(Editor’s note) If you have been following my posts of the preceding 12 chapters of “Opium & The Opium Appetite”, you know that the author holds prohibitionists in pure contempt. He objects to their obnoxious moralizing, but he objects even more because the remedies they have always proposed – moral condemnation, forced confessions, and foul imprisonment – are demonstrably ineffective and invariably do nothing but cause further suffering and harm.
In this chapter we see Alonzo Calkins as a doctor who fully appreciates Opium as a powerful natural medicine, one which had no equal in his day and, truth be told, has no equal today, although finally the world is also finally beginning to re-awaken to the powerful, natural healing virtues of Cannabis and Coca. So-called pharmaceutical science has discovered plenty of ways to take the basic power of Opium and magnify it many times over through chemical manipulation, but if Mother Earth had never given her People the Opium Poppy, doctors would still be stuck with leeches and bleeding to “heal” their patients.
(From) “Opium And The Opium Appetite”
By Alonzo Calkins, MD (1870)
Chapter XIII: Utilities And Anomalies Of Opium
“Quo nihil magis meliusve terris Fata donavere, bonique divi.” – Horace
“Take the goods the gods provide thee.” – Dryden
Like as the prince of Athenian orators, when interrogated upon the essential constituents of eloquence, pronounced action to be the first, the second, and the third cardinal element, so the physician, whom long experience has made sage, on surveying the broad field of the materia medica, would name opium as the “quo magis nil simile aut secundum,” his first, his second, and his third reliance.
Opium has been denominated, and in no extravagance of hyperbole, the grand catholicon for human ills. Laudation here has scarcely been exhausted even in the excess. In the “Opiologia” of Wedelius, opium is the “medicamentum ccelitus demissum,” the heaven-born gift. Tillingius styles it the “ anchora salutis sacra,” – the bower anchor of health. Sydenham says that “medicine without it would go at a limping gait;” and John Hunter, in an exuberance of enthusiasm, exclaims: “Thank God for opium!” Van Swieten in his estimate does not fall behind: “Opium, le plus efficace de tous les medicaments et sans quoi tout de guerir cesserait d’exister, est le remede de quoi le Tout-Puissant a fait present pour le bonheur et la consolation de l’humanite souffrante.”
Opium is indeed the Columbiad of the medical arsenal. Of this most potent agent thus writes Dr. Lee: “In disease, suppose the dose restricted within warrantable bounds, neither headache nor nausea nor discomfort in any form ensues, but a peaceful sleep is brought on, to be succeeded by a feeling of refreshing. Not merely is nervous excitement quieted and physical depression guarded against, but more: when there has been degenerescence of tissue, as from phagedenic ulcerations, opium, while it assuages pain, arrests in notable ways the morbid waste that is going on and re-energizes the languishing functions. The powers of this life-renovator, working out as they do under sinister conditions, appear indeed almost marvellous, far surpassing in their magnitude any force that inheres in alcoholics or quinine, or in all the anaesthetics besides.”
In the hour also that presages cold death’s approach to disjoint the mortal fabric, opium viewed as a euthanasial resource alone is second only to the vital air we breathe.
As an instance of the adventitious support that opium often renders under disease, the case of the late Dr. O. of New York may be adverted to. An invalid half his life and from inherited causes, he was afflicted mainly with a form of neuralgia which seemed disposed to concentrate its force in the knee joints. Pains most acute, of the spasmodic sort, would suddenly invade the parts and without any premonition whatever, and pass off again perhaps as suddenly. The suffering at such times was excruciating, amounting indeed oftentimes to an agony. By-and-by there were evidences of what is denominated locomotor ataxia, which would show itself for instance on his getting into his wagon, when he would be a considerable time exercised in effecting the proper upright balance. There was but one resource that had been found of service to the mitigation of his pains, and that was morphine. This he took very regularly and for a good while, two grains three times for the day. His life, which indeed was by this help rendered tolerable only, was doubtless prolonged at least ten years beyond the limit by natural course. A prominent symptom, and one of great annoyance, was a habitual constipation, which had no other relief for the time than in the use of cathartic pills taken every three to four days.
Life in this instance may be said to have gradually worn down with the progress of the nervous exhaustion, and death surely was rather a boon to be longed for than an evil to be deprecated.
The magical virtues which popular belief has ascribed to the poppy have been embodied in story and commemorated in song. Thus the illustrious Carthaginian queen – “evicta dolore”, overcome with grief and chagrin in the prospect of being deserted and left forlorn by the wily adventurer, to whom, out of the fulness of her confiding heart, she had so generously proffered an asylum and a refuge after his toilsome wanderings, all-despairing now, while dissembling her ultimate purpose, devises this stratagem. As if hoping, when other hope had failed, by availing herself of some magic influence, still to detain the fickle Aineas within her realm and against the declared decrees of fate, she commissions her sister Anna to undertake a journey away to Ocean’s farthest margins, even unto Ethiopia’s bound, there to seek out a Massylian woman, priestess in Apollo’s temple (and the same who had preserved the golden apples in the gardens of the Hesperides, by soporizing the dragon that was lying in wait and watching his chance for them), and there to procure from the sorceress a phannakon that should dissolve her present enchantment, and deliver her desolate spirit from the thraldom in which the perjured Trojan now held her captive.
