- "You'll need milk of the poppy."
Milk of the poppy is a medical potion, used as both a painkiller and an anesthetic. Higher doses will induce unconsciousness, so patients can undergo surgery. It is commonly used throughout the Seven Kingdoms for those who have suffered severe injuries. Maesters make it from crushed poppy flowers and it has a white color, hence "milk of the poppy".
It's actually possible to become addicted to the milk of the poppy. Lyman Lannister, after sustaining a bad fall at the Tourney at Lannisport, needed to use it for weeks to stop him from screaming, and continued to use it. He can't go a day without it, and has been addicted to it for ten years. Lyman used all of his money to get more, and shakes because of it.
When King Robert Baratheon is mortally wounded after being gored by a boar while hunting, he asks to be given something to ease the pain before he dies. Eddard Stark then orders Grand Maester Pycelle to give him milk of the Poppy.
Eddard Stark is given milk of the poppy after a Lannister guardsman drives a spear through his leg. His daughter Sansa Stark later attempts to use this as an excuse for why he would openly denounce Joffrey Baratheon's legitimacy in court, saying that he had become feverish and the medicine he was taking had affected his behavior.
Talisa Maegyr comes to King Robb Stark's tent to warn him that her stockpiles of medical supplies for his army's wounded, including milk of the poppy, are running low. They decide to capture the castle known as the Crag to the west, so they can acquire their stockpiles of milk of the poppy.
After Maester Luwin is dying from a spear wound under the Godswood, Osha offers to bring him milk of the poppy, if he would tell her where he stores it. He declines the offer, revealing that his wounds are mortal, and asks instead that she give him the mercy of a quick death.
Jaime Lannister refuses to take milk of the poppy to dull his pain when Qyburn needs to operate on the stump of his severed sword-hand, which has become severely infected. Though his reason is not revealed, it is because he does not trust Qyburn not to amputate his arm without him knowing.
In The Lost Lords, Maester Ortengryn offers Rodrik Forrester milk of the poppy while he is performing surgery on his wounds sustained at The Red Wedding. The player can choose whether to accept it or not.
In Sons of Winter, Mira Forrester is told by Garibald Tarwick that Lyman Lannister, a third cousin of Cersei and Jaime, has become addicted to milk of the poppy after an injury he sustained at a tourney in Lannisport.
In the books
Milk of the poppy is essentially the Westeros version of morphine. Maesters make it from crushed poppy flowers, and morphine and other opiate-based drugs are made from poppy plants. Indeed, the books' descriptions strongly suggest that the "poppy" is intended to be the real-world opium poppy (Papaver somniferum).
Milk of the poppy may result in some residual grogginess or withdrawal-like symptoms, which some characters would rather avoid by simply enduring the pain. Jaime rejects Qyburn's offer of milk of the poppy when he is operating on the stump of his sword-hand. Then again, in the books this chapter is narrated from Jaime's POV, which explicitly says that the main reason he refused to take milk of the poppy is actually because he feared that if he allowed himself to be rendered unconscious for the surgery, Qyburn might break his word and cut off the rest of his right arm anyway.
According to his squire, Joss Stilwood, Ser Gregor Clegane suffers from extreme headaches (possibly caused by his gigantism) and consumes vast quantities of milk of the poppy to try and dull the pain. This might be an explanation for his near uncontrollable temper.
Doran Martell and Robert Arryn take doses of milk of the poppy on a regular base to dull their chronic pains. In such cases they are of course given smaller doses, a few drops diluted unto a cup of wine by their maesters.
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