(Editor’s note) With this post I am resuming the chapter-by-chapter posting of the remarkable book “Opium And The Opium Appetite” by Alonzo Calkins, MD. This long and challenging book, published in 1870, allows us to hold a mirror up to our current “Opioid Crisis” and see it for what it really is – not a crisis of our times, but an ongoing theme in American life.
In this chapter Dr. Calkins discusses the many cases that he experienced personally, and that he gathered from other physicians and elsewhere, regarding extreme cases of Opium/Morphine consumption. Extremes of consumption were not always tied to addiction, as he points out, and the stories in this chapter ought to make us think twice about the “one dose and you’re hooked” meme that is so popular with those who make a living from ensuring that there is always a plentiful supply of souls in dire need of “rehabilitation” and “recovery”.
Many people born since the 1990’s don’t understand the history of the “Opioid Crisis” because they were not yet born when previous “crises” were being manufactured and sold to the public by breathless media acting as the propaganda mouthpiece of the State. Consider, to take one of the worst examples of social disinformation, the “Crack Epidemic” of the 1980’s that sent tens of thousands of mostly young Black men to prison, creating an entire generation of fatherless Black children and fueling the next act in America’s “drug wars”.
While the “fake news” epithet may seem to be quite contemporary, the fact is that much of the “news” has always been fake, and never so much as when drugs are the topic. For all of his faults, Dr. Alonzo Calkins wrote what he saw and what he believed, and left us a record of what was true 150 years ago and remains true today – we don’t have an Opioid Crisis; we have a permanent crisis of the American soul.
“Opium And The Opium Appetite” by Alonzo Calkins, MD
Chapter XVI: The Posology (Dosage) Of Opium
“Exempla – quorum me turba fatigat.” — Ovid
“Let me have a drachm of poison. Sweet draught! Sweet, quotha? O fool! that now as luscious as locusts, shall shortly be in thy mouth as bitter as coloquintida!” — Romeo and Juliet
By those who have studied the “Ars nihili credendi” many of the statements recorded in this chapter will be transferred to the column of the incredibilia; but there is ample authentication behind nevertheless. Van Swieten refers to a dose of 16 grains as something extraordinary; Garcias (Morewood) knew a woman in Turkey, of good intelligence and of a conversational turn, who informed him her daily consumption was 10 drachms (!). Hufeland mentions a 30-gramme dose, one ounce less half a drachm. As a measure of effect, however, it should be understood the apothecary’s scales are but a very insufficient criterion.
Initial doses vary from a fraction of a grain upward; but amateurs start more boldly, as in the instance of a Chicago youth, who began upon 3 grains of morphine, and ran his course proportionably fast. Surgeon Smith names 5 grains of the chandoo for the neophyte; 290 grains he has known in the case of the veteran. Libermann, in the Chronique Medicale, has given a tabulated summary of a thousand smokers, of whom he kept a record while he was in China engaged in the imperial service, as here classified:
Of the thousand, 646 vary between 1 and 8 grammes, 250 between 10 and 20, and the remaining 104 range from 30 to 100 grammes. (The higher extreme seems scarcely credible, and perhaps the text should read grains.)
The Theriakis of Eupatoria not unfrequently go to 100 grains; the Hamals (porters) of Constantinople not seldom use an entire ounce.
The “big doses” are restricted by no lines of longitude. Dr. Hawkins was informed by a druggist of an eastern county in England concerning a farmer there, who one day came into the shop, asking for an ounce and a half of laudanum. This having been swallowed was after a brief time followed by a second draught, and again by a third, and several ounces besides were purchased for taking home. This “operator” was plainly of the new-school progressives.
But in bold practice New York City and the rest may safely challenge Birmingham, or Paris, or Canton. A woman of Atlanta (a buyer for a considerable time, and if she ain’t gone she lives there still) sends her daughter with the two-ounce vial for laudanum three times a day regularly (Redwine). The cause thereunto moving had been a proclivity to “spiritual liquor.” Wayne gives an instance of 6 ounces; Eimer of the same quantity daily repeated.
Paregoric and McMunn come in for their share in the awarding of honors. Besides the quart-measure are pint cases in plenty by Shedden, Lee, S. Smith, and others. McMunn also talks loud. Dr. Lente knows a woman at Cold Spring, who buys for the week three dozens of bottles. A gentleman who was making a purchase on Union Square one day, declared of himself that he used up, one day with another, 12 bottles. Dr. L. had seen and prescribed for a youth (as he then was), who, having become habituated to strong drink provided by injudicious friends for a lingering diarrhoea of his, had found in this elixir a present quietive for symptoms threatening delirium tremens. On a certain day he was known positively to have taken six bottles. This case, however, is thrown into shade altogether by a record at Binghamton, that of a lawyer, a detenu at the Asylum there half a dozen years since, whose totality was by his own record 3200 bottles, and for a certain day one and two-thirds dozens, the equivalent of a pint of laudanum within one ounce.
Morphine demands a separate section. MacGillivray’s patient has been noted already (chap. xii.). Dr. Gill of London had on his hands one time a professor of vegetarianism (50 years old actually, but, judged by his attenuated limbs and parchment skin 20 years ahead of that mark), whose stated supply was 55 grains. The allowance having been cut down flesh was substituted for porridge and cabbage, and in no long space Mr. Witherskin was able to make a much-improved show in the outer man. A third drachm case is from Redwine, that of “a brother fallen from his high estate,” who had pioneered upon whiskey. A fourth case is of a German woman lately in the hands of Naumann, who by a gradual progression through several years had finally reached one drachm precisely, at which mark she stood a considerable time. This person cured herself by pursuing, at the suggestion of Mr. N. (a very intelligent druggist), the gradative course. The weekly diminutions were made by grain and two-grain reductions in alternation.
A fifth case is communicated by Mr. Leys of Brooklyn, and the detail is a precise transcript of the record. A woman, thirty-five years old at the time of her death, wife and mother both, had been a regular purchaser for the six years precedent to her demise, though a consumer for several years earlier. Of medium embonpoint and with a fair countenance, she would scarcely have attracted casual attention otherwise than by the half-averted but lustrous eye. In regard to constipation hers was an exceptional case, nor was the final sickness (which was of the acute type) obviously traceable to her morbid habit. The dose for the first month of the six years was 16 grains (in the form of Magendie’s solution), which quantity had doubled by six months and quadrupled by the time a year had run. This 16 grains per month had grown by the end of the fourth year to 16 grains per day, and in another year to 20 grains. For the first half of the sixth year the progress was from 20 up to 30 grains; during the final six months one drachm was the measure, regularly called for as the morning came.
Number six is Mr. B., a prominent druggist in the metropolis, age 49, the subject of a severe chronic diarrhoea for half a dozen years. Morphine, which, like Choroebus penetrating the Grecian phalanx now within Ilion’s towers after assuming the helmet of the slain Androgeos, a pretended friend while an enemy in disguise, was early employed for its supposed curative efficacy (and indeed always to the present mitigation of symptoms, for “without it his bowels would run away from him”), but the benefit derived has ever been of ephemeral continuance only. No notable emaciation is observable as yet, nor has the general health become materially impaired. Magendie’s solution (16 grains to the ounce) is the form, and this is taken, an ounce for the time, in very precise measure, to the extent perhaps of four times that in the day, or again a pint may last the week through. He has been known to have his ounce four times in the day, and an additional one at his private office, i.e. 80 grains of the salt. In the general way, morphine to the amount of 15 grains is no uncommon dose; 30 to 36 grains is with rare exceptions the limit.
Gravity of action may be as disproportioned to quantity as is the case of alcoholics. An instance of idiosyncrasy referable to this section is given by Dr. Barnes. The occasion was an existing diarrhoea. With the approbation of a doctor opium had been used daily for three weeks, by the end of which time, “although the flux was subdued the opium was not subdued.” The medicine acted strangely, kindling Then up a fire in the stomach as it seemed, so that for another three weeks nothing swallowed would lie, rice water excepted, and all the vital powers seemed to be flagging. A year having proceeded in this manner, a change to the right-about was resolved on. Agonies and horrors followed upon the breaking up, to abate only by littles, but success was secured at last. For a time from the first, but for a brief period only, a sort of ideal tranquility, a visionary happiness followed each dose, but the subsequent experience was the reverse of all this. The recollection of the sufferings had survived as vividly twenty-five years after as if they had been of yesterday. The dose (the gum was used) had at no time exceeded four grains.
