Drug Addictions of the Times


Sep 29, 2004
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Hi - I'm working on a research paper on drug addictions during the Edwardian Era. I have only been able to find addictions to laudanum, chloral, "Orangine", opium/morphines and cocaine during this era. Were there any other "popularized" recreational drugs common in this time period??

Thank you for any help you can provide!

-Katrina L. Lilly
 
Jan 28, 2003
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I have only been able to find addictions to laudanum, chloral, "Orangine", opium/morphines and cocaine during this era.
Only? Seems quite enough, especially if you add in booze and tobacco, though I can see why you wouldn't. Did they still use Belladonna then, or was that from an earlier age? That was for cosmetic reasons, I understand, but it was still damaging and a psychological 'addiction' in its way. Bob Godfrey is the man for this - I'll see if I can get his attention for you.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Nov 22, 2002
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Did somebody call? (emerges slowly from state of drug-induced euphoria). I'd agree with Monica that the ever-popular ethanol wins hands down as chief cause of personal, social and economic problems, then as now. But otherwise you have most of the usual suspects in the line-up. Chloral hydrate, ether and chloroform all had their devotees. 'Orangine' was just one of many mild analgesics and headache cures which contained acetanilid, so you could extend the range there.
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Bob Godfrey

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Trivia time. I can't think of a Titanic connection, Jason, but both your bottle and its contents were made by companies owned by Isaac Emerson, whose daughter Margaret was widowed when her husband Alfred Vanderbilt went down with the Lusitania.
 

John Clifford

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Another question: How many of those drugs were common prescribed for various ailments?

In retrospect, when Madeline Astor died, in 1940, it was thought that she committed suicide, but it might have been a reaction to prescriptives used, especially if taken while consuming alcohol.
 
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When I used to help out in my father's pharmacy as a teenager, an old lady used to sidle in about twice a day and buy a couple of bottles of Gees Linctus, a cough medicine which contains morphine. So we reckoned she was on about 4 bottles a day, and there was another chemist in the town as well which she could also go to. My father eventually realized what was going on and refused to sell her any more. Poor old thing got into a dreadful state. Having had Gees Linctus a couple of times, I have to say it seems a fairly unpleasant way to get your morphine, but I suppose you don't notice after a while.
 

Bob Godfrey

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John: You didn't need a prescription for these products, they could be bought over the counter. At the height of the Edwardian period the 'patent medicine' business was worth about $100m a year in the US alone. Products like 'Mrs Winslow's Soothing Syrup' provided babies with their first taste of morphine, and others like 'Birney's Catarrh Cure' were convenient sources of cocaine. These brands were hugely popular, as were the pain relievers based on acetanilid, which were not only addictive but toxic in quite small overdose levels, especially when taken at the same time as alcohol.

In the US the 1906 Food and Drugs Act did not restrict the availability of such products, but did at least demand that there should be a clear display on the container of the amounts of any included alcohol, morphine, opium, cocaine, heroin, eucaine, chloroform, cannabis, chloral hydrate, or acetanilid. Monica's recollection demonstrates that things hadn't changed entirely for the better a half century later.
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Kyrila Scully

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You might be surprised to learn that ingesting Vick's Vaporub is also a cheap high used by the older generations. Not sure what the active ingredient is that would cause an addiction, but some of my elderly patients were really into it. This was in Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky, so I don't know how wide-spread it was in use.

Kyrila
 

Bob Godfrey

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That would be the nutmeg oil, which contains the active ingredient elemicin. This is a relative (somewhat far removed) of mescaline and can produce a very mild high. The pure chemical can provide hallucinations (and a hangover). Here in the UK, at retirement resorts like Frinton-on-Sea, the few young people in the population fear to walk the streets for fear of marauding gangs of elderly Vicks Vaporub fiends demanding money to feed their habit.
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Jan 28, 2003
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Does Kyrila mean actually eating Vick's Vaporub?
Aaarrrgh! At any rate, at least nobody could have been into glue-sniffing in 1912 as, if my childhood memories serve me right (careful Bob...) the alternatives in our household were Gloy, Araldite or fishglue, and nobody in their right mind could have borne to sniff those. There again, though, glue-sniffers often aren't in their right minds?
 
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Oh - forgot. I have found some mention of belladonna (deadly nightshade) being abused orally over the centuries. It is used in small quantities in some OTC medicines, and over-dosing can give a flying sensation. However, this is usually accompanied by other rather unpleasant physical symptoms, so it is not generally considered a drug of abuse. Anyone tough enough to eat Vick's Vaporub might be up for it though....
 

Bob Godfrey

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Well, ladies, we've all done the Titanic menu, that's old hat. Are you up for an evening of Titanic vice? Bass Export, Capstan Full Strength, Bromo-Seltzer, Gees Linctus, Vicks Vaporub and a game of Happy Families at a penny a hand - the possibilities are endless, and all legal!
 
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You've forgotten the belladonna. If we can't find the catarrgh (spelling?) cure with it in, we could smoke the leaves apparently. Obviously that's what Rose was putting in her fags. The huge pupils in the drawing episode, and the "I'm flying!" scene. She was taking a very lethal chance indeed - it's not called deadly nightshade for nothing.
I think I'd prefer to gamble at Cheat rather than Happy Families - more fun.
 

Lee Gilliland

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And everybody please remember good old Coca-Cola, which was the Real Thing back then - actual cocoa leaves used in the mix.
 

Bob Godfrey

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I didn't forget the bella donna. In fact, I invited two of you! You are right, however, that Rose must have been on Nightshade. The alkaloids thus ingested produce a very specific hallucination of floating or flying - it's thought that's how 'witches' traditionally got airborne rather than by use of a broomstick! Just in case, though, and in the interest of historical research, next time I view the film I'm going to have a good look at her chest for any signs of Vaporub.
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