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Drug Use During the Victorian Era

During the Victorian Era, drugs were spread all over England. Britain was seen as one of the largest drug traffickers in the world.

Opium was one of the most popular drugs of the time. This was because of the control it had over the colonies and the opium grown in most of them.

Drug Use During the Victorian Era
Medicinal use of Opium

This mainly occurred in the 19th century with the British Empire trafficking opium in China which was a huge market for the drug at the time.

Due to the trafficking, the drug was introduced into Britain where it became popular and was used along with alcohol.

Opium Drug for Trade

Opium was a very important part of the British Empire. The British Empire fought two wars in the 19th Century known as the ‘Opium Wars’ which supported the free trade of the drug as opposed to the trade restrictions China wanted to impose on the drug.

The Spread of the Drug Across Britain

Opium dens began to open up all over London. It was initially started when the Chinese community which was involved in Opium trade settled in the London slums,

Mainly Limehouse which was famous for its pubs, brothels and opium dens. Seamen were regular visitors to these dens due to their proximity to the Docklands and harbors.

Use and Abuse of Opium and other Drugs

The use of the opium, laudanum, cocaine, and arsenic increased. It was freely available to all. Anyone could buy them from the chemists without a prescription. Opiates were also freely sold in towns and country markets

Another reason Opium became popular was that it acted as a painkiller too. It soon began to be used in medicine and was the main ingredient in many medicines.

Drug Use During the Victorian Era

Laudanum is made from opiates and their addicts use the drug as an anti-depressant. However, the aftermath included deep depression, slurred speech, and vomiting. The withdrawal symptoms were aches, nausea, and diarrhea.

Laudanum was popular among many people in the literary society. These included Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot, and Robert Clive.

Drug Use During the Victorian Era

The opium markets targeted women and were prescribed as painkillers for menstruation and childbirth. Doctors also recommended the women to inhale the vapors to treat hysteria, depression and fainting fits.

Drug Use During the Victorian Era
Amputation methods as illustrated in a 19th-century surgery manual from The Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians

Children were also given opiates to calm down and to treat colic. They were sometimes overused which resulted in permanent illnesses or even death among the infants and toddlers.

By 1868, doctors began to notice the adverse effects of the drug and tried to prescribe alternates for the opiates. They first tried to control the sale and made it mandatory that only registered chemists could sell it and only with a prescription.

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