The caprices of single doses taken for a special occasion are even more variant and strange than the operations under continued use. Of minimum doses of fatality there have been noted (as already mentioned) 3 grains of the gum (Grisolle), a grain of morphia, and half an ounce of laudanum, and there have been even less than these. Maximum doses of tolerance are the very antipodes of such. Recovery has followed upon the ingestion of 30 and 60 grains of the gum, and once after 20 drachms had been swallowed. Instances of like result are recorded of morphia in doses of 30, 55, 60, and even 75 grains, and after laudanum, as in two cases, where 5 ounces had been taken, and in a third where the quantity was 6 ounces.
The records of practice in disease are yet more astounding. Doses fearlessly used at this day for various forms of organic derangement would only a half-century since have staggered the boldest. For instance, Pinel allowed a woman at La Charite, far gone with cancer uteri, 120 grains of solid opium for the twenty-four hours, and greatly to the alleviation of symptoms. M. Marc, in the Gazette de Paris, gives a similar case. His patient on one of the days took 62 grains of morphine. Monges and La Roche of Philadelphia had such a patient, whose allowance her last three months was 3 pints of laudanum for a day and a night, with some pure opium extra. For a urethral malformation a woman under Zaviani consumed in the progress of thirty-four years 200 pounds of the solid and above. On some days 200 grains was her mark. Dr. Knight of New Haven once had a patient with uterine cancer, who used daily and for a very considerable time, and without prejudice also, a drachm of morphine at least, and from that even up to 3 drachms. Bellevue Hospital records make a show ahead even of these. In a case of puerperal peritonitis occurring in 1862, Dr. Clark administered in the course of seven days various preparations, equivalent altogether to 200 ounces of opium proper, and on one of the days 472 grains, an ounce to within a fraction.
Rev. G. Smith, an English missionary, made a tour of observation one day around Amoy, having Lim-pai, a reformed opium eater, for cicerone, with the following results. Upon questioning ten persons as met indiscriminately and at random, he found their average to be 1 mace or 60 grains. The general average he ascertained to be 3 candareens (= 17% grains) of the chandoo (Allen). The mean for Aleppo Russell puts at 3 drachms; a high figure certainly, even for the maw of a Turk. Dr. Garrod, however, knew of a Turkish gentleman, a mere youth, who used one drachm in the morning and the same repeated at night, besides the laudanum he took in the intervals, an ounce or more.
At the Pauper-house, Singapore, Dr. Little ascertained that of fifteen persons, smokers for periods varying from 3 to 20 and averaging 11 years, the medium dose was 32 grains. At the Mount Hope Asylum 2 to 4 ounces of laudanum is nothing uncommon (Dr. Stokes). Specific quantities are a drachm of the gum, 1 to 2 drachms of the salt, and a pint of the tincture, so much per week (Moore, Skey). The dose varies much with the pecuniary ability. A purchaser at Giles’s (such is a specimen-case) would get from time to time an ounce of laudanum only, it might be, and again twice or thrice that. Equability and moderation in dose is what is oftentimes but very capriciously respected. A gentleman called one day at Tarrant’s for a scruple of morphine; this, having dropped into a tumbler of water, he swallowed forthwith, with the intent, as was for the moment suspected, of poisoning himself. All anxiety was soon removed, however, by the stranger’s explanation that “such was his way.”
“The small quantity of Opium,” observes Dr. Little, “soon loses its effect, and to produce the requisite excitement the little pea must be doubled and again increased, until, as I have known, the original has got multiplied a hundredfold.”
A married woman turned of 50, who began upon two ounces of laudanum for a week, has now, after a considerable term, attained to the pint-mark (Leys). A spinster of 55 was several years in getting as high as 6 ounces per week. Dr. Palmer reports two cases where the weekly consumption was 2 drachms of morphine, and four others in which the quantity was half that Among his opium-cases was Mrs. O’G., addicted to the drug about forty years, .who by very slow advances had reached at last two drachms for the week, with the addition of a little whiskey taken as a priming. Another instance was Mrs. T., 50 years old at her death, who had been a consumer for nigh upon half of this term. She even in her latter years had not exceeded a drachm for the week to the very last year, but here the quantity was doubled. An extra interest attaches to this last case, in connection with the question of degeneracy. Of the two children born subsequently to the confirmation of the habit, the elder, a son always feeble and sickly, died at fifteen; the daughter, contrarily to what might be expected, now eleven years old, has a robust and thriving aspect. The patient died a year ago of pneumonia.
A lady of Ontario county with whom the writer has conferred, Mrs. S., age 60 or above, mother now of several grown-up children, became an invalid ere she had completed her maiden life; whereupon, with the concurrence of a physician, she sought relief in morphine. From the beginning through the entire period the advances have been very gradual to a drachm for three weeks (the present limit), or if for any special exigency this amount has been at all exceeded, she has ever been careful to recover the lost ground, returning again to the fixed standard. No other medicine has been found upon trial to answer her needs by way of substitution. Those common sufferings, such as constipation, agrypnia and ugly dreams, have not been among her experiences, nor is there during the day any marked exhilaration, or indeed any very definitely-pronounced characteristic, with the exception of the peculiar skin-hue and a somewhat toddling gait. A discontinuance was not advised.
Periodic augmentations in a ratio constantly increasing are according to the normal course; but then there are stages also of what may be called a “satisfied craving,” lasting for months or even years. Formiggini had a patient with a facial neuralgia that had come of caries of the maxilla, who used one gramme of morphine daily. This kept her system at the saturation point; but this precise quantity the lady must have, no less, no more; any excess she could not (or would not) tolerate, and if put on reduced allowance she became desperate (Revue de Paris).
The Lancet, 1832, contains a case not dissimilar. In this instance hysteria was the objective malady. A woman, now of the respectable age of 50, used for her measure 20 grains of the gum, so much precisely, day after day. (These hysterial cases require a good deal of humoring, particularly when spinsters are concerned who have arrived at a “certain age,” that age of all ages the most uncertain.) Dr. S. S. sends the case of a woman twenty-five years old and married, who made a beginning upon laudanum in her 20th year. Lately she has kept herself strictly to 4 ounces for the twenty-four hours; but “this much she will have at all events, even if she must beg for it or steal for it.”
Jones had for a reputed customer an elderly lady of the Hudson River border somewhere along, who purchased her supply of him for several years, sending a granddaughter (her deputy in the transaction) once a month for the pint of laudanum. Like the rest she ceased by-and-by to make report representatively or otherwise. “They come and go,” as Dr. Guion says.
A woman of mature age, an attendant at Eimer’s for fifteen years continuously there was, whose weekly purchase was what would make an average of half a drachm for a day. There was also a teacher attached to one of the public schools in Brooklyn, who was so careful of her ways, that she was at the pains of crossing East River about every four days, to get as many ounces of laudanum from a doctor at the West End (Mr. L.). Her general aspect all this time gave no indication of any progressing deterioration, nor was there so much as constipation complained of. This person all at once ceased to reappear; whether it was that she had opened a new account with another doctor, or whether she had gone to settle an old account with death, did not transpire.
Moderation in quantity and steadiness of dose are oftener observable perhaps in case of congenital infirmity or traumatic lesion; for instance, when spinal irritation or an ununited fracture is the coexisting evil.
Inconsiderable advances upon the existing dose are seldom hazardous, where a large stride might prove critical. An inquest at Bradford, England, brought out the following facts: a woman with chronic asthma (one of those maladies that contraindicate opium absolutely) had taken a dose considerably exceeding the usual one, causing her death only a few hours after. A second case to be adduced comes from Binghamton. A patient there was, who, having strayed off to town one evening, felt disposed to have a fresh sip of an old friend; and so, having purchased two ounces of laudanum he swallowed the whole at once, a quantity he had never ventured on before. Dr. Day reached him, but not immediately, nor until the comatose stage had set in. The battery with other appropriate helps was put to expeditious use, but to no purpose, for death had his victim the very same night.
