Georg Wolfgang Wedel was a German medical professor, rector, and royal physician, who produced one of the most thorough treatises on opium in seventeenth-century Europe. Wedel’s research was closely affiliated with Paraclesus’ medical doctrine of iatrochemistry, which posited that pathological and physiological phenomena could be traced to chemical processes. Iatrochemists sought to apply their knowledge to the production of pharmacological cures. This emphasis on the chemical makeup of medicine formed the groundwork for Wedel’s monographic text, Opiologia.
Wedel discovered in his research that opium contained active ingredients that could be chemically manipulated by heat. Popularly used as treatment for pain, insomnia, migraines, and epilepsy, the milky latex opium was extracted from the plant’s large seed pods and distributed to patients in tinctures. Wedel cites a predominance of Eastern authors as references for opium’s qualities, and issues a warning against “the medicaster parochus” (parish quack) and the “tonsor” (barber)” that accidentally poison their patients in Europe. Wedel writes, “Opium is a life-anchor for him who uses it properly and with circumspection, but in the hands of the unskilled it is a semblance of Charon’s boat, and pernicious as a sword in the hands of a madman. Great care is therefore to be exercised, that the narcotic may not be converted into a necrotic.”