Although we commonly consider drug addiction and abuse a modern world problem, it began in far earlier times. The 16th century discovery of laudanum by alchemist Paracelus, and its subsequent rediscovery in 1660 by English physician Thomas Sydenham set the stage for the opium trade of the following centuries.Share
The name laudanum comes from the Latin verb laudare -- to praise. The tincture was widely praised for its ability to relieve pain, cough and diarrhea. By the 18th century, George Young published his Treatise on Opium, a text that exalted the virtues of laudanum and recommended the drug for a broad range of ailments. In an era when cholera and dysentery regularly ripped through communities, killing victims with diarrhea, and dropsy, consumption, ague and rheumatism were all too common, laudanum’s popularity is easy to understand.
By the 19th century laudanum was also recommended to promote sleep, reduce anxiety, check secretions as well as treat colds, meningitis, cardiac disease, yellow fever and relieve the discomfort of menstrual cramps. Nursery maids even gave it to colicky infants. (Read more.)