There was a New York lady, now of middle age, a custom-visitor at Bedford’s for years together, who for the alleviation of an existing intra-pelvic tumor had used morphine a long time, but in very definite and exactly-measured doses always. Her usage was to have the 48 grains (her amount for the day) divided into three-grain packets, so that the times of recurrence should come with the expiration of every hour and a half. One morning it appears, but for some reason not cleared up, she had put four of the divisions together for a single dose, thus having swallowed 12 grains instead of the 4. The stimulative action proper was overwhelmed by the predominant toxic force, and a fatal coma set in.
The rule of progressive cumulation reversed is among the rarest of the rare, and asseverations made to fortify such pretensions must ever be taken cum grano salis, i.e. at a very considerable discount.
There used to present herself very regularly at Goodall’s a young woman with her four-ounce laudanum vial. That she used twice four ounces every day was manifest from a circumstance she did not appear herself to have thought of, the extra label that had been superadded at another shop. There was a merchant who had broken down upon McMunn’s, an irregular visitor at Gates’s, who whenever he called would drink off a vial of the elixir, and take away several of the same sort, for occasional use only as he pretended, when doubtless he did the same thing at other druggeries. A Frenchman, known to Naumann for nineteen years, who all this time and even before had been familiar with laudanum, had a two-thirds ounce vial, which he was very particular to have filled once a day. The double labelling it was that exposed him. Long and freely as this monsieur had been addicted to his stimulus, he showed no distinctive indication of the habit other than in the peculiar sallowness of complexion.
Devices intended for disguising the extent if not the fact of the enslavement are as ingenious and varied as the contrivers are numerous. Two considerations act as prompters to such course; the supposed power of exerting a certain self-control over the paroxysmal excitement, and the apprehension of encountering a frowning public opinion in case the deception is unmasked.
Miss P., a spinster of thirty summers (and who was liable to continue such for as many winters), had purchased of Loines in the course of two years (so the ledger showed) 13 gallons of McMunn’s solution, without enumerating the additional supplies she had certainly procured in the interims from other establishments. This course it appears had been followed up so clandestinely all the while, that outside of her own family not a surmise of the existing habit had found place even among the naturally credulous. Opium eaters, if they cannot obviate suspicion altogether, may by the exercise of a dextrous ingenuity often put this same suspicion on its good behavior. A nibble from the mass, a pinch from the packet or a sip from the vial may create no more wonder, than the brandy flask slyly drawn from the pocket, or the delicate thumbing of the rappee box by the suaviter-faced tourist in the linen overall.
Reductions upon established doses, palpable in quantity if not of permanent continuance too, are to be reckoned among the actualities as well as the possibilities. De Quincey once fell back from his professed maximum of 8000 drops to 1000, and without experiencing any considerable discomfort either. Mr. B. of the Hospital calculated upon personal trials, that for real working service half an ounce of the gum or half a drachm of the alkaloid is as good as twice that. In the occasional use, amidst the daily avocations of business, it is possible to exercise much “prudence and discretion,” what is in accordance with the views of Dr. Pitcher (who appears to have a sharp eye for observation), and also of Dr. Lee. The merchant, for instance, who feels the need of an extra stimulus of some sort, by substituting a pill of opium in place of the half-gill of whiskey, is better able to work himself out of the perplexities of the hour without attracting the notice of some censorious neighbor, who is ever quick in discerning the mote in a brother’s eye though unaware all the time of the beam in his own eye.
(Editor’s Note) I’m sure that to most of us living today, life in 1870 does seem simpler from the perspective of 2018, but that’s only if you are looking at the external environment in which people lived back then. The internal realities of life 150 years ago were exactly the same as they are today. Some of the external causes of the pain and suffering experienced by so many today have changed, but only superficially. Poverty hasn’t changed; exploitation hasn’t changed; homelessness hasn’t changed; hopelessness hasn’t changed; war and cruelty haven’t changed; class and racial hatred haven’t changed; and for the most part most people still don’t give a shit what happens to other people as long as they get theirs.
Although they pretend they do – and that hasn’t changed either.
So with that Jeremiad out of the way, here is Dr. Calkins Chapter Fourteen in which he concludes that nobody really understands anything about why some people – many people, in fact – choose to use substances that make them feel better for a little while and then go on to over-use and become trapped by those substances. He suspects that it has something to do with the basic human condition, as do I.
(From) “Opium And The Opium Appetite”
by Alonzo Calkins, MD (1870)
Chapter XIV: Causes And Occasions
“His alias poteram et plures subnectere causas.” – Juvenal.
“Give you a reason for compulsion!
If reasons were as plenty as blackberries,
I would not give you a reason for compulsion.” – Henry IV
The Causes may be distinguished in a twofold classification, – the physical and the moral.
Under the former division range neurotic and arthritic maladies, such as hold the body in a close gripe, e.g. rheumatism, dysenteric drains, haemorrhoidal tumors, cancerous growths, a retarded convalescence following acute disease, hysteria. Occasional incitants are, paucity of food coupled with the overworking of body or mind either, the familiar use of some nursery cordial, a vicarious interchange with alcoholics.
Dr. Christison had a lady-patient, then twenty-five years of age, using daily at the time of morphine (to which she had been habituated in childhood by a nurse) 15 grains. Contrary to all presumption, there was not any sensible deterioration of the natural vigor.
Dr. Palmer has traced the habit, as established in three youths, to precisely the same sort of early habituation.
A case (not an unusual one) originating in uterine disease with a cystic complication, is communicated by Dr. G. W. Hanna, of Monroe county, New York. Mrs. B., a widow of thirty-four years and a mother (a woman of superior gifts and fine presence still, though opium has made its inroads), began with laudanum as a palliator of pain simply, and in this way got confirmed in her habits. This course has gone on now six years, and the quantity at present used is, according to her own statement, half an ounce on some days, on others twice as much; and indeed it is safe to say the latter amount is within the mark; for whereas she formerly procured her supply in the neighborhood, now she sends to a city ten miles off, and no doubt to create a false impression that should operate as a blind among her neighbors. Having been repeatedly admonished by the doctor that it was “sink or swim” with her, she has made repeated attempts at reform, but ineffectually. Lately she had held out for three days, having had none of her drug in the house for so long; but the prospect is unpropitious, and the more as another stimulus has been superadded. The care of a young family, now devolved upon herself alone, doubtless co-operates in aggravation of the primary cause.
In the life social, where not dress and etiquette alone, but religion besides, acknowledges fealty to fashion, diseases too assume putative shapes in correspondence with some prevailing idea, a “vox omnibus una” nominally, be the real type what it may. At one period all maladies merge into dyspepsia; liver complaint dominates, or neuralgia. Two cases, whose locale was the goodly city of Gotham, are here presented to a discerning public partly for their intrinsic value, partly for their extrinsic significance in bringing forth to the light home of the arcana of science.
First is Miss R., a spinster of thirty-five years, who was being treated for some rheumatic symptom which had found opportune shelter under the more fashionable name. This patient, in homoeopathic hands at the time, was using daily three packets of a something, one of which made her one day strangely stupid. The new physician, Dr. L., took a powder to Adamson of the College of Pharmacy for analyzation. The product was one and one-fourth grains of morphine, showing that the said subject was taking three grains and three-quarters of the alkaloid daily – quite other than infinitesimal doses, plainly. A timely change intercepted a course that would ere long have been fastened beyond change.
The fellow to this case was Mr. B., a gentleman of middle age, whose complaint, a sub-inflammatory affection of the hip – neuralgia again, or the old friend in a new face. This patient was being put through the granule discipline by those distinguished scientists of the Hahnemannic school, Messieurs les Docteurs F. and P.
According to prescription, this patient was taking powders varying, for different days. from six to nine, one of which, having been submitted to examination as was done in the preceding case, yielded one grain and a half nearly of morphine proper, the addendum being saccharum lactis. This “running the machine” had gone on for five weeks, when Drs. P. and L. were invited to assume the charge.
