Coca(ine)-Cola and Other Remedies from the Bad Old Days
Once upon a time, Americans didn't fool around with illness. Never mind health plans. Just pop into the druggist. Got a headache? Take an aspirin. Got a cough? Take an aspirin with heroin. Huh, what's that you say? You'd like something in between, instead of going straight from aspirin to heroin? Too bad. Evidently you were out of luck.
My eyes were opened to our nation's druggy past when I received an email this week that pointed me to a Web site featuring advertisements from as long ago as the 19th century, and I discovered that we sure were cheerful about cocaine, heroin, and other family soothers. I knew Coca-Cola’s name reflects the fact that it originally contained cocaine, but I only just learned that it also contained wine and was supposed to cure hysteria and melancholy. I bet it did!
Toothache? For 15 cents, you could pick up cocaine drops from the druggist. If you were feeling plain tuckered out, you could sip wine laced with cocaine and advertised as restoring health and vitality.
Overweight? Try amphetamines marketed to solve the problem. Depressed? Try methamphetamine in, for instance, the theatrically named, “Lady out of the Dark.” (How nice that the copywriter was literate enough to correctly place out, of, and the in lower case, indicating that he knew more about writing English than many people today. Not that I imply we’d be better writers on methamphetamines.)
As another aside, let’s not forget that women were widely believed not to have orgasms, and doctors treated female complaints not only with drugs but also by massaging their patients’ genitals until relief came through a “paroxysm.” But the poor guys suffered strain in their own hands and fingers from applying this highly successful and remunerative treatment so often. And thus was born the vibrator, originally a medical tool.
But to get back to drugs. Another product aimed at housewives leading lives of quiet desperation contained Dexedrine to make life seem worth living. Once these wives hit menopause, they could do themselves and their families a favor by taking barbiturates designed to make them more stable mentally.
Women seemed to need more medicinal support than men. Nursing mothers were urged to depend on tonics from Anheuser-Bush and Pabst that contained alcohol. (The Pabst family sent my first husband and me a luxurious wedding present; I failed to appreciate its connection to nursing mothers.)
People of all genders were encouraged to take Quaaludes for anxiety and, for a cough, Bayer aspirin that contained heroin. An evident Bayer competitor, Smith, claimed the combination of glycerin and heroin in their cough medicine was “scientifically conceived.” Alternatively (or, for all I know, in combination), for coughs our ancestors took a syrup that combined codeine, chloroform and marijuana. For asthma, on the other hand, cigarettes of some sort were recommended for those six and older.
If you were in pain, you could turn to injectable opium, which Panopon Roche claimed was a good alternative to morphine. Children as well as adults were dosed with morphine and heroin for colds, coughs, and congestion. We can well imagine how silent teething babies became when given the recommended morphine.
If your child had to see a doctor and balked at being examined, Abbott encouraged the doc to use a pentobarbital suppository. Both pentobarbital and Phenobarbital were the doctor’s friend in controlling adult patients freaking out for whatever reason. (In the 1960s I knew a physician at a well respected Manhattan hospital who, when he was at home in their Park Avenue apartment, gave his baby Phenobarbital. His wife explained that he worked hard and needed quiet at home.)
But times have changed over the past 150 years, although chloroform was only taken off the open market in 1976. Some drugs enjoyed legally in olden times are today used illegally. Other drugs that once were available freely now require a prescription. We are still taking the drugs our ancestors relied on, but now they're harder to get. And more expensive. Is this a clear symptom of progress? All I can say for sure is that California could solve its financial problems by legalizing marijuana and that vibrators have come a long way, baby.
Historical ads for products containing drugs: http://www.pharmacytechs.net/blog/old-school-medicine-ads
History of vibrators: http://www.tbd.com/content/article/basic_article.article:::love_life_history_vibrators