All right, kids, think you're hard core with your vodka-soaked tampons and your butt-chugging? Turns out your great-great-great-grandparents were the original gangsters. Three words: opium-soaked tampons.
"In the 19th century, tampons were soaked in opium and belladonna," says Liz Sherman, executive director of the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, where a box of antique opium-soaked tampons is on display. "The opium was to relieve pain, and the belladonna was to dilate and relax the vagina."
Sherman says the majority of opium users were middle- to upper-class women. While it wasn't socially acceptable for women to patronize saloons, there was nothing wrong with slipping in an opium-soaked tampon or sipping a morphine-laced tonic from the comfort of one's own parlor. "There were a lot of tonics geared toward women's ailments, and most were 25 percent or more alcohol and had some sort of opiate in them," Sherman says.
Aside from being a way more intense high, there's another difference between opium-soaked tampons and their contemporary, alcoholic counterparts: "(Nineteenth-century women) weren’t soaking tampons in opium specifically to get high, there were medicinal reasons for it," Sherman says. "There were also a good percentage of people who strictly used (opium) recreationally, but medicinally, the majority were women. Or at least under the guise of medicinal use."