The principal active ingredient is morphine (0.4 mg/mL) (approximately 2 mg per teaspoon). Other ingredients are benzoic acid, camphor, glycerin, and anise oil. The main effect of this preparation is to increase the muscular tone of the intestine, and also to inhibit normal peristalsis. Its main medicinal use is to control fulminant diarrhea. It is also an antitussive (cough suppressant). Problems with its use include opiate dependency and analgesia which can mask symptoms of diseases that need treatment.
Paregoric is sometimes confused with laudanum, because their chemical names are similar: camphorated tincture of opium (paregoric) vs. tincture of opium (laudanum). However, laudanum contains 10 milligrams of morphine per milliliter, 25 times more than paregoric. Confusion between the two drugs has led to overdose and deaths in several patients. Thus the term "paregoric" should be used instead of "camphorated opium tincture," since the latter may be confused with laudanum.