Opium is frequently used against chronic maladies, either as a palliative proper or vicariously of other medicines of more questionable efficacy, and the more especially for the purpose of procuring sleep under nervous agitation. An instance in illustration was Mrs. W. (the late), a lady of a New England city, who, having been married soon after attaining her majority to a “fast man,” thereby became an invalid for the remnant of her life, that is unto her 37th year. The physical contamination, the “fons et origo mali,” innocently contracted on her part (the real nature of which she was never perhaps made fully cognizant of), was one of those whose tendency is to grow with advancing time rather than to die out with a definite lapse of time. Constipation early established was ever a grievous annoyance, even with the moderate alleviation afforded by purgatives and the syringe. Extreme nervousness, with paroxysms of hysteria, had expression in the most wild and incongruent extravagances; and as for sleep, that was irregular of course and never refreshing. The face presented an oedematous fulness and a putty-like hue, and this with the eye fitfully glaring in its strange wildness, told of the internal commotion more forcibly than tongue could give utterance to. The symptoms and habits of this patient were family known to Dr. S., of whom she had made her purchases for ten years continuously. Here is the report of articles prepared regularly for her use the last two years of her life:
Of Magendie’s solution 4 ounces, of laudanum 4 ounces, of morphine 24 grains combined in pill-form with 36 of guaiacum, “much altogether for every 2 days, the equivalent in a single day of 52 grains of morphine.”
Another case, having its origin in a physical is from Dr. Pitcher. Mrs. R., 35 years of age at the present date, was married at 20. To this point fair health, barring a slight menstrual irregularity, had been enjoyed without any notable variation, but from this time, or soon after, a severe vaginismus had become established. To mitigate this symptom the husband (an apothecary) had supplied her freely with morphine, and so by-and-by the habit became perpetuated. Impregnation had at no time occurred.
The woman was not seen again for the space of four years, but after this interval she was perceived to be in a changed condition. The primal irritation had passed away, but a constitutional obstruction was found to have succeeded, and besides a growing taste for alcoholic liquors had been freely indulged. There had been, notwithstanding, no pretermission of the opium. The two stimuli have been continued, going on in friendly companionship for eight years now. The immediate effects of the conjunction were an impaired appetite for food, and a waning of the moral sense. In evidence of the latter change was the fact, that an intense jealousy had taken possession of her imagination. The mental pathologic condition was of that kind which Brierre de Boismont denominates a folie raisonnanle. Her propensities, as evidenced in her habitual conduct, appeared more and more in contrast with her ordinary discourse as time went on, for her conversational gifts as once displayed were of a very superior order.
The present condition is this. The whiskey having been suspended she takes food with a relish; and, besides being unhampered by a multiplicity of household cares, she goes abroad much in the open air. Her consumption of morphine for a month together amounts to 12 drachms, with scarcely a variation for such period.
The case suggests several inquiries. Was the cause a remote rather than a proximate cause, a hereditary proclivity that is, or was there an exciting cause only, the peculiar condition that had ensued upon the new relation? Or, was it the maternal example that had operated as the main force? Or, rather, may not all the supposed conditions have coalesced in joint operation? “Felix qui pohiit rerum cognoscere causns.”
A very efficient, but as is to be hoped, a very occasional cause at the most is the solitary vice, but which was, as confessed, a cooperating influence in one of the instances included in our enumeration. A pretext for the procuring of laudanum in particular, not unfamiliar to the apothecary, is the pretended need of a liniment. Jones of B. had for several years a regular visitor, who required 6 to 8 ounces weekly on account of “neuralgia in the knee.” The liquid was regularly applied, no doubt, but to the epithelial lining of the oesophagus rather, and not to the cutaneous surface. This is orthodox practice, going upon the principle of metastasis or sympathetic transference. An ingenious excuse is oftentimes as good a passport as any.
In the inventory of proximate causes, a very liberal share is set down to the credit of the Faculty; if not beyond their deserts yet in the very face of their disclaimers. Too indiscriminately perhaps have they been pronounced in juridical parlance accessories before as well as after the fact. Some there are who prescribe opiates as a convenience under a pressing exigency, or as a cover to ignorance and to gain time in awaiting a more distinct evolution of symptoms, callous to the conviction that they may be “sowing dragon’s teeth meanwhile that shall by-and-by leap forth in their retributive power as armed men” (Van Deusen). Who can wonder that the sufferers, worn down as they get to be in body and abject as they become in spirit from perpetuated disease, are so eager in their extremity to surrender themselves into the hands of Opium’s unconscionable charlatans, seeing that even “Satan can transform himself into an angel of light?”
A case in point is from Moreton. The patient, a woman of thirty-five, in the full enjoyment of robust health before, became, through toiling incident to the care of children with domestic infelicities super-added, a subject for the doctor’s attention. Laudanum was prescribed as the cure-all, and by the end of five years about it turned out the end-all; for by this time the subject was utterly broken down past recovery.
The leading moral incitements, none the less various than the physical, and in potential force often surpassing them, are, perplexities in business, the reverses of fickle fortune, tedium vitce as from conjugal disagreement, “The chilling heaviness of heart From loss of love, the treachery of friends, Or death of those we dote on,” self-abandonment to a career of sensualism or crime, are as urgent as any. In every instance there is some pretended necessity put forward, when the real and sole reason – the “causarum prima exordia” – may be the passion for the stimulus itself and nothing else (Day).
Among the occasional causes should be specified what Forbes Winslow has denominated a “ psychological romance,” those “Fine Confessions, That make the reader envy the transgressions,” as saith the poet of Newstead concerning St. Augustine. When rhapsody shall have assumed the garb of earnest truth and romance shall have taken the impress of history, then may it be expected of De Quincey’s Confessions, draped as they are in a prismatic gaudiness of attire, that they shall work upon the unsuspecting reader as cautionary dissuasives (as they do not) rather than as provoking appetizers (as they do).
There is yet to be reported the very first exceptional case. That these “confessions to the fact” have directly encouraged tentative trials upon the same line of experiment is now very certainly known from independent counter-confessions.
The Rev. Walter Colton, late a chaplain in the U. S. Navy, having read out of curiosity De Quincey’s narrative at a time when he happened to be on the Mediterranean station, was tempted to make a trial of opium in his own person. The dose was inordinately large, and the effect appears to have been in proportion. “Soon lost to the realities of the outside world (so runs the narrative) for two days and two nights continuously, I awoke at length confused in mind and exhausted in body, having been recalled to my proper self, but only through the assiduous and untiring attentions and soothings of my bosom-friend. Let no one like me venture encounter with the dreamy ecstasies, the agonizing terrors of the opium dream; it is like scaling the battlements of heaven, only to make a desperate plunge into the fiery pit below.”
Blair, the omnivorous bookworm, “who while yet a youth lived upon ale, opium, brandy, and books,” was led to experiment upon himself in the same way and from the same persuasion (Knickerbocker, 1842). An attempt at abandonment, made after a time and in evident earnest, had brought him down from 80 grains to 17 grains; but here he stuck fast; for though his constipation had relaxed, and comfortable sleep to the extent of two hours and more had returned, nevertheless the ravenous gnawing in the stomach reviving compelled him to work up to his maximum again. Discouragements besides, growing out of irregular occupation and pecuniary embarrassments, appear to have disheartened him altogether, and we hear of him last being about to leave the country for his London home again. Many an Ephraimite is thus “joined to his idols.”
To the misuse of the pen, chargeable against De Quincey, must be superadded the weightier responsibility of domestic example. A sister of his, living under the same roof, followed in his wake, and so perseveringly as to have become in the course of a few years as spell-bound under the enchantment as he himself was (Sinclair). Five similar instances of daughters following the pernicious course of the mothers have come under the direct cognizance of the writer. Such in its plenitude is the power of example, that imperious dictator of all that’s good or bad in human nature.”
“Velocius et citius nos Corrumpunt exempla domestica.” — Juvenal.
(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).
(Editor’s Note) In this chapter, Calkins relates tales of both great tolerance for Opium and great sensitivity to its influence, and doesn’t go to any lengths to explain the difference except for remarking that Opium gets them all in the end. Of course, dying at the age of 100 after smoking Opium all your life doesn’t really do much for what Calkins wants us to think of as a death sentence. Unlike many of his other chapters, however, he doesn’t rant and condemn the moral weakness of those who over-indulge, nor does he go to great lengths regarding the life circumstances of those he describes. Some of these “collected tales” are quite interesting; the rest merely ho-hum. I am posting this chapter mainly to maintain the flow of the narrative. I couldn’t find a graphic that illustrates what Calkins calls “Opium Idiosyncrasies” but perhaps this one is idiosyncratic enough to make the point. I didn’t know that Buddy Holly played the banjo.
