Thou mixture rank, of midnight weeds collected

drugs-mrs-winslows-soothing-syrupI’ve been researching drugs and poisons for A Raging Madness. The book opens with my heroine forcibly addicted to laudanum, which was a mix of opium and alcohol. And then things get worse.

I needed a potion or a poison, or a variety of them, that the heroine could be fed without her knowing, and one that was available in England in the early 19th century. I found that I had a wealth to choose from.

Opium was out. She knew the effects, had fought her way out of addiction, and would have known immediately if it happened again. In describing both the addiction and the withdrawal, I drew (among other sources) on a first-person account from Victorian times.

I’m just mad at myself for having given in to such a fearful habit as opium-eating. None but those who have as completely succumbed to it as I did, could guess the mischief it would do. Even you, with an experience which must be extremely varied, being as you are, in such a good place for studying people’s brains (or rather their want of them), cannot know the amount of harm it did to me morally, though I must say you did seem to have a pretty fair idea of it. It got me into such a state of indifference that I no longer took the least interest in anything, and did nothing all day but loll on the sofa reading novels, falling asleep every now and then, and drinking tea. Occasionally I would take a walk or drive, but not often. Even my music I no longer took much interest in, and would play only when the mood seized me, but felt it too much of a bother to practice. I would get up about ten in the morning, and make a pretence of sewing; a pretty pretence, it took me four months to knit a stocking!

Worse than all, I got so deceitful, that no one could tell when I was speaking the truth. It was only this last year it was discovered; those living in the house with you are not so apt to notice things, and it was my married sisters who first began to wonder what had come over me. They said I always seemed to be in a half-dazed state, and not to know what I was doing. However they all put it down to music. Mother had let me go to all the Orchestral Concerts in the winter, and they thought it had been too much for me. By that time it was a matter of supreme indifference to me what they thought, and even when it was found out, I had become so callous that I didn’t feel the least shame. Even mother’s grief did not affect me, I only felt irritated at her; this is an awful confession to have to make, but it is better to tell the whole truth when you once begin, and it might be some guide to you in dealing with others. If you know of anyone indulging in such a habit, especially girls, just tell them what they will come to.

Of course its effects differ according to one’s nature, and it’s to be hoped few get so morally degraded as I did. This much is certain, few would have the constitution to stand it as I did, and even I was beginning to be the worse for it. For one thing, my memory was getting dreadful; often, in talking to people I knew intimately, I would forget their names and make other absurd mistakes of a similar kind. As my elder sister was away from home, I took a turn at being housekeeper. Mother thinks every girl should know how to manage a house, and she lets each of us do it in our own way, without interfering. Her patience was sorely tried with my way of doing it, as you may imagine; I was constantly losing the keys, or forgetting where I had left them. I forgot to put sugar in puddings, left things to burn, and a hundred other things of the same kind. [Letter in the British Journal of Medical Sciences, 1889: Confessions of a Young Lady Laudanum Drinker]

Laudanum, as the young writer says, was readily available and often prescribed for things as diverse as “Laudanum, the most popular form in which opium was taken (dissolved in alcohol) was recommended in cases of fever, sleeplessness, a tickly cough, bilious colic, inflammation of the bladder, cholera morbus, diarrhoea, headache, wind, and piles, and many other illnesses” [See more at:].

drugs-vin-marianiAnother common tincture — too late for my story — was Vin Mariani: coca leaves ground into Bordeaux wine. Red wine and cocaine. It debuted in 1863, and took the polite world by storm.

Devotees of the drink included Alexander Dumas, Emile Zola, Presidents William McKinley and Ulysses S. Grant, and countless monarchs including Queen Victoria of England. In addition, actress Sarah Bernhardt and Pope Leo XIII (who gave him a Gold Medal!) were among the many who actually appeared in advertisements. []

Mercury, arsenic, and cyanide were all used in medicines, their effects often more dire than the illnesses they were intended to treat.

I wondered about marijuana, which was readily available and eaten in cakes. I thought maybe it could be stirred into a drink, but I was assured by a friend that the taste would be a clear giveaway.

I’ve finished up with nutmeg, salvia divinorum, and morning glory.

drug-nutmegNutmeg contains myristicin, a naturally occuring drug with effects similar to LCD when consumed in high enough doses. Doses high enough to cause the effect are also really hard on the heart, so it wouldn’t be my drug of choice, since the villain wants her alive. I haven’t yet figured out how high the dose needs to be, and whether it could be slipped past the victim without her knowing. If I’m arrested, it’ll be for this research.

drugs-salvia_mainachtSalvia was used as a drug by shamans in Mezo-America, and is another hallucinogenic. The leaves are bitter though, so as a tea or an addition to a salad, it seems unlikely. Perhaps a tea sweetened with honey? Or an extract made into a tincture with alcohol, and introduced into an otherwise harmless drink.

And the same with morning glory. A heightened sense of awareness and a diminished sense of reality, my sources say. Poor Ella.

(The heading is a quote from Hamlet.)


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