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You are Feeling Sleepy

To Sleep Perchance to Dream

Sleep is the great restorative. The chance to escape from the troubles of the day, rest the body and rest the mind. So, it is no wonder that the human race has a long history of using substances to make sleep happen more quickly or for longer.

The Ebers Papyrus gives a recipe for using opium to help babies go to sleep so the use of narcotics goes back at least 5000 years and, probably, longer.

Historically, some of the best known sleeping potions were made from highly poisonous plants. The Daturas were favoured by professional poisoners because they, supposedly, sent their victims quietly off to an unending sleep. Mandrake was used as an anaesthetic in ancient Greece sometimes alone and sometimes mixed with opium and henbane.

In medieval Britain, the preferred recipe substituted poison hemlock for mandrake, perhaps because mandrake does not grow too easily this far north.

In addition to inducing sleep the narcotics depress the central nervous system so that pain is greatly reduced if not eliminated. The 'opium fiends' of China portrayed by a xenophobic west were, in reality, often just seeking relieve from pain in places where there might be hundreds of thousands of people to one doctor.

But, talking of the 'opium fiends' does raise the problem with using narcotics for pain relief; they are generally addictive and, in the case of heroin obtained from the opium poppy, that addiction can lead to death from overdose.