(From) “Opium And The Opium Appetite”
By Alonzo Calkins, MD (1870)
Chapter XII: Idiosyncrasies
“Quo teneam, vultus mutantem,Protea, vinclo?” – Horace
“’Tis green, ’tis green, sir, I assure ye –
Green (cries the other in a fury),
Why, sir, d’ye think I’ve lost my eyes?” – Merrick
Individual constitutions here and there turn up to notice, upon which the action of opium appears to be nearly if not quite innocuous; others again, if not altogether intolerant of the malign influence, are extremely impressible to such influence. All such are cases of idiosyncrasy.
Organizations there are which seem fortified by the very constitution of their nature against exterior influences altogether. Thus speaks Cabanis: “N’oubliez pas jamais, qu’il est des organisations qui triomphent de tous les exces, parcequ’ils ont recu de Dieu le privilege de se retremper ou tant d’autres succombent.
Memorable instances may be cited in illustration.
Darius (says Athenaeus), an extravagant wine-bibber, was never overcome by intoxication. This monarch took the pains to have engraved over his tomb the following epitaph (Henderson): “Here lies the man who could drink more wine and bear it more bravely than any other.”
The great commoner, Pitt, on retiring from the House of Commons after an exciting debate, would drink off two bottles of port as if it had been so much lemonade. Carre d’ Avignon instances an invalid, yet short of his fiftieth year, who daily consumed two-thirds of a litre of brandy, and with this two pounds of tobacco in the course of a week. Marcet knew of a case not unlike, a man who besides his pint of spirit used up in the course of the day a gallon to a gallon and a half of country-ale. Drinkwater of Worcestershire had a field laborer who could drink his sixteen quarts of cider in the working hours of the day; but even this man is put into the shade by a Welsh squire told of, who weighed forty stone, and whose score was eight gallons of “home-brewed.”
Brissiac, one hundred and sixteen years old as reported, died as he had lived, with a cigar in his mouth. Von Tschudi while in Peru met a coquero, a man reputedly one hundred and thirty years of age (a centenarian undoubtedly), who had been a coca eater the larger part of his life, but who had never been sick, not for a day.
There was a gentleman of New Jersey, Dr. G. known to the writer, who died something more than ten years since at the ripe age of eighty-two. This man, hale and agile, an early riser, a temperate eater, and of marked mental activity, was a noted consumer of whiskey, though never to the extent of inebriation. The quantity for a single drink was about half a wine glass, but this was repeated three times or sometimes oftener before breakfast, and so in proportion for the other parts of the day, to the amount altogether of one to one and a half pints. Such cases, however, belong rather to the catalogue of rare cases.
Tolerance of opium is as conspicuous as is that of other narcotic stimuli. There was Mahomet Rhiza Khan of Schiraz, who took opium enough at a time to poison thirty ordinary persons, and yet when seen ten years after when he had got to be ninety-six years old, he was to appearance as vigorous as ever.
In the Pharmaceutical Transactions (London) of 1860 is the report of an inquest held in the case of a young rogue, who, now tired of life and prepared to shuffle off the mortal coil, proceeded (as appeared from a memorandum left on his table) after the following manner: Laudanum, a half-ounce draught, was followed up by eight grains of the gum; but these proving inefficient, four grains of morphine and a swallow of Battley’s liquor (what he had kept as a reserve) were superadded, all having been used in about a week’s time. The pistol completed the business: “Il lui falloit, au lieu d’opium, Un pistolet, et du courage.”
A more extraordinary case than the preceding has been published by Dr. MacGillivray of Canada. A man of good estate, thirty-seven years of age, who used alcoholic liquors withal and to excess, had besides been addicted to the use of opium now three years. One day and in the doctor’s presence he swallowed a drachm of morphine in half a tumbler of whiskey, and in twenty minutes from this four ounces of laudanum, and finally in the evening, after their return from the opera, he finished off with fifteen grains additional of morphine, with whiskey as at first no prejudicial effects had followed to appearance, though the man admitted his constitution was being gradually undermined. Death from delirium tremens occurred some months after.
Instances less conspicuous, but scarcely less significant, are of no infrequent occurrence. Dr. Russell at Aleppo was one day with a Turk, who in his presence swallowed a drachm lozenge in the morning, repeating his dose at noon and again at evening, and without evident prejudice. Dr. Tait of Edinburgh knew a lady of mature age, ruddy-faced and sound, who had enjoyed her daily half-ounce of laudanum for twenty-four years. Wilberforce, who, as advised by Dr. Pitcairn, had used opium for its roborant power a term of years (though in moderate amounts only), observes, that for any peculiar sensations experienced he was scarcely aware on any one day whether he had taken his dose or had forgotten it. There is a New York lady of patrician connections, Mrs. M., who began the use of opium not far from twenty-five years back, and for causes incidental to the married state. She has reared a family of children nevertheless. Her measure for a good number of years (and what has not since been materially deviated from) was two drachms of morphia every day. The only obvious indication of the habit a certain sparkle in the eyes and a very moderate exaltation of the spirits, and the only morbid effect of consequence, a transient diarrhoea after any casual intermission.
In all such cases, however, signs of deterioration will ultimately show themselves (Dr.L.). In a lower sphere of life was an elderly lady of New Jersey, who used to come over to Moreton’s every three or four days for her opium, seldom varying inside of half a drachm or exceeding a drachm. Thus she did for ten years (though she had been an opium eater for twice that period) down to her death, which occurred about 1850, she being then in her sixty-ninth year. Health in the general was fair, constipation was never complained of, the countenance showed nothing usual other than a degree of sallowness, and the death appears to have had no obvious connection with her habit.
In the London Lancet of 1837 is a narrative by Morewood of an Indian prince, a sensualist of the Oriental type proper, pampered in his imbecility of enjoyment by whatever power could command or gold could purchase. The account is his own, as given on a visit of the English ambassador. Eighteen hours of the twenty-four he spent in sleep (if a dreamy stupor be such), being aroused at intervals, and then only for the renewal of his boluses; the remaining time he passed in a state of half-waking, engrossed ith his hallucinations and reveries. This potentate that was by a Dei-gratia right purely, but victim really to a bondage more abject than pertained to the humblest of his menial attendants, used ounces of opium every day, taking no food proper, a little pilau only excepted. A servile imitator without the merit of originality, he practised upon a text that had been proclaimed centuries before: “Eat, drink, and sleep – what can the rest avail us? – So spake that sceptred fool, Sardanapalus.”
At the opposite extreme are cases as remarkable, evincing the idiosyncrasy of intolerance. An instance is given by Reaumur. Several young men having come together one evening for a carousal, it was agreed to make an experiment upon one of the number, by dropping into his wine a four-grain powder of opium. The individual upon whom the deception was practised having retired to bed, was not thought of again until the next morning, when he was found rigid in death. Tournon gives the case of a lad with earache, whose ear having been plugged with a bolus of four grains, he fell into a sleep soon after, but to wake no more. Morphine too in the proportionately small dose of one grain, and half an ounce of laudanum also (if not less than this), have acted fatally (Sieveking).
A very unusual exemplification of extreme sensitiveness under morphine, in the person of Dr. Vandervoort of New York, is here given as communicated by himself. For some unwonted and extreme nervousness, the doctor has now and then found a wonderful quietive in morphine, but what is especially noticeable is the amount of effect so out of proportion to the extremely small quantity used. Three minims of Magendie’s solution (only 1/4 of a grain of morphine) would within a moderate space throw him into a state of serene sedation and most voluptuous repose, to be followed in three or four hours by a profuse sudorific action of the most comfortable kind, and finally by a sleep for the night calm and refreshing. No nausea or other unpleasant symptom was felt in the morning, unless the amount had been exceeded by a single drop or two, or in case the original dose had been repeated.
