Plague 'Post'-poned, But Here's Opiate Syrup!

Yes its plague week, and yes I promised to post something today on the topic, but ironically (and inconveniently) I'm not feeling well. (Oooohh, maybe its Y. pestis? Maybe I should coat myself in mercury and hop in the oven...) So, I owe an extra post tomorrow on Plaguey goodness.

In the meantime, to satisfy your craving for the weird treatments of yore, check out this excellent post over at the ever-cantankerous and pithy Drugmonkey. The post details what was really in "Mrs Winlow's Soothing Syrup," which was given to teething newborns in the late 1800s.

It will come as no surprise to the modern reader to find the active ingredients of "nostrums" were quite frequently cocaine, opium/heroin/morphine or cannabis extracts.



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If you're asked to consume such a tonic
Just remember this little mnemonic
And recite "I'm Not Batts!"
(Wait--you are? Damn. Well... rats.)
Could be worse--it could be a colonic.

Feel better!


By Cuttlefish (not verified) on 09 Jan 2008 #permalink

There's a decentish novel called "If I Never Get Back", by Darryl Brock, set amongst the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings baseball team. One of the players goes through bottles of "Old Mother Approvington's Laudunamical Syrup For Robust Protestant Good Health" or something like that.

In fact, he does not give a list of the ingredients.

By ian findlay (not verified) on 10 Jan 2008 #permalink

"In fact, he does not give a list of the ingredients."

naah, you have to actually click the mouse button for that, lazybones. kids these days.

aside from contributing to your health, I think it is neat to browse around on the older pubs. scholarship my friends. maybe you'll notice something that nobody else did, for example there is some other interesting junk in Mrs. Winslow's that I saw referenced once or twice but didn't track down for the post.

not to mention the gee whiz. for example, a case report on "vaginismus" caught my eye browsing these documents, now wtf is that?

Vaginismus is a modern diagnosis with an ICD-10 code and everything! It's an abnormally strong and painful contraction of the vaginal musculature during sexual intercourse. It can be quite damaging to a woman's sex life and self-esteem.

I wouldn't be surprised at all if it was treated with opiate tinctures or "mechanical or manual induction of hysterical paroxysm" in the nineteenth century. (I also wouldn't be surprised if the treatments actually worked for some women, between muscle relaxation from opiate or orgasm, and decoupling of the conditioned pain response from sexual stimulus.)

in this case it was apparently the "belladonna ointment".

"Complete muscular relaxation and anaesthesia being produced by the administration of ether, I introduced two fingers from each hand into the vagina, and forcibly stretched the orifice; a large tampon, three inches long and three inches in circumference, thickly coated with belladonna ointment, was passed into the vagina, and allowed to remain in position for twenty-four hours, when an ordinary bivalve vaginal speculum was introduced, and the blades slightly separated."

OMG. Drugmonkey, if you blog the Belladonna Tampon, I promise you another Shellanche. :)

I'm old enough to recall when codeine in cough syrup was a regular thing. Does that count?

Posted by: Ghosty | January 10, 2008 10:36 AM

Ya, me too!
I wonder what neat little surprises we will have in store in 10 or 20 years when someone lists the things we were regularly consuming now?
Dave Briggs :~)

I actually tried to do an episode for the Wild West Tech show on the History Channel called "Medicine Show Tech". We were going to cover a lot of those "remedies", including the radium mine "arthritis treatment". Also, a lot of the common "snake oils" from back then were going to be on the show, too. The idea was cancelled because Pfizer was a major advertiser on the show, and they did not like the idea. We had other ideas cancelled at various stages of writing because they were not "PC". I did get to do a lot of good shows, however--just had to work within some pretty strict guidelines at times.

By Frank Lorey (not verified) on 16 Jan 2008 #permalink

"The idea was cancelled because Pfizer was a major advertiser on the show, and they did not like the idea."

I'm having trouble understanding why. If anything is an argument for why we need Big Pharma and how great they are it is the unregulated Patent Medicine era... or perhaps they'd like to return to days of yore, save with BigPatentMedicineNQuackery as the "hero"....