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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.


Lewis Carroll

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 opiates.

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 painkillers.

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.


Florence Nightingale

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.


Charles Dickens

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.

 
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