There is an idiosyncrasy of a secondary order, and of artificial creation rather, the creature of habit carried to excess, but none the less distinguishable and peculiar when once established. This is a morbid lesion of some kind, which, however perplexing to the scrutiny of the anatomist, is none the less discernible in its developments. Here or there may be observed a case of extreme sensitiveness and impressibility of the stomach under the action of opium, whatever be the preparation used or however reduced the dose. Perseverance in the use, or a revived use only after a period of intermission, becomes doubly hazardous. Analogies may be observed in the action of the bromides, of lead, of mercurial salts, upon such as have once undergone the characteristic organic changes. A lady, Miss Louisa X., then under the care of the present writer, suffered once a severe salivation of more than three weeks’ continuance, and, all from a ten-grain dose of calomel, notwithstanding that the medicine had been followed within four hours by oil as a counter-agent This pathologic excitability of the organism had been established through the intemperate employment of mercurials, more than ten years before, against a malarious fever.
The popular belief that opium, used habitually, if in moderation, is proprio vigore pernicious, is a proposition to be accepted only with qualifications. The differences observed are ascribable almost as much to race perhaps as to individual temperament. The peoples of the Orient generally, being of the phlegmatic cast more, are able to bear with more certain impunity than Europeans, not stimuli only but narcotics as well, be these alcoholic liquors or opium or tobacco. The Chinese, as Dr. Parker observes, have indeed “a susceptibility to opium like wax to the seal.”
European families, if perhaps less responsive under the primal influence, appear altogether less tolerant under the permanent impression. If not “wax to receive,” yet “marble to retain” they certainly are. Dr. Macpherson says, that though the Chinese, rich and poor as well, are smokers in so large proportion, nevertheless as a people they are athletic and vigorous and capable of great endurance, and that the lower orders both as to intelligence and physical stamina are quite equal if not superior to the uncultivated classes of the West.
Sir H. Pottinger, and also Mas, Spanish envoy at Peking, have drawn similar inferences from their observations. Even Dr. Little, while insisting that body and mind with it do not seldom wear out from excess, holds that the majority suffer no more from smoking opium than do Englishmen from smoking tobacco. The coolies certainly, inveterate smokers as they are, scarcely yield in persevering endurance to any class we could pit against them.
The indolent Turk too, as appears, is fully as tolerant of the narcotic as his neighbor of the Farther East. A great consumer of tobacco, coffee, and opium, one and all, he breaks down only exceptionally. Turn him out for the big doses. Edward Smith met with a gentleman in Smyrna, who took his three drachms in the morning and at night again, and without experiencing either exhilaration or narcotism in an unwonted degree. This person himself expressed the conviction, however, that his extravagance was wearing him out.
On the borders of the Mediterranean and the Euxine with their balmy skies, like instances, not uncommon, could scarcely be matched here in Cisatlantic land. The prima-facie objection to opium lies no more in the possible extravagance of use and the incidental liabilities than in the presumption, that the habit once fastened upon the man is fixed irreversibly, impressible to no impulse of the will-power from within, unyielding before any moral persuasives brought to bear against it from without. Facilis descensus – smooth is the slide over the slippery verge, but, revocare gradum – to face the whirl and surmount an overwhelming tide, here is a conflict too mighty for mortal endeavor. The desperate opium eater is like some reckless mariner pushing his fragile bark along an unexplored sea, careless of the hidden rock on which he may split or of the foamy eddy into which he is being furiously borne, until in a moment he has passed from sight, “Imo barathri ter gurgite sorptus.”
(Editor’s Note) This chapter contains some pretty offensive, elitist, racist language, so please be advised.
This chapter is a recitation of horrors, in particular the terrible price that infants and children pay for toxic substances ingested by their mothers before and during pregnancy. The damage done by using toxic Opium-based quack “medicines” to keep infants quiet and manageable was a world-wide phenomenon in the 1800’s, directly attributable to ruthless exploitation of gullible women promoted through the advertising of hundreds of tonics and elixirs. These “medicines” did indeed contain opium, but not fresh, pure opium gathered directly from the poppy. The manufacturers of these toxic brews used instead the cheapest dregs of global Opium commerce along with alcohol, morphine, heroin, and other popular toxins like mercury and bromine to boost the sedative effects of their “infant syrups”.
Interestingly enough, in 19th Century accounts of opium growing villages where people used pure opium from infancy, and where babies were fed opium straight from the field primarily because it dulled hunger, although everybody in these villages were opium addicts in the sense that they were daily lifetime users, the accounts that describe the rural poverty and primitive living conditions don’t describe the horror and degradation of addiction, but often report – somewhat bemusedly – widespread longevity and good health. Starvation, poverty and disease seem to have been the biggest obstacle to living long healthy lives in these villages, not Opium addiction. For the most part in these disparaging and racist 19th Century reports, scenes of degeneration and human degradation due to Opium addiction are confined to the cities, far away from the poppy fields and far down the chain of toxic adulteration of the opium and inhuman exploitation of the people.
Calkins joins others of his age and class and is at his judgmental, racist worst in those parts of this chapter where he analyzes the degeneration of the human race under the influence of opium, but that does not reduce the usefulness of his observations of life in America as he encountered it in his medical practice. Neither does the racism and smug superiority of the observers he quotes from around the world negate the factual component of their observations of the effects of cheap, adulterated, toxic Opium on poor, ignorant and castaway people compared with the relative good health and longevity of people in the rural Opium-growing villages.
In reading this chapter what strikes me the most clearly is that virtually none of the terrible fates of the people that Calkins describes were created through moderate consumption of pure, natural Opium; they are instead quite obviously victims, people whose lives are equal parts misery, pain and hopelessness, and who turned to whatever they believed would give them even a moment’s peace, regardless of the consequences for them or their children. That is the horror described here, although Dr. Calkins does not quite have the perspective to see the true nature of the horrors he describes. We can’t condemn him for this shortcoming – how many of us, were we living in 1870 and seeing the world that he experienced every day, would know any better?
What I find unforgivable is that today, 150 years later, the ruling classes whose wealth comes largely from exploitation of helpless people are still successfully convincing the “good people” of every society to blame both the victims and the substances that the victims use to escape their painful lives, and to ignore the plain evidence of their rulers’ greed and consummate evil. The continuing success of this transparent mind manipulation and the failure of society’s institutions to call this class of despotic parasites to justice is the most solid evidence I can find (along, of course, with nuclear and biological weapons in the hands of madmen) that the human race is quite likely doomed – not the fact that frightened, suffering people continue to try to escape the calculated misery of their lives in any way they can.
“And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:24
Chapter XI: Immature Development And Family Degeneracy
“Sevior armis – Luxuria.” – Juvenal.
“O Luxury, thou cursed by heaven’s decree!
How do thy potions, with insidious joy, diffuse their pleasures only to destroy!” – Goldsmith
Morel, while admitting that the medium term of life has doubled within three centuries, contends nevertheless that the race, taken as a whole, is degenerating. The idea, far from being paradoxical, derives a certain speciousness of support certainly from the general fact, that there are numerous deteriorating agencies perpetually at work, whose operation is purely pernicious, and whose end is destruction. Peoples, like individuals, their climacteric attained and the solid buttresses of a rigid temperance and a severe morality once undermined, verge by rapid slides towards disintegration and decay. In the stolid visage of the organ grinder from the Tyrol, or in the stupid grimace that greets you from the upturned faces of a group of Neapolitan lazzaroni – “Proles docta ligonibus Versare glebas” – is there discernible, in faintest tracery only, one solitary vestige of lineament that perchance links their pedigree with the Gracchi and the Metelli of old?
“Poor, paltry slaves! yet born midst noblest scenes;
Why, Nature, waste thy wonders on such men?”
When Vasco da Gama and Albuquerque voyaged to Malacca, there to plant colonies that should reflect lustre upon their ancient mother, little prescience had they even in dim shadow of the debasement and apathy into which these settlements were eventually to sink. Here upon this Peninsula, says Dr. Yvan, where the Portuguese settlers number at most but three thousand, one may see on every street boys with etiolated complexion and puny limb, who if perchance they survive the period of childhood will pass at once to that of adult life (for here there is no intervening season of youth), to lapse ere long into a premature decrepitude. An enemy, subtle as the serpent, more malignant than war and pestilence combined, has wrought out the mischief.
