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Gilded SelfMedication

Discussion in 'Health Medicine and Hygiene' started by John M. Feeney, Jul 18, 2002.

  1. I stumbled upon this link from Collier's magazine (1905) that provides some shocking insights into patent medicines of the era. Toxic and addictive substances were apparently rampant in the early 1900's as major components of commonly purveyed -- sometimes even left on doorsteps -- remedies:

    http://www.mtn.org/quack/ephemera/dec02-01.htm [Part 1 of 2]

    It's a very intelligent look at the lack of regulatory controls prevalent in that day and age. (And you may well spot a *highly* familiar current brand name which, though now almost assuredly benign in composition, was then actually fatal in the "prescribed" dose.)

    Just one of the many dangers of the Gilded Age, I suppose. And it ran deeper, in some fairly elite circles, than you might think. Fascinating stuff!
  2. Great link- I wonder how many doctors buried their mistakes too. Paints were full of lead, wallpapers contained arsenic in the dyes, household lye and French blueing laundry additive contained prussic acid and all manner of cyanide was contained in rodent and bug killers. Have collected household domestic guides from the 1890's on -and am amazed at some of the health remedies. Old newspapers are full of patent medicine ads -some are funny in that they cure everything from flatulence to baldness. Many were high in alcohol or narcotics- bring on Lydia Pinkham! Remember the scene in Life With Father when the boys dose their mother with dog tonic and nearly kill her? Gosh- we are probably lucky to be here considering what our grandparents didn't know.
  3. Well, at least they got their headaches cured. Gives an ugly new twist to the old cliche about the operation being a sucess, but the patient died.

    Wish I could say things were better today, but I'm not so sure. These days, the medicine wagon peddlers offer things with all natural ingrediants as if "all natural" means it's somehow safe. I'm sure anyone who's ingested arsenic, cyanide, nightshade, hemlock and toadstool mushrooms would find that entertaining.
  4. Paul Jones

    Paul Jones Guest

    Didnt Coca-Cola have cocaine in it in the early 1900s?
  5. Dave Gittins

    Dave Gittins Member

  6. Kris Muhvic

    Kris Muhvic Member

    Yes Paul- Coca-Cola did have, I believe a minute amount of "cocoa" in the product until the Food and Drug Administration Act of 1906, as many cures or medicines of the time did.

    I have heard of "laudenum" (sp?), usually in a Victorian reference...was that an opiate(morphine) based substance?

    Tucked inside a medical journal (1871) I found a while back was an old scrap of paper with the faded black/brown ink script:

    "Sulph Snow 16 ss
    Guitiau Root oz. 11
    Potasae Chlorid oz. 1
    Potasae Nitras oz. 11


    I have no idea what this list means....I hope it was just a basic "to get for the lab" thing; rather than a perscription!

    Well, gotta go back to my eye-of-newt remedy...
  7. Paul: Yes indeedy, "The pause that refreshes!" (Caffeine alone, I believe, was considered to be a pretty second-rate "substitute", but I guess it was ultimately a necessary evil.) :)

    A while back I noticed this lovely, antique, glazed stoneware container -- something like a humidor -- at my neighborhood pharmacy, and asked the druggist if he was aware of what the botanical Latin inscription in gold lettering, Erythroxylon coca, signified.

    When I advised him it was the source of cocaine -- the taxonomic name for the Coca plant -- he was pretty surprised. Subsequently I've noticed it's no longer openly displayed. ;^)

    I can't swear that cocaine itself -- the highly refined powder -- was an ingredient in Coke. But certainly some form of coca leaf extract was involved. Incidentally, cocoa -- the stuff of chocolate dreams -- is quite unrelated, coming from the cacao plant. That's an African endemic, as far as I know; coca is a South American native, and addiction there is still a huge problem among the indigenous people, in the form of coca chewing. (All they have to do basically is go out, find a bush, and pick the leaves.)

    Laudanum, my American Heritage Dictionary tells me, was indeed a "tincture of opium".

    Those were dangerous days, I must say. Bad enough that many of those nostrums were essentially useless for their stated purposes or contained unpalatable substances like turpentine, kerosene, or what have you, but addictive to boot? Jeez!

    (I've gotta say, I'm still amazed to learn that Bromo-Seltzer was once potentially fatal.)
  8. If anyone goes to the Urban Legends Reference Pages at http://www.snopes2.com/index.html, you'll find an icon labled COKE LORE Click on the lable and it'll bring you to the articles with the lowdown on this. An interesting quote from the article;

    "How much cocaine was in that "mere trace" is impossible to say, but we do know that by 1902 it was as little as 1/400 of a grain of cocaine per ounce of syrup. Coca-Cola didn't become completely cocaine-free until 1929, but there scarcely any of the drug left in the drink by then."

