AskDefine | Define laudanum

Dictionary Definition

laudanum n : narcotic consisting of a tincture of opium or any preparation in which opium is the main ingredient [syn: tincture of opium]

User Contributed Dictionary

see Laudanum



Coined by Paracelsus for a tincture he made containing opium < < laudere, or ladanum < sc=polytonic. Originally the same word as ladanum, ladbdanum, compare French laudanum, Italian laudano, ladano. See ladanum.


  1. A tincture of opium, once widely used for various medical purposes and as a recreational drug.

Derived terms


the tincture of opium once widely used
  • French: laudanum
  • German: Laudanum
  • Italian: laudano
  • Latin: laudanum
  • Portuguese: láudano


  • 1913}}



Extensive Definition

Laudanum (ˈlȯd-nəm or ˈlȯ-də-nəm), also known as opium tincture or tincture of opium, is an alcoholic herbal preparation of opium. It is thus made by combining ethanol with opium. The term "laudanum," however, should be applied only to a specific tincture of opium containing approximately 10 milligrams of morphine per milliliter. There are several versions of laudanum including Paracelsus' laudanum, Sydenhams Laudanum (also known as tinctura opii crocata), benzoic laudanum (tinctura opii benzoica) , and deodorized tincture of opium (discussed below), among others. In addition, besides well-known versions, some people have begun making their own version of laudanum and naming it . Depending on the version, additional amounts of the substances and additional active ingredients (e.g. saffron, sugar, eugenol) are added, modifying its effects (e.g., amount of sedation, or anti-tussive properties). Care should be used not to confuse laudanum with paregoric, which is also known as camphorated tincture of opium (tinctura opii camphorata) (see discussion below).

Preparation and maximum dosage

Regular opium tincture (or tinctura opii) is made by combining ethanol (of 70%) with opium so that a liquid containing 10 milligrams of morphine per milliliter is created. The maximum dosage is 1,5 to 5 grams.
Sydenham's laudanum is made by combining:
  • 50 parts of opium extract
  • 150 parts of saffron tincture
  • 1 part of cinnamon oil
  • 1 part eugenol
  • 798 parts ethanol (of 60% purity)
The maximum dosage is 1,5 to 5 grams.
Benzoic laudanum is made by combining :
The maximum dosage is 30 to 100 grams.


In the 16th century, Paracelsus experimented with the medical value of opium. He decided that its medical (analgesic) value was of such magnitude that he called it laudanum, from the Latin laudare, to praise, or from labdanum, the term for a plant extract. He did not know of its addictive properties.
In the 19th century, laudanum was used in many patent medicines to "relieve pain... to produce sleep... to allay irritation... to check excessive secretions... to support the system... [and] as a soporific". The limited pharmacopoeia of the day meant that opium derivatives were among the most efficacious of available treatments, so laudanum was widely prescribed for ailments from colds to meningitis to cardiac diseases, in both adults and children. Laudanum was used during the yellow fever epidemic.
The Romantic and Victorian eras were marked by the widespread use of laudanum in Europe and the United States. Initially a working class drug, laudanum was cheaper than a bottle of gin or wine, because it was treated as a medication for legal purposes and not taxed as an alcoholic beverage. Literary figures of note who used laudanum include: Upon increase of these hallucinations, more laudanum and chloral hydrate was administered, which increased the problem and led to her eventual commitment to an asylum. Political figures who used the drug included George Washington, Patrick Henry, William Wilberforce and Meriwether Lewis. Innumerable Victorian women were prescribed the drug for relief of menstrual cramps and vague aches and used it to achieve the pallid complexion associated with tuberculosis (frailty and paleness were particularly prized in females at the time). Nurses also spoon-fed laudanum to infants. The Pre-Raphaelite muse Elizabeth Siddal died of a laudanum overdose.

Depictions in fiction




  • In the Hornblower television movies "The Mutiny" and "Retribution", Dr. Clive (played by David Rintoul) freely dispensed laudanum to injured or beaten seamen, to the mentally unstable Captain Sawyer (played by David Warner), and to himself.
  • In an episode of the Little House on the Prairie television series titled "Blizzard", several children are experiencing pain in their hands and feet as they are warmed up in the schoolhouse after suffering from partial hypothermia and frostbite. To help them with the pain, Dr. Baker issues laudanum, but "just half a teaspoon!".
  • In episode seven of the first season of Bramwell, Lady Cora Peters (played by actress Michele Dotrice) suffered acute stomach pains which turned out to be appendicitis inaccurately diagnosed as tifilitis by her doctor who prescribed a small bottle of laudanum to ease her pain.
  • In many episodes of the series"Gunsmoke," Doc Adams gives laudanum to his patients.