The piquant Moliere, ever liberal of his satire in squaring accounts with the doctors, while ridiculing the routine medicaments of his day, has indirectly, perhaps unwittingly, pronounced a laudation upon opium.
That opium imparts to the imagination a wonderful vivacity and to the tongue a most lively volubility, is a fact that in instances has had signal display. There was Jane, Duchess of Gordon, half a century back, the cynosure of the gay throng and the life-spirit of the conversazione, whose life had been of as little account to the outside world as her death was of concern to the magic circle within which she had lived and moved. She drew her peculiar powers of inspiration confessedly from this same energizing fountain.
A New York lady, of scarcely inferior but only of more circumscribed fame, and a rival who might have been by chance association, there was, a patient some twenty years ago of Dr. C. A. Lee. “My friend, Miss H. (thus writes Dr. L.), a lady of brilliant endowments by nature, to which, however, opium gave additional lustre, was accustomed to have her paregoric, a pint, daily. Regularly as the morning came her bottle went to the apothecary’s, and by night the contents were used up. Bright as a star in Andromeda’s girdle, she shone amid the throng from eight o’clock in the evening to midnight and past, often seeing the grey morning ere she retired for bed. Marvellous indeed were her parts and her power of display; but then it took her the entire day to rouse the fires and get up steam.”
A pertinent case belonging to the same family is contributed by Dr. Quackenbos. Mrs. B., who died about ten years since at the age of 65, contracted the habit of stimulating upon opium, using the same according to a doctor’s prescription for hemorrhage incident to the first parturition. A sherry wine glass three times a day was her measure, and in regard to quantity she was always very precise, not having deviated in any degree as was believed for the last fifteen years. Being a lady of fashion with abundant wealth, she divided her time between city and her country house, without occupation either physical or mental, such as was likely to give a favorable diversion to a growing morbid taste. Change for the worse in almost every respect grew upon her as the months advanced. The skin contracted a turbid yellowish hue and had a good deal the feel of parchment. What, however, is an exceptional condition, she had no regular constipation, nor did she in the progress of years get dropsical.
Her daily routine was this. Four o’clock in the morning was her hour for bed and from this on to ten, when she had her first glass or eye-opener. By this time the whole frame would be agitated with most intolerable tremors; but a cup of black coffee (the strongest), taken soon after, helped to steady the nerves very decidedly. The day was worried through as best it might be by one who was without the capacity to enjoy, and with whom the hours went laggingly along. The second glass was upturned at six in the evening, a little precedent to her breakfast, the first meal of the day. The third glass was taken at eleven, and now she was ready for the living room. In the daytime she looked like a woman; now she appeared as of the “fat, fair and forty” age (without the fat). The transformation she had undergone by this was marvellous even to her familiar acquaintances. Her skin (for she was of a sanguineous temperament) now shone again transparent as in youth, her eyes sparkled as with a gem glitter, and the brilliancy of her conversational talents concentrated upon herself the admiring attention of all beholders. Her dinner hour was now twelve, and at this time she had an enjoyable repast. Her death had no connection with the habit, having followed upon an attack of pneumonia.
The transient exaltation of the imaginative faculty under the inspiration of opium has an exemplification in the polished and highly poetic style of Dr. Thomas Brown’s treatise on the “Philosophy of the Human Mind.” In elaborating his chapters the author would sometimes trench upon the deep hours of the night, feeding the intellectual fire meanwhile whenever it flagged with bountiful potations of whiskey that had been “seasoned” from the laudanum vial.
Sir James Mackintosh, a pupil of the doctor’s at the time, hearing the office one morning somewhat abruptly and unexpectedly, happened to overhear a private order (which was intended for the daughter’s ear alone} delivered in the following terms; “ My dear, bring me the moderate stimulus of a hundred drops.”
Distinguished criminal-lawyers (and a conspicuous instance was Erskine of England) have been wont to prepare themselves for a special effort with the same sort of help.
In 1770 (Kerr) a famine pervaded India, and so severe and widespread did the suffering become, that only people of wealth had the means of providing for their wants, and making their condition at all tolerable, in the substitution of opium for other food, procuring it finally at a most extravagant cost.
Says a correspondent of the L. Med. Gazette, concerning the cotton-famine of 1863-4: “More suffering was experienced among the factory people of Lancashire (a class that now make large use of the stimulus), through pecuniary inability to purchase their opium, than from restriction in their food: thus extensively had laudanum superseded food proper.”