So, too, Formosa (Isle of Beauty) presents the spectacle of a race once hardy and warlike, but now sunken in an emasculating decline through subjection to the same pestilent invader. Of the children in Malacca whose parents have been habituated to opium, says Surgeon Smith, “They go about with the physical expression of general enervation, and in their mental aspect the imprint of dullness and fatuity. So of the boys in Amoy, whose index marks are watery eyes, sunken cheeks, and sallow faces, an idiotic expression, and a mopy gait”
Verily, “the iniquities of the father’s development a curse visited upon the children even unto the third and fourth generations.”
Assam, as appears from the account by Bruce, presents an equally ugly picture. “Opium is the plague that threatens to depopulate this beautiful country. Here is a people, once vigorous and thriving, now the most demoralized and degenerate of all the tribes of India.
As in China, where population has fallen off from an annual advance of three percent, to one-third this, so here the natural increase is visibly kept down through impaired fecundity; and as for old men, there are very few indeed. Deplorable as is the physical corruption of the Assamese, their moral debasement is even worse. Eking out existence in a miserable effeminacy, and utterly impervious to any sense of shame, they will recklessly go to any excess for the procuring of their stimulus, even to the bartering of wife and children. The doctrine of hereditation, in which is implied neither the transmission of vice actual (personal transgression involving will), nor yet the certain perpetuation of any one definite appetite before every other, but only a proclivity to someone kindred taste or habit, meets us as far back as when Plato speculated and Aristotle dogmatized, if indeed we do not find the germ of the same in the story of “ man’s first disobedience.”
Hippocrates presents the main idea thus: “Patrum in natos abcunt cum semine mores.” with Mercatus, “Habitus per assuetudinem acquisitus, transit in naturam.” Lucretius also long since enunciated the same idea, and he at a later day is followed by Valsalva: “Animal simile simili generat, secundum naturam in actu.”
Synd Ahmed Bahador, a pundit of the day, claims for the Brahminical Mishna the original promulgation of the doctrine. Vouatt finds an analogy obtaining in the inferior animals. As exemplifications of development in the human constitution may be instanced, oinomania, boulimia, nymphomania; in the moral, not unfamiliar examples are, pseudomania, kleptomania, phonomania. The “corruption of blood” as indicated in the general physiognomy, works in either of two ways: by directly obstructing the proper evolution of the brain-substance, or else by bringing about at a later period an impaired integrity of structure, and by consequence an enfeebled vitality, and besides a circumscribed power of intellection.
Dr. Palmer of Ontario, speaking of women addicted to opium, observes that they seldom venture upon marriage, for that barrenness and disappointment in other respects are the results in prospect. Mrs. P., a patient of his, who made her beginning two years before marriage, that is, ten years ago, was divorced after a time. No children came of this union, and there was no sufficient explanation of the fact other than in the existence of the habit. This person, notwithstanding her “general denial” is known to be using morphine to the amount of a drachm per week.
Most toxic agents, of whatever name, appear to possess some common property, by virtue of which they determine primarily to the brain or the spinal axis. The observation is borne out by various pathologic evidences. Prof. Ogston of Aberdeen, upon examining the brain of a woman who in a drunken fit had just drowned herself, found in the cerebral ventricles a fluid that in physical properties corresponded essentially to alcohol. In the Illinois Journal of Medicine is recorded the case of a man, also drowned while intoxicated, from whose brain, on removal of the calvarium, there emanated an odor distinctly alcoholic. The consequences to be expected under similar conditions are thus expressed by Morel: “Sous l’influence des alcooliques et quelques narcotiques (telles que opium) il se produit des perversions si grandes dans les fonctions du systeme nerveux, qu’il en resulte des veritables degenerescences, soit par la force directe de Tagent toxique, soit par la seule transmission hereditaire.”
Two cases from Prof. Z. Pitcher, M.D., of Detroit, evince very considerable diversities of effect under the operation of the same narcotic – opium. Mrs. P. E. A., now twenty-eight years of age, was the mother of two children. Phlegmasia dolens after each confinement, and a general hyperesthesia existing which each return of the menstrual period always aggravated, had got into the using of opium, periodically only at first, but by-and-by continuously, until the habit had become settled. After a few years, the narcotic not being found to suffice the nervous craving, alcohol became an additional resort and in large and increasing amounts. Nutrition was not essentially interfered with by these excesses, nor was she disqualified for supervising the affairs of the household through infirmity, cither physical or mental, and, besides, she had been able to nurse and rear the children independently of help. Upon the cessation of the menstrual function, the addiction to both stimuli grew upon her more and more; and for the rest of her life or to her 64th year, the daily dose, somewhat irregular, was often a scruple. The temperament of this patient might have led to the use of whiskey independently of the existing causes.
Mrs. H. B., now about forty-five years of age, and mother of eight children, was married at twenty. Health continued good until the birth of the youngest child (eight years since). Embolia of the uterine sinuses (pursuant upon the last birth) with its attendant sufferings led to the practice of taking morphia daily in small doses, but with much regularity, though in quantities increased as time advanced. At intervals the alkaloid has been somewhat reduced in amount from the substitution of alcoholic liquors; but lately both stimuli have gone on together and to extravagance. Conspicuous upon all occasions is a growing imbecility of mind, the more evident now from being in painful contrast with the natural moral force once so brilliant and strong in her habitual demeanor.
The idea of an influence of some sort transmitted from a corrupted fountain rests upon a foundation stronger than mere presumption. In Norway, “…in 1825, the spirit-duty was taken off, and in ten years from that the increase in percentage of congenital idiocy was ascertained to be as 150 to 100.” Dr. Howe, in a Report to the Legislature of Massachusetts rendered in 1848, makes return of one hundred idiots, whose parents to nearly one-half were found upon inquiry to have been habitual drunkards. According to the second Report of the Binghamton Asylum, it was ascertained that out of 1406 persons who had suffered delirium tremens, the parents or else the grandparents on one side or the other had been drunkards in 980 instances. Dr. Down in the London Lancet for 1859 records two cases pertinent to the main inquiry. In one family there was a child five years old with the intelligence of a nine months’ infant, but without deformity of body. Several of the children showed corresponding defects. In another family a part of the children were growing up healthy in look and of normal stature, and the last of the entire group also presented as good an appearance, in the intervening period, and after the father had become a habitual drunkard, two children were born, markedly distinguished from the rest in their stinted arms, big bellies, and bulgy heads. There was ground for believing that in both instances procreation had been effected inter paroxysm.
The proper view to be taken of these and other analogous cases is this undoubtedly; not that a certain physical appetite or organic vitiation, nor that a definite moral proclivity is certainly determined, but rather what Dr. Parrish has termed it, “an inherited condition of system.”
Nero, says Petronius, in the beginning of his reign deported himself soberly and in the exercise of a mild, forbearing spirit; but ere long, “tel racine, telle feuille”, throwing off all disguise, he rushed headlong into wild and even unnatural excesses, as if he would subvert the very order of nature, nursing his high-blown vanity and malignancy of temper in the practice of cruelties, such as were to have been expected of the monster brood born of an Agrippina. “Can a fountain send forth from the same mouth both sweet water and bitter?”
Hartley Coleridge, who followed his father in propensity to excesses, though in a collateral course rather, is forced in the agony of his desperation to exclaim, “ O woeful impotence of weak resolve!”
But we are not compelled to halt upon analogy, however significant that may be viewed as negative, pregnant evidence. There are facts confirmatory of this sort of foetal susceptivity where opium also has been the toxic used. Upon an inquest held at Walpole by Dr. Macnish, it appeared that a child, five years of age, though to appearance only so many weeks old, had never been able to walk nor so much to utter an articulate sound. The mother during her gestation (as was in evidence) had taken to morphine, using a drachm a day in the months just preceding her demise. The child, born before the habit had become fixed, showed a normal development and the aspect of general health
A confirmatory case is by H. Vanarsdale, M.D.. of New York. In this instance the parties, both of them, were healthy and robust by original constitution and by habits of life too, with the exception that the woman had for a very considerable period been in the practice of using morphine regularly and to great excess. An infant born subject to the liabilities had only a very imperfect physical organization with weak intellectual indications.
