21 April 2012

Medicinal Opium

Opium: A Portrait of the Heavenly Demon by Barbara Hodgson, 1999, Excerpts

The poppy’s magic comes from morphine, the principal active ingredient in opium. Morphine is an alkaloid, which have toxic, stimulant or analgesic effects.  As narcotics, opium, morphine and heroin are drugs that relieve pain, relax spasms, reduce fevers and induce sleep. Acting as an analgesic, or pain reliever, the morphine blocks messages of pain to the brain, producing euphoria and deadening anxieties and tensions. It also suppresses coughs, constipates by inhibiting the flow of gastric juices, slows down respiration and dilates the blood vessels in the skin. All of these characteristics are invaluable in medicine, not to cure specific illnesses or injuries but to provide relief from symptoms. In the long history of opium use around the world, people in search of euphoria and well-being have managed to introduce opium and its derivative into the body every way imaginable; in addition to being smoked, it has been drunk, eaten, sniffed, rubbed on and injected.

Opium was introduced to the West in the 1850s. From mid-nineteenth century until about 1910, thousands of American and British babies were raised on opium-soothing syrups to stop the crying brought on by weaning, teething, or hunger. Opium was also used to treat cholera, dysentery, ague, bronchitis, earache, bedwetting, measles, morning sickness and piles. And cough syrups, such as Ayer’s Cherry Pectoral, usually contained opium, since opium was and remains unsurpassed as a cough suppressant. Trade cards, distributed by the drug companies and pharmacists, were, and still are, popular collectibles.

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