An 18th Century Dissertation on Opium

Burkhardt, Johann Christian. Dissertatio Medica Inauguralis. De Opio. Quam Annuente Divino Numine… Pro Gradu Doctoris more maiorum legitime obtinendo Die XXVI. Aprilis An. MDCCXLIX.

Jena, “Litteris Ritterianis”, 1749.

4to. 32 pp, (8) pp. Contemporary marbled paper spine.


Rare sole edition of this dissertation on opium, defended as an undergraduate thesis at the University of Jena in 1749. The work begins with a basic definition of opium (‘drawn from the mature seed heads of the white poppy’) and continues with a brief history of its medical use in Egypt and India. Then follows a list of recipes and preparations of the drug, the opinions of various medical authorities, and a lengthy case based on personal observation. In this case (pp. 11-14), Burkhardt discusses the differences between henbane poisoning and opium intoxication. He discusses both the ‘hypnotic’ and ‘narcotic’ effects of the drug, and the various doses which elicit these effects, based on experiments conducted with a cow.

According to Georg Blanck (Die Mecklenburgischen Ärzte von den ältesten Zeiten bis zur Gegenwart), Burckhardt served as a provincial physician but died in 1759. OCLC shows three copies in US libraries: Cornell, NLM, and the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

Waller, The Books Illustrating the History of Medicine and Science Vol 1: 1656.

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