“Grande aliquid, quod pulmo animoc pnelargus anhelet.”- Pkrsius
“The London poor, many of them (says Dr. Anstie), use opium considerably, but in the form of laudanum rather, and more extensively when they are upon short wages. Under the force of the stimulus, the desire for food proper is evidently dispelled in a most remarkable way.” The halcarras (runners between Bombay and Surat) sustain themselves during their fleet journeys upon the opium bolus, without other addition than a small stock of dates (Dallaway).
Could the thousands of our soldier volunteers, the half-starved, half-frozen gaol victims of Winder and Wirz, in that Dartmoor of Secessiondom, Andersonville Prison, have been granted the dole of a grain ration only of the quietive, hundreds from among the thousands that there perished might even at this hour be rejoicing by the family hearthstones again. Let the women of “the crafts” be admonished how they come to supplement with an opium pill the scanty noon lunch at the shop.
This roborative virtue inherent in opium has been put to practical service upon various emergencies. Dr. Burnes had a journey to make one night in the Cutch country through a rough region, without so much as a bridle path for road. With his guide, a native, he made a halt at midnight for refreshment. Following the example of the other, he was persuaded to use a drachm of opium, taking one-half himself and giving the remainder to his horse. Having re- mounted, they pursued their journey of forty miles to its completion by morning, riders and horses both having held out in very good condition.
There was a Canadian farmer, one Paxton, now sixty years old, healthy and athletic to an unusual degree, who had been habituated to opium a good while, having taken at the rate of two ounces, and in his later years three ounces per week. With a proper amount he was able to do the work of two common men, but without it he was reduced at once to a state of prostration and misery. In his desperation he would, if necessary, even send his boys over the winter snows for miles of a night to procure a supply. He was a free liver sure enough, for he drank whiskey in proportion, and chewed tobacco besides.
Dr. F. D. Lente knew an old cripple bent up with rheumatism, whom he had repeatedly seen drink off his quarter-tumbler of laudanum, and without more ado than a toper would make over his half-gill of whiskey. This much he would take as he could get it, whether it was by purchase or as a free gift, for. as he said of the draught, “It set him up all straight again.
A case every way remarkable if not altogether unique, evincing how the depression arising from short food and the exhaustion coming of exposure to the elements combined may be surmounted through the energizing operation of opium, is here recorded as it was detailed in the hearing of the writer by the chief party concerned, and as confirmed by a surviving brother, Capt. R. H. Griswold of Old Lyme, Conn., and by the late Dr. N. S. Perkins of New London.
In the year 1818-19 Captain Henry Griswold set sail in the ship Almira, bound from Cadiz for New York, with a cargo of salt. A few days out the vessel from being overladen sprang a leak, requiring an immediate abandonment. The crew took to the long-boat on its being brought alongside, though at the risk of being swamped, for the ship went under in about fifteen minutes. There was barely time to throw aboard a single cask of water, besides a few biscuits hastily gathered up from the dinner table; for the rest they must trust to luck.
Afloat now, captain and crew to the number of nineteen, in a crowded craft without shelter of any kind, they were “driven by the wind and tossed” to contend with withering sun and pelting storm and surging sea as best they might, and for twenty-one long days and nights. In progress the day-ration was necessarily reduced to one gill of water and half a cracker. Three of the number, having meantime gone into a delirium, were secured to the thwarts, and of these one died on the seventeenth day. The captain, constitutionally enthusiastic and jovial, had kept up the heart of his men with cheering words, interspersed now and then with a song or a yarn, and an occasional sip allowed from the winter-green vial he had taken along. Thus they fared.
A Saturday night had come, when the captain, having dropped into a doze for the first time, seemed to himself to spy land in the distance (they were nearing Fayal Harbor, though unconsciously), and upon the shore a man in the habit of a friar standing and beckoning Awaking, he breaks out in these words: “Cheer up, my boys, and worry the night through, we shall sight land tomorrow.” Sure enough, (and who shall doubt any longer about dreams and premonitions!) next morning there hove in sight and within hailing distance a boat bearing what appeared to be the identical friar as seen in the dream. They were soon in port, but almost exhausted, all but the captain, the only man of the company now able to raise himself upon his legs.
Here is a mystery truly, now to be explained. The captain, when ready to leave his cabin finally, on casting his eye hurriedly around caught sight of a vial that was standing apart on a shelf. This, without any forethought, he slipped into his vest pocket, taking from the medicine chest at the same time the vial of wintergreen. From the latter he distributed to the men once a week regularly; the other vial (and it proved to be the laudanum vial) he reserved for his own private use. This he applied from time to time to his lips and tongue, but stealthily and unobserved by the crew. The effect in reviving his strength and spirits was indeed magical; and to the use made of the liquid he attributed (and correctly, no doubt) his sustained power of endurance. His constipation (that most pestering symptom appertaining to sea life) he managed effectually on getting ashore, with the help of a half-pint draught from a bottle of olive oil. Another very noticeable effect of the laudanum was that it made the stomach tolerant of sea water.