  • Avec Laudenum is the title of the fifth release by the ambient group Stars of the Lid.
  • "Laudanum" is the title of the fifth track on the CD Wholesale Meats and Fish by Letters to Cleo.
  • Laudanum is mentioned in the song "The Legionnaire's Lament" by The Decemberists.
  • Laudanum is mentioned in the song "Death Rydes Under the Frozen Moon" by Holy Ghost Revival.
  • Laudanum is the name of a song by Montreal Guitar Prodigy Domininc Cifarelli's "The Chronicles of Israfel"
  • Laudanum is also mentioned in the songs "Tortured Soul Asylum" and "The Byronic Man" by British band Cradle of Filth on their 2006 and 2000 albums, Thornography and Midian respectively.
  • Laudanum and Poitín are mentioned in the song "The Snake With Eyes of Garnet" by Shane MacGowan (Shane MacGowan and The Popes) on his 1994 album, The Snake.
  • Laudanum is used by the character Mrs. Sedley in Benjamin Britten's opera, Peter Grimes.
  • "Halcion laudanum and Opium" is a line in Josh Ritter's song "Thin Blue Flame".
  • In the song "I Met Everybody I Knew" by Mark Sheridan, he describes his ennui with life and wishes to end it with laudanum
  • Laudanum is the title of the ninth track on the Gutter Jones (see album called "Number Two"
  • Laudanum is the title of the fourth track on Velvet Cacoon's album "Genevieve"

Modern status

Contrary to popular belief, laudanum is still available by prescription in the United States. It is classified as a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act. Its most common formulation is known as "deodorized tincture of opium", (or DTO or tinctura opii deodorati), and is manufactured in the United States by Ranbaxy Pharmaceuticals. Deodorized or "denarcotized" opium means that narcotine, one of the most prevalent alkaloids in opium, has been removed, usually by a petroleum distillate. Narcotine has no analgesic properties, and frequently causes nausea and stomach upset; hence the preference for denarcotized opium. Bottles of opium tincture are required by FDA to bear a bright red "POISON" label given the potency of the drug and the potential for overdose (see discussion about confusion with paregoric below).

Confusion with Paregoric

In the United States, deodorized opium tincture contains 10 mg per mL of anhydrous morphine, which represents the equivalent of 100 mg per mL of powdered opium. By contrast, laudanum's weaker cousin, paregoric, also known as camphorated tincture of opium, is 1/25th the strength of laudanum, containing only 0.4 mg of morphine per mL, which is the equivalent of 4 mg per mL of powdered opium. Caution should be employed so as not to confuse opium tincture (laudanum) with camphorated opium tincture (paregoric), since overdose may occur if the former is used when the latter has been indicated. Laudanum is almost always dosed in drops, or fractions of a mL, or less commonly, in minims, while paregoric is dosed in teaspoons. Further, the United States Pharmacopia recommends that the abbreviation "DTO" never be used in place of "deodorized tincture of opium", since DTO is sometimes erroneously employed to abbreviate "diluted tincture of opium", which is a 1:25 dilution of opium tincture and water commonly employed to treat withdrawal symptoms in newborns whose mothers are addicted to heroin or other opiates. Several infants have died of morphine overdose where a pharmacist has interpreted DTO to mean deodorized tincture of opium instead of diluted tincture of opium. Further, paregoric's synonym "camphorated tincture of opium" should not be used, since it could easily be confused with "tincture of opium" or "deodorized tincture of opium."


The only FDA-approved use for laudanum in the United States is the treatment of severe diarrhea that does not respond to mainline therapy or modalities. Common off-label uses of laudanum include the alleviation of pain, and treatment of neonatal withdrawal syndrome when diluted 1:25 (one part opium tincture to 25 parts water).
The usual adult dosage of laudanum for the treatment of diarrhea is 0.6 mL (equivalent to 6 mg of morphine) by mouth four times a day. There is no maximum dose; refractory cases (e.g. diarrhea associated with AIDS) may require doses as high as 4 mL (equivalent to 40 mg of morphine) every three hours. The dose of laudanum for pain is generally the same as for morphine -- 1 mL (10 mg of morphine) by mouth, sublingually, or in the buccal space every four hours in opioid-naïve patients, titrated upward as needed to control the pain. Patients already habituated to opioids may require higher starting doses.


laudanum in German: Laudanum
laudanum in Spanish: Láudano
laudanum in French: Laudanum
laudanum in Ido: Laudano
laudanum in Indonesian: Laudanum
laudanum in Italian: Laudano
laudanum in Dutch: Laudanum
laudanum in Japanese: アヘンチンキ
laudanum in Norwegian: Laudanum
laudanum in Polish: Laudanum
laudanum in Russian: Опиум#.D0.A2.D0.B5.D1.80.D0.BC.D0.B8.D0.BD.D0.BE.D0.BB.D0.BE.D0.B3.D0.B8.D1.8F
laudanum in Slovak: Laudanum
laudanum in Finnish: Laudanumi
laudanum in Swedish: Laudanum

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Amytal, Amytal pill, Demerol, Dolophine, H, Luminal, Luminal pill, M, Mickey Finn, Nembutal, Nembutal pill, Seconal, Seconal pill, Tuinal, Tuinal pill, alcohol, amobarbital sodium, analgesic, anodyne, barb, barbiturate, barbiturate pill, black stuff, blue, blue angel, blue devil, blue heaven, blue velvet, calmative, chloral hydrate, codeine, codeine cough syrup, depressant, depressor, dolly, downer, goofball, hard stuff, heroin, hop, horse, hypnotic, junk, knockout drops, liquor, lotus, meperidine, methadone, morphia, morphine, narcotic, opiate, opium, pacifier, pain killer, paregoric, pen yan, phenobarbital, phenobarbital sodium, purple heart, quietener, rainbow, red, scag, secobarbital sodium, sedative, shit, sleep-inducer, sleeper, sleeping draught, sleeping pill, smack, sodium thiopental, somnifacient, soother, soothing syrup, soporific, tar, tranquilizer, turps, white stuff, yellow, yellow jacket
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