    Not much there, but that can't speak to what may have been included befor this time. As this stuff was first marketed as a patant medicine, it wouldn't surprise me if the original homebrew had a bit more "kick"

    You pays your money and you takes your chances!
  9. What about arsenic for removing the dead skin cells from ladies delicate faces! How many women must have been left disfigured by that little remedy? Or the old dodge to enable young men to be exempt from enlistment for WW2 - rubbing mercury on the chest to make it appear on X Rays that Tuberculosis was present.
    Somewhere around here I have my grandmother's "Home Remedy Book" which contains some quite horrendous "cures"
  10. Scary stuff, eh Geoff? The hell of it is, I'm not sure that things have improved that much. All these herbal rememdies which promise to cure everything under the sun and they're followed by that charming little disclaimer (In very fine print I might add at the bottom of the bottle.) that "These statements have not been evalutated by the FDA".

    That sure runs up a few red flags in my book!
  11. Inger Sheil

    Inger Sheil Member

    Ah, laudanum...how many of those highly respectable Victorian ladies with vague illnesses passed their hours lying on the chaise lounge, essentially stoned? They would have expressed proper horror at an opium den, but were junkies themselves. Poor Elizabeth Siddal took an overdose of laudanum - the big question being whether it was accident or suicide.

    Then there are those unforgettable scenes relating to cocaine use in Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories - the conclusion to 'The Sign of Four':

    "The division seems rather unfair," I remarked. "You have done all the work in this business. I get a wife out of it, Jones gets the credit, pray what remains for you?"

    "For me," said Sherlock Holmes, "there still remains the cocaine-bottle." And he stretched his long white hand up for it.
  12. Sometimes, medications with the official stamp of approval aren't so swift to play with either. Anyone ever hear of Fen-Fen?

    This was supposed to be the miracle drug for weight loss and it worked perfectly. One small, tinsey wincey litte problem though; it killed a lot of the people who were using it.

  13. Paul Jones

    Paul Jones Guest

    I've heard of Fen-Fen. Didnt it cause people who used it to have heart attacks?
  14. Yep. A su-u-u-u-u-re cure for overweight! mad.gif (and anything else besides that!)
  15. John Meeks

    John Meeks Guest

    My grandmother used to consume vast quantities of tablets called "Rennies" - she assured us they cured/prevented indigestion. Apparently they were about 99% chalk !

    Anybody in the UK know if they're still available?

    Horrible things...

    John m
  16. Inger Sheil

    Inger Sheil Member

    Oh, goodness, yes...I remember my Nana using it in Oz, too. Think it also comes in liquid form now. Odd thing is, it worked with problems such as heart burn...suppose it countered the acidity.

    And yes - was like consuming chalk.
  17. Dave Gittins

    Dave Gittins Member

    Rennies tablets are still around in Oz and elsewhere. They are basically calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate. They come in spearmint flavour and maybe other flavours. They work perfectly well for simple excess stomach acid but I believe there is some kind of problem if they are used too much.

    Somewhere on this site is a thread about the dangerous things used in old cosmetics, such as belladonna.
  18. I am interested in sea-sickness, and what people did, if they became ill. I wondered if people were not as sea-sick as we might be now, because they were more used to travelling on the sea. I know that Lucile was sick in a life-boat, because she describes it, but did other people describe being ill, especially when the ship was sinking and afterwards. Was it the sea, or the shock I wonder?
  19. >>I am interested in sea-sickness, and what people did, if they became ill.<<

    What they did is sarcastically referred to as the Technicolour Yawn these days. There's a very good reason why there were no carpets to be found in dining saloons even on the biggest ships. It was simply easier to clean a deck covered with oak or tile then it was to get the end result of mal de mar out of the rug.

    >>I wondered if people were not as sea-sick as we might be now, because they were more used to travelling on the sea.<<

    Don't count on it. Some people don't have a problem getting their sea legs. (Seasickness just never bothered me.) However, some never do. As to cures, I recall seeing period adverts to the effect but whether or not any of them really worked is anybody's guess. A lot of so-called medicines across the board were little more then snake oil and about as effective. Others left you so stoned that you wouldn't care if somebody was trying to give you a "haircut" with a guillotine, and some were so downright dangerous that you might as well use the guillotine. The end result would be the same.
  20. thank you, that is such an interesting point about the carpet,. It is one of those things that is obvious when you think about it Though it seems that 1t class were trusted not to throw up!!!