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What is a Brompton Cocktail?

By Marco Sumayao
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A Brompton cocktail is a combination of several powerful drugs used to suppress the pain experienced by individuals suffering from serious illnesses. The mixture is taken orally in liquid form. Although recipes for the cocktail varied, morphine, cocaine, and alcohol were used as ingredients in most concoctions. The combination of analgesics in a Brompton cocktail made the elixir strong enough to numb the pain caused by diseases such as cancer, but the introduction of stimulants helped counteract the drowsiness associated with their use. The use of Brompton cocktails has steadily declined since drug laws deemed some of the mixture's ingredients illegal substances.

Morphine is often considered as the main ingredient of a Brompton cocktail, as the opiate is one of the most powerful painkillers researched. Cocaine, although bearing analgesic effects on its own, is often added to the mixture as a stimulant. This balances out the depressive effects morphine has on the brain, allowing patients to remain conscious and lucid while under the medication. The alcohol is included as both an analgesic and stimulant and serves to bind the two other substances together.

Variations on the basic Brompton cocktail recipe include the addition of flavored syrups, making the concoction easier to ingest. Some recipes replace the highly-addictive morphine with other opioids, such as methadone or diamorphine; these alternatives, however, also pose a high risk for addiction. Other recipes include a dose of chlorpromazine or cannabis tincture to counteract the nausea associated with Brompton cocktail use. More potent formulations include chloroform as an ingredient, although the chemical is often diluted with distilled water before being added into the cocktail.

The mixture was first conceived as a treatment for pain in tuberculosis patients. Its effectiveness in providing relief led to the spread in its use, eventually covering a wide variety of terminal illnesses. Aside from feeling a significantly lower amount of pain, patients taking the cocktail are often more sociable during times of consciousness; this effect likely arises from a combination of pain relief and a drug-induced increase in dopamine levels.

With diamorphine, cocaine, and cannabis listed as illegal substances in most governments, Brompton cocktail use is highly controversial. Drug regulatory committees often advise against the cocktail, as its main active ingredients pose a serious risk for addiction and eventual substance dependence. In addition, regular consumption of a majority of the cocktail's ingredients significantly increase the risk of severe psychological and medical disorders. In this regard, a Brompton cocktail is recommended only for patients suffering from terminal diseases, if at all allowed.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1002715 — On Jan 31, 2020

Pippinwhite, absolutely. Who gives a crap about addiction when you are dying? Good example of a broken health care system. In USA we are really sick of it.

By anon979051 — On Nov 23, 2014

Acute pain is generally not the problem at end of life, chronic pain is. End of life is just that. Why be worried about addiction at that point? In hospice they will morphine them literally to death and 80 percent of the time, they are more asleep than awake, to what point?

By Rotergirl — On Jul 30, 2014

@Pippinwhite -- I agree with you. There just hasn't been enough attention paid to actual pain relief, rather than just knocking someone out. And then the doctors get to the maximum dose of morphine and have nowhere else to go since heroin is illegal in any form in the USA.

I have no problem with legalizing it for pain relief, subject to strict regulations, of course, and considered a schedule III narcotic, just like morphine. If giving someone a Brompton cocktail helps ease their transition out of this life, it's no skin off my nose, for sure. I'm all for helping people be pain free in their last days.

By Pippinwhite — On Jul 29, 2014

I first heard of a Brompton cocktail in the book "In This House of Brede" by Rumer Godden. It was written in 1969, and opens in 1954.

One of the nuns has bone cancer and the local doctor gives her a Brompton cocktail to help her with the pain. As I recall, the book said the combination was heroin and cocaine, mixed with honey and gin "as a lift."

I believe heroin is still legal in the UK for pain relief and I don't have a problem with it. If it means someone who is terminally ill is able to spend their remaining days with some quality of life, that's fine. If they become addicted, so what? I just don't think there's anything wrong with it.

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