Were our horses drug addicts?

Reading Veterinary texts from the late 1880’s and early 1900’s there began to be a theme. Veterinarians of that time relied heavily on the use of narcotics. Opium in several forms and Cannabis were prescribed for common ailments.

Many texts refer to both opium and cannabis when dealing with illness with the domestic animal. After reading up on the prescription of these drugs, I began to wonder how a pet or working animal would have reacted in this time. Drugs can affect the pet or working animal on many levels, and possibly the reliance on drugs such as opium and cannabis in the care of animals, may explain why we also had extreme training methods to them control ‘drug addicted’ horses or other methods of care that we now consider cruel with dogs.


The Veterinary Pharmacopoeia, Materia Medica and Therapeutics by George Cresswell 1886 listed opium available in the following forms:

Enema Opii
Extractum Opii
Linimentum Opii
Morphinae Acetas
Morphine Hydrocloras
Morphine Sulphas
Pulvis Ipecacuanhae Compositus
Tintura Comphorae Composita
Tinctura Opii
Unguentum Gallarum cum Opio
with most commercial samples generally containing 15% of morphine.

Creswell goes on to discuss the therapeutic action of Opium with its principal action being on the nervous system. He also stated it must be pointed out that animals show wide dissimilarity in their degree of susceptibility to its influence. Thoroughbred and other excitable horses were more readily influenced than cart-horses of sluggish temperament. He goes on to state that Opium is one of the most valuable and commonly prescribed of the medicinal agents of the Pharmacopoeia.

It was commonly prescribed to relieve pain and spasm. It was used as a antispasmodic in colic, as an expectorant with respiratory disorders, to prevent abortion, relieve post partum pains and locally to painful wounds and bruises.


Referring to Cresswell again, you had preparations of Extractum Cannabis Indicae and Tinctura Cannabis Indicae.

Also referred to as Indian Hemp in Victorian texts (not to be confused with hemp grown for food supplementation which has to have less than 5 ppm of THC and not what is being discussed in this article), it is soporific, anodyne and antispasmodic. It has similar properties to opium and has been given in the treatment of tetanus in horses along with other remedies. Cannabis Indica is one of the ingredients in chloroform, and was thus largely used in veterinary practice for colic, inflammation of the bowels, and other diseases. In irritative fever, consequent upon wounds in connection with joints, it has a favourable action. The extract was sometimes added to cough balls for farm animals.

Drug Energy

Drug energy is created when someone abuses a substance that alters your state of mind. This may bring up issues for some people, though it is necessary you are aware of how smoking marijuana or indulging in heavier drugs, does have an effect energetically.

If you take these drugs yourself, you can create different types of damage in your etheric body. Rudolf Steiner’s approach saw many drugs affect the total constitution; the ego, astral body, etheric body and the physical body. Amphetamines damage the etheric body, leading to a lack of vitality and willpower. LSD gives rise to powerful hallucinations, which cause a slight separation of the etheric body from physical body. Marijuana has a similar but less extreme effect. Heroin completely blocks any sense of guilt or shame. It dislocates the ego from the rest of the constitution, causing the astral body to be dominated by instinctive desires.

This can reflect in the person’s behaviour. When the ego is affected you have rage, guilt and mania. The astral body displays anxiety, etheric body shows depression and the physical body shows obsession.

When you take a drug, part of the high you experience is created by you being able to access the astral dimensions and connect with the drug energy that has been created worldwide by drug use. It is this energy that is a concern as to how it affects our domestic animals.

It pervades areas and causes many disturbances. The energy sits around and is sticky and gluggy. It clings to whoever is in the vicinity. It is the sort of energy that makes you feel a little nauseous when you walk through and area or suddenly feel heavy if you enter a room.

Animals, because of their sensitivity to energy of any kind can be more affected than we can. It may not show up in a physical problem, but you will see a dog or other pet’s behavior change with exposure to illegal and legal drugs.

