Drug Use During The Victorian Era

drugs in the victorian era included opium
Opium plant

The Victorian era is one of the most interesting and fascinating periods of time in history. The industrialization process, specific to the epoch, has led to important changes in everyday life, and changed people’s perceptions about work and the environment. It was a time of contradictions, an era in which fun got new meanings and manifested itself in a world bent to morbidity and an exaggerated interest in death and the world beyond. It was the age of scientific discoveries, the rising of Urbanism and the first public holidays. A time when recreational drugs were in great demand and when photography first replaced painting.

Recreational Drug Use

The people of the Victorian era were great recreational drug users who bought them from any corner drugstore they could. It was common to see these drugs scattered throughout most of the living rooms across the country. The best known was laudanum – an alcoholic herbal mixture containing 10% opium that is still produced for medical purposes. This substance was not meant to be used only by some of the artists who enjoyed the creative effects of psychoactive substances. Opium was the drug of the people, available in the 19th century more than any cigarette pack nowadays. Laws against drug consumption emerged only during the First World War. The government became concerned that the heroin gel packs the wives were sending to their husbands, who were on the front lines, were having adverse effects regarding solider discipline.

The Victorians did not just limit themselves at alcohol and opium, but started using cannabis, cocaine, mescal, and once the hypodermic needle was invented, they switched to heroin and morphine. Drugs were on one side the perfect way to escape reality, to defeat boredom and an “elixir” for the imagination. While on the other side a tiny lethal weapon.

During the Victorian era, heroin was considered a miracle drug, ten times more effective than codeine, suppressing cough, at a time when tuberculosis was unstoppable. It was considered non-addictive comparing to opiates or morphine. Scientifically speaking, it was a progress and the ideology was promising a decrease in the morphine epidemic and the economy was making a fortune.

Opiate addiction became a real problem in different environments like hospitals, on the battle front, as well as in intellectual and modern environments. What wasn’t known was the fact that the stronger drugs the stronger and more dangerous the addiction and side effects.

Drugs During The Victorian Era

Opiates played an important part in Victorians lives. Regarding the opiates use in the extra-medical sphere, the fascination for the mysterious practices associated with hallucinogenic intoxication and especially with opiates (smoked in specific smoking areas) was associated with exoticism.

A pipe of opiates and a dose of morphine was almost every Victorians’ achievable dream. Children were also given opiates to be quiet. Opiates were sold freely in towns and country markets. They could be found in coffee shops and suburbs pharmacies, so the workers were using it to forget about poverty.

The Victorian era represents a time of hallucinogens and a time of a medical, cultural and socially addicted drug world. Opiates were responsible for more premature deaths than any other chemical agent.  In 1840 Britain declared war on China, in hopes of obtaining economic leverage in the opium trade markets. That was known as “The Opium War”.

Regarding alcohol, prohibition has remained only a historically isolated phenomenon. While the control of hallucinogenic substances has proved to be more restricted, though not always necessarily effective. The Victorian era cannot be forgotten, as by its complexity and wide circulation, drugs have culturally and artistically defined it. And the tragedies of this time can only be overlooked by the great advances it also provided society.

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