Thursday, February 7, 2013

Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Laudanum

Poetry, pain and opium in Victorian England.
Elizabeth Barrett began to take laudanum, a tincture of opium, for what is thought to have been a spinal injury at the age of fifteen. It is believed she continued to take it through two more serious illnesses in her early 30s (hemorrhaging of the lungs and some extended unspecified illness). It was almost impossible for her to stop it once she had begun it and it worked for and against her.

Laudanum is an alcoholic herbal preparation which contains about 10% opium; it is very bitter. It was used for many purposes, principally a pain reliever and cough suppressant. She took it for emotional and physical reasons: to slow her rushing heart and to help her sleep, to suppress the cough which could bring on bleeding. It became for her a general panacea. The drug was also used against menstrual cramps.

Laudanum was entirely uncontrolled in the Victorian era; few people took its side effects seriously. Bouts of euphoria were followed by bouts of depression, slurred speech, restlessness, poor concentration while withdrawal could produce muscular aches and abdominal cramps, agitation, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. But even infants were spoon fed laudanum and it was not until years after that people realized it was addictive. (Read entire post.)


Unknown said...

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julygirl said...

Sigmund Freud prescribed it to many of his patients. When he realized the dangers and the havoc it had wrecked on his patients he ceased his practice as a Medical Doctor and embarked on his career as a psychiatrist.