Dating all the way back to the 19th century, medical professionals would prescribe questionable drugs to patients who suffered from everyday ailments. We used to get sick often – frequently succumbing to colds, sore throats, or infections. However, medicine wasn’t as regulated or advanced as it is today, leading to doctors providing drugs that, today, seem wildly inappropriate.
Here is a list of just a few ‘remedies’ doctors used to supply to their patients.
Cocaine Toothache Drops
From the 1880s, cocaine was considered a suitable remedy for young children suffering from teething pains. Parents could rub it on their children’s gums to help numb the discomfort – although it probably introduced new problems for tired parents of understandably erratic children. Dr. Freud was also known to personally administer Cocaine to himself, claiming it helped with his depression.
Cocaine wasn’t just used as medicine. Coca-cola was famously known for including it in the early recipe for the soda – potentially explaining its popularity. The drug causes serious comedowns with extreme lows and depression and was outlawed in the USA by 1920 – not before finding a target audience in the black market.
Bayer Heroin Hydrochloride (Heroin)
Heroin is known today as one of the leading causes of drug overdoses in the United States. Before that, it was your handy cough medicine. In 1898, Bayer Pharmaceutical Products started selling it as an alternative to codeine and morphine. Initially, it was happily welcomed by everyone as an effective medicine.
Unfortunately, after doctors were sent free samples to try, addictions started. The following year, many reports emerged of people building up a tolerance to the drug and demanding more, which caused overdoses. The United States banned heroin in 1924, but it is unfortunately still prevalent in some communities today.
Kimball White Pine and Tar Cough Syrup (Chloroform)
Kimball’s original recipe for its cough syrup contained four minims of chloroform. It was marketed as a remedy for common cold symptoms from as early as 1847. As a natural anesthetic, it was also used for asthma and to relieve breathing difficulties.
On the surface, the drug worked well. However, fatal cases started occurring, with reports of cardiac and respiratory arrests. Multiple people died when self-administering it which caused the FDA to ban it in 1976.
Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup (Morphine)
In 1849, this syrup was launched in Maine, USA, and hailed as ‘magic’ by parents who saw their children overcome teething pains and easily fall asleep at night. It might have been the sodium carbonate, or it was the 65 mg of morphine she injected to each dose.
In fact, the drug worked ‘too well’ – too many children went to sleep permanently and the syrup was nicknamed a ‘baby killer’. Amazingly, the UK kept selling it until 1930 despite the US banning it almost 20 years prior.
Ergoapiol (Ergot and Apiol)
This hybrid medicine was invented to help women regulate their menstrual cycles. However, its ingredients were rather sinister – Ergot is fungus found on stale rye grain and can be incredibly toxic to anyone who consumes too much.
Astonishingly, the drug causes abortions when taken in excess and makes its consumers hallucinate while they eat it.
Nembutal was designed by Dr. John Lundy fairly recently in the history of questionable medicine. In 1930, it was first released and described as the perfect drug for “when little patients balk at scary, disquieting examinations” and “when they’re frightened and tense.” It can also be used to treat seizures and insomnia.
Although Nembutal is approved by the FDA as safe to use, its side effects are questionable. It can impede children’s thinking and cause slow reactions in the behavior and response. Some children have shown signs of addiction and can, like other drugs, be fatal if consumed en masse.
Quaalude-300 became a widely used medicine to treat insomnia and act as a sedative. From 1962, its popularity grew and became the UK’s most prescribed sedative.
Its popularity was no surprise – the drug was so strong that it would numb the entire nervous system, reducing breathing and heart rates among its users. Once tolerances inevitably raised over time, patients started overdosing on the drug causing deaths. The drug was shelved in 1982.
Cigares De Joy (Tobacco)
The health effects of tobacco only became known in the 1960s and 1970s. And while it seems obvious that smoking is bad for your health today, once upon a time it was considered the holy grail for weight loss, insomnia, and asthma.
Henry Hyde Salter used to administer Cigares De Joy as a way to combat what he believed were ‘excitable’ lungs from patients. Today, we know the opposite is true: smoking causes very little positive effects and can actually be fatal for those who suffer from asthma.
Laudanum is sold as a powerful pain reliever and narcotic due to its alcohol extract, which incidentally contains 10% powdered opium. The recipe was created as far back as 1676 and people rushed to use it for just about anything. By the 1800s its users applied it for anything from yellow fever to menstrual cramps.
Parents started restricting its use when side effects became more apparent in their children. Laudanum can cause constipation, itching, breathing difficulties, and can affect eyesight. Amazingly, it is still in use today, although its access has been restricted by both the US and UK.
Perhaps one of the most frightening ‘remedies’ on the list, Norodin was the brand name for Methamphetamine, the drug used to help people come off other drugs like heroin. Its side effects include insomnia, strokes, heart attacks, anorexia, tooth-grinding, and dangerous blood pressure. It’s bad stuff.
Strangely, Norodin is still used today to help treat obesity, mainly due to its hunger-suppressant qualities. When used for long periods of time, the potent drug can lead to extreme mood swings and is strongly linked to suicide.