidneys, and who knows what else.

    • R.Raines says:

      Okay. Let’s have a small but much needed conversation about your comment. People who live in constant chronic pain are known to have a greater chance of an early death. Chronic pain verses a pain medication schedule that helps you to live a somewhat better life enjoying some pleasures with your kids, grandchildren, friends, ect….. No one should ever fear a pain medication regimen because their afraid of liver damage and others you mentioned. The real truth is, it’s a known fact that chronic pain alone without any help with meds is extremely hard on the heart and will also cause withdrawal from family and friends because deep down no one wants to see a loved one suffer so you begin to slowly die if not from the pain then usually by suicide because one can only take so much. Please note that I’m speaking about chronic pain and it WILL kill you before any pain medication will especially if you take what’s allowed and don’t abuse it!!!! So your comment is completely ignorant. And I’ve been on the same regimen from my oncologist first and pain management for 2 decades and my liver is fine!! Mind you, I DON’T drink and live a healthy lifestyle. Thank God that everyone doesn’t think like you or I would have been dead along time ago and I’m only 50 years old.

      • Jane says:

        No one understands chronic pain unless they have had it. It is a completely different animal than pain. Not even related.

      • PJ says:

        You should have been a little more nice when explaining that to Delores, she is probably not ignorant just not educated on the facts smh lol people who don’t have or know about chronic pain probably can’t relate to what you are fedling and she just thought she was being helpful…no need to be so snippy about it lol dang. However, I agree with you as I have always said its QUALITY of life not QUANTITY. If I have to live in pain, what would be the point?

      • So right! Because many people abuse these drugs doctors are terrified to give them. My opinion is that doctors need to stop trying to see a patient every 10 mins and do proper follow up on their patients. The truth is if you have daily intense pain you don’t give a hoot about liver damage down the road. I have had migraines where I wished I would just pass out and not wake up ever until it was gone. The current fashion of withholding meds is outrageous. Doctors make too much money and seem to care about it more than their patients. Don’t bother defending doctors because I know what they make and it is obscene.

  5. IYoung says:

    Pain management specialist. I was given the infamous cocktail in shot form. Mine was so bad I couldn’t walk I was crawling in the doctors office. It would take two shots to get relief.

    I researched migraine triggers. I’m still a chronic migraine sufferer but if I wake up with one it’s coffee or Mountain Dew. Then, I take Excedrine Migraine. My doctor is fine if it works because I have other health problems.

    Also, watch Chinese food, chocolate, sour cream and anything with MSG. Major triggers.

  6. katherine says:

    Relief from migraine headaches can be treated by taking 200 mg of vitamin B2 twice a day

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