During the American Civil War the Union Army used around half a million opium pills and 2.8 million ounces of laudanum powder (Schiff 2002). In spite of opium’s addictive nature, there was no better substitute at the time, and its pill and powder forms made it easy to distribute to the needy masses. Egyptians also soaked sponges in opium for surgery purposes (1993).Earth’s oldest civilizations used a medical plant that still has influence in modern medicine; mankind would not continue to use a material for so long if it did not have immeasurable advantages.The earliest findings of opium poppy cultivation come from Mesopotamia in 3400 B. There, Sumerians named the plant Hul Gil, or “joy plant” (Brownstein 1993).
The Greek empire’s acceptance of opium predetermined Western medicine’s acceptance of opium, as Western medicine takes large cues from the Hippocratic School of medicine.
Opium’s influence throughout history stretches well beyond China’s widely noted opium wars in the 19th century, as Carbon-14 dating records it use as early as 4200 B. Over a dozen discoveries document opium from Neolithic settlements in Mediterranean nations during ancient times.
At one particular site in Spain, the “Cueva de los Murciélagos” (bat cave) burial site holds large quantities of poppy seed capsules (1999).
Then Hippocrates advocated opium’s use for treating female diseases, internal diseases and epidemics. Western Journal of Medicine [Online], 133(4), 367-370.
He, along with Pliny the Elder (natural philosopher), Pedanius Dioscorides (botanist and pharmacologist), and Scribonius Largus (court physician to Roman emperor Claudius), used the term “meconium” to refer to poppy juice derived from the leaves and fruit.