Pestilent as opium is upon the brain developed in its maturity, yet more pernicious, times over, is the reaction when it falls upon immature years. Whether the child suck in the poison mediately through the natural lacteal channels, or whether it receive the same pure and undiluted as measured out by the teaspoon, contamination is equally assured. “Mourir en fleur ou vivre bien petit” – such is the slippery tenure of life, such the inexorable necessity imposed. In view of such prospects, what shall be thought of a fashion obtaining among families of distinction in China, that of encouraging boys yet within the age of puberty in the use of the opium-pipe, with the fallacious expectation that such habit may perchance exert a resistive force against appetites and indulgences of a more sensual character? The furnishing of laudanum by their impoverished parents to children employed in the cotton mills of Lancashire may make a plausible show of excuse; but what can be said in palliation of practices, as in some of the lace factories for instance, where the infant incumbrances, fruits of the “ impermissa gaudia” enjoyed in their liaisons de convenance, are put upon Godfrey as precedent to the stronger alcoholic tincture, by which together they are used up in about six months?
Dr. Harper says of the Fen districts, where laudanum is given extensively, that the infant mortality is at an excessively high figure, and his account is corroborated by the doctors and the clergy of the parochial districts all over England
A pertinent case is from Prof. Pitcher. J.W. A., a young man at the time and a midshipman in the Navy (about 1825), had contracted the habit of intemperate drinking. His father, with the view to his reclaiming, sent him into the Indian country in charge of an attache of the American Fur Company. Having reached Sault de St. Marie he had an attack of delirium tremens, and to get rid of the horrors of his hallucinations he one day made a plunge into the Falls. Rescued from this peril, he renounced whiskey for eight years, or during his residence in this region, having substituted in its place tobacco, of which he used large quantities.
Soon after reaching the wintering-ground of the detachment, he married a half-breed Chippewa, by whom he had one child, a daughter, with feeble intellect and scrofulous habit. On his return to Detroit, in 1835, Dr. P. met him again. Meantime he had taken a second wife, one-fourth Shawnee, and, as appeared, had become habituated to opium in connection with his tobacco, though as yet and for some time after he was able to keep his habit disguised.
At the outbreak of epidemic cholera in 1849, being in painful dread of an attack, he voluntarily and without advice gave up all his narcotics; but there followed upon the change an appalling fit of delirium as before, with accompanying spectral illusions indescribably terrible. Recovering again, he resumed his opium, now in the form of morphine, increasing the amount until he had reached 20 grains. From this time onward there proceeded a gradual decay of intellectual power, the will especially becoming extremely feeble. The habit continued until 1856, broken only by death.
In his case the appetite for alcoholic stimuli – the reverse order is the common one – preceded the opium. The children born after the second marriage did not all inherit the infirmity of the parent; the two that were of his own temperament showed a tendency to phthisis. Both became intemperate drinkers, and one died such; the other, having substituted opium for alcohol, still survives, the progress of the original malady being apparently arrested.
In relation to hereditary transmission generally, Dr. P. is of opinion that the liability is greater when referable to the mother. A case of Dr. Palmer’s seems to incline to the doctrine of qualified hereditation. The youngest child of a family, now arrived at his majority nearly, has grown up an illiterate dullard, from sheer incapacity to learn anything. Following the mother but on a different line, he has thus early taken to dissipated ways, with the prospect of dying a sot. The mother, Mrs. H., now of the age of 50, has used opium for half this period, though never exceeding a drachm for the week.
There came under the writer’s notice, not long since, an invalid eighteen years old perhaps, of scrofulous habit somewhat, with an obscure indication of choreic tendency, and in intellect decidedly below par. This girl, the fifth in the series, was born after an interval of half a dozen years, by which time the habit of the mother (which had had its beginning soon after marriage, if not considerably earlier) was thoroughly established and in more palpable development. No indications of taint were noticeable in the older children.
The reckless employment of opiated preparations to the imperiling of infant life almost exceeds belief. There was a woman in Singapore, a desperate smoker at the rate of 36 grains of the chandoo daily, with two young children to care for, which she managed only this wise. To stay their noise (for they would whine and moan all the day if left to themselves) she would breathe over their faces a whiff or two of opium smoke. This practice (a common one in her country, as she represented to Surgeon Smith) allowed her to go to her task in the fields, unincumbered and unembarrassed.
Parrish of Philadelphia knew of a mother who used to give her child (it was but two years old) for a morning-potion a tablespoonful of laudanum, and for a similar purpose.
Paregoric, that household bane so empirically and yet so lavishly dispensed by imprudent mothers, whether for its present sedative efficacy, or whether for its supposed prophylactic virtue, has been, as an instrument of retributive evil, the very Nemesis of the nursery.
Here is an enumeration of particulars by a medical correspondent of the “Morning Chronicle”;
“Serious suffusion of the brain, if not degenerescence of the substance, with disruption of the cranial sutures, extreme nervousness and a lowered vis vitae, a sallow, corrugated skin, a tympanitic abdomen, limbs shrunken and shrivelled, a mopy gait, the faces hippocratica as of the death-spook in the window, youth in fine already transformed into the ugliness of decrepit age, with tabes mesenterica or dropsy in the not distant future — such are the appearances, such the prospects.”
“Could our mortuary registers reveal more of the hidden causes that are unremittedly operating to the impairment of the physical constitution ere the primal period has passed, they would tell of children sacrificed in hecatombs year in and out, the passive victims of syrups and elixirs whose labels are as audaciously false as the gilding is vulgarly profuse.”
“A case in point once fell under the observation of the writer of these pages. Mrs. B., a matron of a New England town, had taken for adoption into the family a boy then two years old. The child, from excess of solicitude and out of a mistaken kindness, was pampered with candies and other entremets during the day, so that by the time night had come it had got gorged to repletion. Restive now under its colicky pains it was not to be amused with cradle rockings, and so the dernier resort, the infallible paregoric vial, was taken into service. The dose, ten drops for a start, soon grew to a teaspoonful, and such supply was continued unremittedly through several months. As in similar cases, brief was the course and urgent the close – hydrocephalus in the sixth year. “So fades the lovely blooming flower.”
“Purpureus veluti cum flos, succisus aratro, Languescit moriens.” – Virgil.
(Editor’s Note) In this chapter we get to the crux of the matter regarding the impact of Opium on people’s health and longevity – Dr. Calkins finally says it straight out:
“Facts and opinions thus apparently conflicting in the exterior view are sufficiently reconcilable if various qualifying considerations be allowed due force. Prominent among these are purity in the article and moderation in the use.”
“As observes the Rev. Mr. Doolittle, “The favored classes, being possessed of abundant means, can always procure supplies of the purest quality, whereas artisans and others are necessarily limited to the inferior sorts.”
From that observation it is only a very short leap to acknowledging that if a person grows their own Opium poppies and harvests the tears of the poppy themselves, and smokes only these crystallized drops of the sun and moon in moderation, then all of the benefits and none of the harm that has been attributed to Opium addiction will fall upon that person.
Similarly, if in our society an ethical grower were able to produce pure, natural Opium for a collective of friends or local clients, and if that Opium were to pass into the hands of the smokers unadulterated by passing through a commercial chain of manipulation, adulteration, greed and deception, then entire communities could enjoy the benefits of the Opium poppy without any of the degradation and pain created entirely by capitalist exploitation. The Opioid Crisis is a crisis of Predatory Capitalism, not of Opium.
(If it matters, I make the same distinction between Capitalism and Predatory Capitalism that I do between hunting animals for food and slaughtering animals for perverted erotic pleasure.
The same principles apply to Cannabis, to Tobacco, to Coca Leaf, and to other spirit plants not as familiar in America. If any of these natural miracles are grown personally, or locally, and if they are either free or priced reasonably according to the labor and capital required to grow them, or if they are bartered for directly with the grower, then there will be no harm, no crime, no suffering, and no degradation of the human body or spirit. It is the predatory commercial chain that has been developed around each of these pure, natural plants that is the cause of unbearable pain on a global scale – not the plants themselves. The plants are sacred gifts of Mother Earth and the Great Spirit. The pain and suffering are entirely man-made.
(From: “Opium And the Opium Appetite”
by Alonzo Calkins, MD (1870)
Chapter X: Longevity And Personal Deterioration
“Abstulit clarum cita mors Achillem;
Longa Tithonurri minuit sehectus.” – Horace.