Training Methods

This may explain why training methods at the turn of the last century were so harsh. If dogs or horses were being affected by the medicines they were given, then they would have been difficult to handle.

If we look at people who suffer addictions to recreational drugs today, their lack of focus, how they remove their minds from the situation, how some go into a drug induced psychosis and become aggressive. We may have had this happening with animals in the 1800’s.

There was often a section on ‘taming the horse’ or ‘horse breaking’ in the rear of home doctoring or veterinarian text. How differently horses may have been treated if one of the causes of this behavior had not been their medicine.

When the Practical Stock Doctor refers to training horses, with wild and vicious colts they suggested the Rarey method, which involved conquering the horse by depriving him of the use of his limbs. Making him feel that he is utterly powerless in the hands of the operator so as to submit to any demands. The author suggested with the stubborn or mulish disposition, it might be well to give him a few sharp cuts with the whip about the legs, and close to the body. This reference is kinder than most as they only suggest whipping enough to frighten the horse and with a good deal of fire though without anger. Offering the proviso that if you cannot control yourself you are not fit to handle horses.

It is quite possible that if a horse were badly affected by the narcotics in his medicine he would have been slow to respond to such training techniques. An unfortunate circle of events, give the horse a medicine to make him better for work, have the horse become difficult and then requiring training, injure the horse during the training, and have to give the horse more medicine.


Today we are lucky our herbalists use herbs with animals with a different perspective to the veterinarians of the old days. They are using gentle herbs and treating the animal with a bigger picture in mind and treating the whole animal. So instead of prescribing opium because the animal has a cough, they have broadened their view of the animal as an entity and prescribe herbs to support all the body systems recover from an immune deficiency that allowed this animal to suffer a cough.

Herbalists no longer rely on herbs that have such a strong effect such as lobelia, digitalis, belladonna, opium, and marijuana. The safe use of herbs avoids all the energetic side effects that our animals used to suffer. Do not confuse this with their use in homoeopathy.

Effects of Today’s Drugs

With all of this in mind, it is wise to review how we dose our animals with pharmaceuticals and vaccinations. These definitely have a role in our care of the animal, but abuse of these substances can be as harmful as the abuse of the drugs used in the 1880’s.

Don’t simply dose your animal drugs without consideration. Observe how your animal responds physically and behaviourally when they are long term pharmaceuticals for chronic conditions. If their behaviour becomes erratic or other body systems begin to break down you need to review how you approach your animal’s illness.

Pharmaceuticals can have the same effect that opium or marijuana have had. They can create tears and lesions in the energy bodies and they can create gaps between the bodies. They can also leave energetic residues that then attract the illness you have been fighting and then you have to begin the whole procedure and use another course of the drug when these symptoms show themselves again.

Using Herbs to Minimize the Effects

This is where herbal and homoeopathic remedies can play a role. If your animal begins to show signs of the disease you have been trying to control with pharmaceuticals, herbs and remedies can be used to repair the energy body of the animal. The pharmaceutical has addressed the stubborn physical symptoms and you have your initial improvement, then the natural remedies can be introduced to address the energetic effects of the disease, those already there that attracted the disease and the side effects of the pharmaceuticals.

Remember also your individual animal’s own biochemistry. There may be a genetic component where an ancestor way back when was exposed to many of the drugs mentioned, and within your animal’s cellular memory is a trigger that may just come into play when you administer drugs or herbs today. That is why it is important to always work with each animal and each issue as a unique case in itself and respect this uniqueness of the individual organism.

This way you have had the benefit of the scientific community to help your animal regain a certain level of homeostasis with prescribed drugs and then you have addressed the problem at the energetic level with plants. Your animal now has a better chance of recovery and a healthier life on all levels.


Anthroposophical Medicine, Healing of Body, Soul and Spirit. Dr Michael Evans and Iain Rodger

The Veterinary Pharmacopoeia, Materia Medica, and Therapeutics. George Cresswell. (1886)

The Practical Stock Doctor, Farmers Short Courses in Livestock (1900?)


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