Thursday, 17 February 2011

Ancient drugs and home-made remedies

Filipe Santos, a former colleague of mine (now a Food Technology teacher) I met during  the Biotechnological Engineering degree I attended in the University of Algarve (Portugal, for those who have never visited the region) has recently shared on his Facebook wall, an article from a website named "Obvious, a longer looking" (the translation would be something close to what I got!). The article is quite interesting because it does show how the pharmacy industry and society itself had dealt with drugs and substances that nowadays are illegal in the sense of free consuming, and which possession can actually get anyone in serious trouble, but many years ago were just as enticing and "supposedly" effective as any other remedy utilised by the common people to achieve whatever final solution the patient was looking for. 

In the referred article which original version in Portuguese you can find over this link, Heroine, Opium and Cocaine are revealed to the public has solutions for the cure of many ailments. The Toxycologist Today translates this very interesting article and shows the snaps that used to publicise the miraculous fallacious remedies which active principle are now held as the main cause for serious addiction issues worldwide.

"If you think that some current drugs, like Prozac or Xanax, among other drugs, are very strong and you are afraid to take them, you are right. Only a specialist can prescribe them and always under very specific conditions, because each patient represents a case. But our ancestors took other kinds of more aggressive remedies with confidence and ease. The times were different, obviously, but they survived to raise their children and grandchildren (we), in most of the cases. It makes one think. Many of these remedies, which were not even sold in pharmacies and were made from substances that are now considered "illegal ", i.e. drugs, contained substances like opium, heroin, cocaine, as the commonest ones. Hard to believe? Then take a closer look.

Heroin, for example, was considered for about 100 years beneficial in the treatment of pain. It was used as a substitute for morphine, because it was held as non-addictive. In addition to the analgesic effect, it had other properties in combating asthma, cough and pneumonia. The pharmaceutical company Bayer sold it as remedy for children's cough. Often mixed with glycerin, sugar and other flavours to break their bitter taste, as you can see in this company's American label Martin H. Smith Company, New York.

Opium was not always frowned upon. Known for centuries in the Orient for its relaxing and sedative properties, opium was adopted by Western medicine as an anesthetic for a long time. It could also be used to treat asthma or even to calm down "newborn" babies. Moreover, with 45% alcohol, must have been very effective.

 And speaking of children, one of the best remedies for toothache was cocaine drops. Not only known for easing the pain, but also for improving the mood of those who sucked such drops. For singers, teachers and public speakers, cocaine mint dragees were "indispensable"they soothed sore throats and gave 'softness and elasticity "to the vocal cords. They were also proficient in encouraging these professionals, helping them reach their maximum performance.

One of the most common ways of taking cocaine for medical purposes was mixing it with wine. These wines had medicinal properties as well as recreational, acting as a sort of anti-depressant. Featuring Vin Mariani, famous in its day (1865because of Pope Leo XIII. It is said that His Eminence always carried a bottle of this blessed liquid and even awarded his creator with a gold medal!"

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