Domestic Encyclopædia (1802)/Opium

OPIUM, an inspissated gummy-resinous juice, which is obtained from the White Poppy (Papaver album v. somniferum, L.) a plant cultivated in Persia and Arabia, where it attains the height of 20 or 30 feet. When the heads are nearly ripe, they are wounded on one side by an instrument furnished with five edges, which make an equal number of incisions; whence the opium flows by the action of the sun's heat, and is collected on the following day, by a person who wounds the opposite side of the head; from which the juice exudes, and is received in a similar manner. As soon as it is collected, the opium is moistened with a little water or honey, and is kneaded with the hand, till it acquires the consistence of pitch; after which it is formed into cakes or rolls for sale.

The best opium is imported from the province of Bahar, in the East Indies, though it appears from experiments, that this drug may be advantageously prepared in England; and the Patriotic Society for the Encouragement of Arts, &c. having offered liberal premiums to obtain so desirable an object, we propose to give a concise account of the methods adopted by the successful candidates, under the article Poppy.

Opium is very ponderous; of a close and compact texture; rather moist; and of a deep brown colour. It emits a faint smell, and has a very bitter acrid taste: the best sort is of a moderate firmness, possessing a very powerful odour, and a bitter, disagreeable flavour. This narcotic drug is at present greatly esteemed; and, whether used in the extract made into pills, or in the liquid form of Laudanum, it is one of the most valuable medicines. Being a very powerful antidote, as well as a remedy for procuring sleep and mitigating pain, it is but too often abused. If conjoined in certain proportions with vegetable acids, it possesses the remarkable property of preventing sleep, and exciting the mental powers. On this account, it has often, though injuriously, been employed by those who are obliged to devote their rights to sedentary or active pursuits.—See also Acids.

Among the various disorders, in which opium has been given, with good effects, we shall first mention diarrhœas, and dysenteries. It has likewise been found serviceable in relieving the tooth-ach; in allaying the pain and preventing the fever arising from wounds, fractures, or similar accidents; and also in the small-pox, both where the patient is troubled with convulsions, before the appearance of the eruption, and on the fifth or subsequent days. But as it is, on the whole, a precarious remedy, its proper use can be determined only by the expert practitioner.

Opium is the most certain antispasmodic hitherto discovered; and, when conjoined with laxatives, is eminently useful in colics; as, by relieving the spasm, it frequently prevents intlammations of the bowels.—Lastly, it is of the greatest service in the different species of tetanus, and Locked Jaw; and affords relief in the various spasmodic affections attending indigestion, hypochondriasis, the bite of a mad dog, &c.; it facilitates the passage of calculi, or stones, through the ureters: and has been found useful in some species of epilepsy.

But, though opium be thus valuable, it should not be taken in too large doses, or without medical advice; as it is not unfrequently productive of the most fatal consequences. If, however, any quantity be swallowed, or suspected to have been swallowed, either accidentally, or with a design to terminate existence, its effects will become evident by vomiting, delirium, vertigo, and an irresistible propensity to sleep. In such case, friction with salt has been found serviceable, in restoring the patient to a slight degree of animation; immediately after, it will be necessary to exhibit 12 grains of vitriolated zinc, if he be an adult. This medicine should be succeeded by water-gruel, or similar mucilaginous drink, or butter-milk, sour whey, and particularly vinegar, or strong coffee, which last appears to be the most effectual antidote.—The cold bath, and the application of blisters to the head, have likewise produced beneficial effects in recovering persons poisoned with this drug.

Opium pays, on importation, the sum of 1s. 7 1/2d. per lb. if brought from the place of its growth; but, if not, it is subject to the duty of 4s. 11 1/2d. per lb. When imported by the East-India Company, it pays, on warehousing, the sum of 2l. per cent. according to its value, and is liable to the farther payment of 1s. 7 1/2d. on being taken out for home-consumption.—It has been proved, from the Custom-house lists, and other sources of information, that a larger quantity of opium is annually used in Great-Britain, than in all other States of Europe, collectively.