Among the Orientals opium is used as a preparative for the battle-field. In 1850 (Chinese Register) just as a fight with the rebel force on the Northern frontier was impending, it was found one morning that the imperial soldiery to the number of some thousands had made a stampede for a foray upon the neighboring country, with the intent of renewing their stock of opium. What precise advantage, however, is to be expected from such stimulus may be calculated from a fact mentioned by Hue in relation to the campaign of 1832 against the Yaous, that the emperor’s army, though numerically superior, fell much below their adversaries in pluck and steadiness. The repeated successes secured by the rebel chief, often against great odds, are ascribed by this tourist to the abjuration of opium, as exacted of them in accordance with the prescribed rule of military service.
The Rajpoots (that soldier-class whose meat and drink one might almost say is opium), when the morning preceding an expected battle has come, take a double charge of the stimulant, and thus fortified they are able to confront their enemy as with a wall of fire, never receding, never yielding, but like tigers fighting on even to the death.
The martial impetuosity of the Turk, so diverse from his habitual apathy of demeanor at home, is wakened up by similar incitements, just as “Dutch courage” on the Zuyder Zee is provoked by draughts of Schiedam.
The Moslem soldier, says Barbier, in anticipation of an onslaught to be made upon a host in the field or upon a beleaguered town, prepares himself with an extra of the kind. This “bello vivida virtus” is thus portrayed by Byron in his “Siege of Ismail:”
“And one enormous shout of “Allah!” rose
In the same moment, loud as e’er the roar of war’s most mortal engines,
To their foes hurling defiance; city, stream, and shore resounded,
“Allah” and the clouds, which close with thickening canopy the conflict o’er,
Vibrate to the Eternal Name:
Hark! through all sounds it pierceth – “Allah, Allah, Hu!”
During the month Ramadan or April (the Mohammedan Lent-season), when no food of any description can be swallowed between sunrise and sunsetting on pain of anathematization, this sort of device is often practised: two or perhaps three opium-pellets (hashisch is sometimes combined), folded together concentrically, yet so that each is enclosed in its separate wrapper, are thus swallowed in mass, to undergo successive solutions in the stomach.
The great poet of his day, who was wont to see with his own eyes whatever was worth the seeing and describing, makes a brief allusion in the following lines:
“Just at this season Ramazani’s fast
Through the long day its penance did maintain;
But when the lingering twilight-hour was past,
Revel and feast resumed the rule again.”
Certain anomalous uses to which opium has been applied, for it is a kind of double-edged tool that must be handled cautiously every way, a something “dextraque laevaque a parte timendum”, may be properly adverted to here. In those Eastern countries where tortures are self-inflicted by way of penance, opium (or it may be bhang, one or both) is the common preparative.
There was the fakir that came under Heber’s notice in India, who in his journeyings around was wont to exhibit to the gaping crowd his tongue pierced with a bodkin. The Hindu widow was prepared for the suttee by a drugging of the same sort. The dervishes of Etolia, says Tournefort, undergo a like discipline, and then run the gauntlet between flaming torches, severely scorched, but apparently indifferent to pain. At Delhi and other Indian capitals, where effeminate rajahs, the degenerate representatives of the great Timur, long held nominal sovereignty, but where petticoated neuters really guided the reins, there once obtained a practice of this kind. To obviate the rivalry for the succession that was very sure to arise among a large household of superfluous princes of the blood, there was hit upon the device of reducing them to the condition of imbecility through a systematic training upon opium from childhood forward.
At Stamboul they used a more expeditious instrument, the bowstring. Aurungzebe had an invention of his own devising, an opiated elixir, Poust so called, which he was wont to commend as a morning draught to obnoxious courtiers and suspected sultanas. Such potion, while less repulsive to appearance, was none the less efficacious than the glaive of the Capidji bachi, or than the sack and a fast anchorage in the Bosphorus.
Exploitations upon opium here at home have thus far taken less of the tentative form, but then the likelihood is we shall be able from time to time to “report progress.” The same element used by the pen painter to heighten the coloring of the “ horrible and awful,” and that supplies puffiness to the platform spouter in his laborings upon the forcible feeble of oratory, may serve equally well the purpose of the astute drover for “putting into condition” a limpsy bullock before his exhibition at Bull’s-head, or that of the stable jockey in getting up his spavined jade for a third appearance at Tattersall’s: just as in India teamsters and farriers contrive to give to a hide naturally coarse and rough a sleeky look and feel, or to infuse a mettlesome vigor into the flabby muscles of a spent animal by a liberal administration of poudre arsenicale (Morewood).