Health & Fit: Here’s What 'Bridgerton' Gets Right and Wrong About Drugs in Regency England

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Warning: Minor spoilers ahead! Stop reading here if you don't want to know what happens during Bridgerton season two.

Bridgerton season two brought back all the excitement from season one, and then some. Lady Whistledown returned in her full glory, with lots of gossip to share and secrets to keep. And since new episodes just dropped on Friday, there are already plenty of questions that need answers.

Besides the obvious (like when season three is dropping), there are some odd season two scenes that could use some explaining. In episode three, Benedict Bridgerton is worrying about his art school application. His brother Colin offers to help ease Benedict's anxiety by offering him a powder that he claims people all over Europe use to relax and boost their focus.

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Colin suggests that Benedict add a pinch of powder into his tea, only to watch in horror as Benedict dumps the entire bag in. Flash forward to dinner, and Benedict is definitely more relaxed, not to mention giggly and, well, easily distracted.

Later on in the season, viewers watch as the Queen and Lady Danbury commiserate over how bored they are. Lady Danbury watches as the Queen entertains herself by snorting what appears to be cocaine—and I, for one, was more than a little confused.

The idea of recreational drug use isn't new (more on that in a sec), but it seems so commonplace in the Bridgerton universe. Which begs the question: Was everyone really just doing drugs all the time in Regency England?

Women's Health sat down with an expert to find out. Here's everything you need to know.

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From L to R: Eloise, Colin, and Benedict in Bridgerton season 2. © LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX From L to R: Eloise, Colin, and Benedict in Bridgerton season 2.

Laws about drug use were pretty lax during the Regency era.

First, a little background: Bridgerton is set in England during the Regency era, which was the period of time between 1811 and 1820, per JSTOR Daily. The events in the show happen during the early 1800s, while Bridgerton author Julia Quinn's website states that the events in the books happen specifically between 1813 and 1827.

Today, there are strict rules and laws that separate recreational and medical drug use. There are also plenty of drugs that are legal, and others that are illegal. But in Regency England, these boundaries didn't exist. "The legal structures just weren't in place," says Lucas Richert, PhD, a historian of drugs and medicines at the University of Wisconsin—Madison School of Pharmacy.

Meaning, if someone did decide to do drugs, their doctors and family members might disapprove, but they wouldn't be arrested or otherwise held accountable by authorities. And pretty much everyone was doing it, Richert confirms. If people had the money to buy drugs, they could find all kinds of them in the form of tonics, pills, and more.

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The types of drugs available varied by class.


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What kind of drugs people did depended on how much money they had to spend, Richert adds, but opium was fairly popular. Opium is an addictive substance that comes from a poppy plant, according to the DEA. To make opium, people harvest a liquid from the poppy's seedpods that was later dried. Drugs like heroin, morphine, and codeine are all made from opium.

"There was a pretty wide open marketplace where people who had that high-level status could gain access to drugs that suited their class," Richert explains. For the wealthy elite, there were gold-coated opium pills and tonics containing gold, opium, and expensive spices like saffron. Other products using less expensive ingredients were marketed for lower class customers.

Drugs were said to cure everything from diseases to mental health issues.

Richert says that most tonics and pills were said to improve a person's health in some way. Some tonics made with cocaine were advertised to help soothe the nerves, combat hunger and thirst, or just as a general "pick-me-up."

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Others containing opium mixed with alcohol were said to treat coughs, colds, and respiratory diseases—including what we now know today as asthma. And, some products were marketed for both adults and children to use.

Plenty of people also used drugs for non-medicinal purposes. They were "a way of dealing with the drudgery, for the working class at least, and the boredom associated with the higher classes," says Richert.

Benedict and Colin's drug of choice was likely opium powder.

Bridgerton season 2 © LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX Bridgerton season 2

At teatime, Benedict and Colin share a psychedelic drug. These drugs can change the user's thoughts and how their senses perceive their surroundings, according to Harvard Medical School. Others may also affect the user's mood, like ecstasy, or place the person in a dreamlike state, like ketamine. If the user ingests too much, some can also cause hallucinations, as with LSD.

Richert says the purple powder Benedict and Colin take together is probably opium. Other psychedelic drugs, like psilocybin (a.k.a. magic mushrooms), would also have been available at the time, but they weren't ground into a powder. According to the DEA, the mushrooms are usually kept fresh or dried and eaten or brewed as a tea.

As for the purple color, Richert explains that dyes in the Regency period came from natural sources. Blue and indigo dyes had to be extracted from topical plants, which made them very expensive.

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"It wouldn't surprise me at all that wealthy elites would carry around opium," Richert says. For aristocrats and royals, it would have been easy to buy some from people in the shipping or trade industries. Or, they could source it directly from their local chemist.

But the Queen couldn't have formed a cocaine habit for another few decades.

Bridgerton season 2 © LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX Bridgerton season 2

She'd have to choose another drug (or at least find a new method of ingesting it). Cocaine is made from coca leaves, the BBC reports. Records show that people in England knew about and chewed on coca leaves as early as the 1700s, Richert says—well before the Regency era.

But the powdered form of cocaine wasn't developed until around 1860, he explains. And, sniffing or snorting drugs in general wasn't common, except when inhaling dry snuff tobacco. Basically, the Queen was either using tobacco, or her cocaine habit is a small historical inaccuracy in the show.

Richert adds that, as cocaine grew in popularity during the late 1800s, it was later mixed into liquids and marketed as medicine, just like opium was during the Regency period.

Turns out, the Bridgerton partying lifestyle wasn't actually so far off from the real-life version. Now that's some gossip worthy of Lady Whistledown's quill.

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