Famous Opium Users
Opium is derived from the poppy plant and its use became popular
throughout history as a medicinal painkiller. Opium has approximately
12% morphine content, and is often chemically processed to create
the recreational drug, heroin.
Opium also contains codeine, and selective breeding of the poppy
plant has led to increased amounts of morphine and codeine alkaloids.
Though the selective breeding process has evolved, the actual
production of opium hasn't changed much throughout history. The
immature seed pods of the poppy plant are hand scored, allowing
the latex to leak out and dry. The residue is scraped from the
pod and dehydrated further, and serves as the base for many semi-synthetic
Opium was a drug of choice for many during the 15th to 17th century,
and also for surgeons, who found that the drug's anesthetic qualities
allowed them to perform lengthy surgical procedures. Use of opium
medicinally continued through the American Civil war, and then
was pushed aside for more accurately dosed morphine and other
Unfortunately, opium was found to be rather addictive, and many
famous historical people ended up becoming attached to the effects
of the drugs. Many of these addicts used the drug primarily for
pain relief, like the case of Roma Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who
used the drug to manage joint pain, or the last Russian Czar,
Nicholas II, who used opium for his stomach ailments. Nicholas
spent the final two years of his life on a variety of opiates
to control a variety of symptoms, including colds. He was described
as looking gaunt, frail, and vacant.
Major General of the British Army and political supremacist of
the East India Company, Robert Clive was a known opium addict,
but was not alone in his position in the British military. During
the Napoleonic Wars, Admiral Horatio Nelson of the British Navy
was also known to partake in his fair share of opium.
Ben Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States
was known to use opium recreationally, and many poets, authors,
and writers found solace in the drug. From Charles Dickens to
John Keats, many works were written under the influence of opium.
Dickens was highly addicted, and was a heavy user of the drug
right until his death of a massive stroke. French artist/writer
Jean Cocteau is one of the most famous opium users, even chronicled
his treatment for the addiction in his 1930 book titled Opium:
the Diary of a Cure. Mary Shelley frequently used the drug, and
even let it spill into her character's recreational choices in
her novel Frankenstein, and Percy Shelley also used the drug often.
Nobody can go down the rabbit hole and expect to survive without
the effects of opium, as Lewis Carroll does in his tales of Alice.
Bela Lugiosi, the early horror film star knew the location of
various opium dens, and Florence Nightingale was discovered to
be an opium user years after her death. Laudanum, a drink comprised
of 10% opium and 90% alcohol was a popular choice back then.