Paracelsus (1493-1541) was a Swiss-German alchemist who is still known by his adage 'Alle Dinge sind Gift und nichts ist ohne Gift, allein die Dosis macht es, dass ein Ding kein Gift ist' (All things are poison and nothing is without poison, only the dosage makes that a thing isn't poison) or shortened 'Sola dosis facit venenum' (The dose makes the poison).

During his studies he discovered that the alkaloids in opium are far more soluble in alcohol than in water. After much experimenting, Paracelsus found a specific tincture of opium that was of considerable use in reducing pain. He called this preparation 'laudanum', probably derived from the Latin verb laudare, which meant 'to praise'. It may even be that the name is a sort of equivalent to 'Eureka' (from Greek heureka) 'I have found (it),' supposedly shouted by Archimedes (ca 287-212 BC). Therefore it may all have started with the exclamation laudate Dominum ('praise the Lord').
While Paracelsus' medication contained all sorts of expensive ingredients, such as crushed pearls, saffron, nutmeg, musk and amber, only the opium and alcohol would have a 'therapeutic' effect. In Victorian times, the mixture consisted roughly of 10% opium and 90% alcohol. Reddish-brown of colour and extremely bitter, laudanum contained almost all the opium alkaloids, including morphine and codeine. Its high morphine concentration and alcohol make it a potent narcotic. While laudanum was historically used to treat a large variety of ailments, its principal use was as an analgesic.

Laudanum was the 'aspirin of the nineteenth century' and was widely used in Victorian households as a painkiller, recommended for a broad range of ailments including cough, diarrhea, rheumatism, 'women's troubles', cardiac disease and even delirium tremens. It was cheap: an ounce of laudanum would cost about the same as a pint of beer. It's most infamous use in Victorian Britain was as infants' quietener. Children were often given Godfrey's Cordial (also called Mother's Friend), consisting of opium, water, treacle, just to keep them quiet. The potion had detrimental effects and resulted in deaths and severe illnesses of countless babies and children. It was further recommended for colic diarrhea, vomiting, hiccups, pleurisy, rheumatism, catarrhs and cough.

Laudanum addicts would enjoy highs of euphoria followed by deep lows of depression, along with slurred speech and restlessness. Withdrawal symptoms included aches and cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea but even so, it was not until the early 20th century that it was recognised as addictive. Until that time, laudanum could be bought without a prescription

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