From "Papaber Errat" to "Tincture of Opium" : poppies, opiates, and pain in early modern Scotland (ca. 1664–1785)

Mills, James H. (2021) From "Papaber Errat" to "Tincture of Opium" : poppies, opiates, and pain in early modern Scotland (ca. 1664–1785). The Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, 35 (1). pp. 91-114. ISSN 1930-8418 (

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This article focuses on the uses of opiates in early modern Scotland in an effort to trace the neglected story of how poppy-based substances were used in this period across the British Isles. It explores their history in medical practices, examining sources as varied as household recipes, apothecaries' invoices, and the family correspondence of surgeons alongside the medical treatises and publications of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Considering the deployment of medicinal concoctions made from both the local red poppy and imported opium from the white poppy, the article argues that use of the former may have paved the way for the development of a market for the latter; the mild analgesia produced from the rhoeadine of the red flowers had prepared medical practitioners and others for the more potent painkilling of Papaver somniferum products. In this light, imported opium looks less like an "exotic" addition to the medicine of the period and more like an enhancement drawn into existing ideas and practices. The article concludes that it was pain and not pleasure that drove the market for imported opium.


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