Brompton cocktail — sometimes called a Brompton mixture, or, incorrectly, Brompton's cocktail — is an elixir meant for use as a pain suppressant, and dosed for prophylaxis. Made from morphine or diacetylmorphine (heroin), cocaine, highly-pure ethyl alcohol (some recipes specify gin), and sometimes with chlorpromazine (Thorazine) to counteract nausea, it was given to terminally-ill individuals (especially cancer patients) to relieve pain and promote sociability near death. A common formulation included "a variable amount of morphine, 10 mg of cocaine, 2.5 mL of 98% ethyl alcohol, 5 mL of syrup BP and a variable amount of chloroform water."1
The original idea for an oral mixture of morphine and cocaine helping patients in agony with advanced disease is credited to surgeon Herbert Snow in 1896.
The Brompton cocktail is named after the Royal Brompton Hospital in London, England, where it was invented in the late 1920s for patients with tuberculosis. While its use has been rare in the 21st century, it is not entirely unheard of today. It was far more common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Some specifications for variants of Brompton Mixture call for methadone, hydromorphone, diamorphine (heroin), or other strong opioids in the place of morphine; diphenhydramine or tincture of cannabis in place of the chlorpromazine; and/or methamphetamine, amphetamine, dextroamphetamine, co-phenylcaine, methylphenidate or other stimulants in the place of cocaine. The original recipe for Brompton Mixture also calls for chloroform, cherry syrup to help mask the bitter taste of some of the components, and distilled water in some quantity to dilute the chloroform (hence, chloroform water) and/or to add volume to allow for more precise titration of doses.
Synergy among constituents
While each of the ingredients combat pain and other problems that occur with it in those who may be nauseated from effects of chemotherapy, radiation, and/or high and escalating doses of morphine (which can also cause somnolence or sleepiness, hence the stimulant), it is also generally acknowledged that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts with the various active ingredients all potentiating the morphine or other opioid in their own ways. The synergy between opioid analgesics and centrally-acting stimulants is well-known and widely used: for example, the caffeine content of many codeine-based pain relievers, and prescription of dextroamphetamine or methylphenidate to patients on high doses of opioids both to combat the somnolence from the painkillers and to boost their pain-killing ability. However, a 1979 study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found no statistically significant advantage in pain suppression, confusion, nausea, or drowsiness to the Brompton mixture versus a solution of morphine.2
Popular culture references
American band Avenged Sevenfold released a song titled "Brompton Cocktail" on their self titled 2007 album Avenged Sevenfold. It is a song featuring many other music influences, giving a feel that supports the title.
On Page. 180 of Larry Flynt's autobiography, "An Unseemly Man" he describes the Brompton Cocktail as the only relief from his incredible pain.
Michael Ondaatje talks about the Brompton Cocktail in his famous novel The English Patient, where the character David Caravaggio, the Canadian spy, uses the cocktail as a method to obtain information from the English patient.
- Note 1: Melzak, R., B.M. Mount, and J.M. Gordon. "The Brompton mixture versus morphine solution given orally: effects on pain." The RVH Manual on Palliative/Hospice Care: A Resource Book. ed. Ajemian, Ina & Balfour M. Mount. Palliative Care Service: Royal Victoria Hospital, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 1980. pg. 172.
- Note 2: ibid., pg. 174.