Granted, hindsight is 20/20, but some awfully strange substances have been used for pharmaceutical purposes in the past — and some might argue, continue to be used today. Here are some vintage advertisements touting items that we might balk at taking today.
Lloyd Cocaine Toothache Drops
In the US, cocaine was sold over the counter until 1914 and was commonly found in products like toothache drops, dandruff remedies and medicinal tonics.
Metcalf’s Coca Wine
Coca wine combined wine with cocaine, producing a compound now known as cocaethylene, which, when ingested, is nearly as powerful a stimulant as cocaine.
Vin Mariani Wine
The marketing efforts for coca wine focused primarily on its medicinal properties, in part because it didn’t taste very good and in part because the cocaethylene effects were perceived to “fortify and refresh body and brain” and “restore health and vitality.”
From 1898 through to 1910, heroin was marketed as a cough suppressant by trusted companies like Bayer — alongside the company’s other new product, Aspirin.
A mixture of heroin and glycerin. “No other preparation has had its therapeutic value more thoroughly defined or better established.”
Pantopon Roche Injectable Opium
“Try Pantopon in place of morphine for dependable, optimum relief of pain.”
Ayer’s Cherry Pectoral
Depending on which list of contents you reference, this cure for colds, coughs and “all diseases of the throat and lungs” contained either morphine or heroin.
Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup
Contained 65 mg of morphine per fluid ounce. “For children teething.”
Brand name for the now-illegal sedative methaqualone. “Now the physician has one less tired, sleepy and apprehensive patient to contend with.”
Dr. Batty’s Asthma Cigarettes
Cigarettes with unknown contents claimed to provide temporary relief of everything from asthma to colds, canker sores and bad breath. “Not recommended for children under 6.”
Starting in the late 1800s, many breweries produced “food tonics,” malt beverages containing around 2% alcohol that were promoted as “food in liquid form,” aiding in digestion, increasing appetite and aiding in sleep. “A boon to nursing mothers.”
A malt tonic from Pabst. “The best tonic prepares the way for happy, healthy motherhood.”
Kimball White Pine and Tar Cough Syrup
Until 1976, chloroform was used in consumer products like cough syrup, toothpastes, ointments and other pharmaceuticals.
This cough remedy contained, among other things, codeine, chloroform and cannabis.
Coca-Cola was invented in the late 1800s as a “coca wine” (see above) mix of wine and cocaine, but the alcohol and cocaine were later replaced with syrup and coca leaves, respectively. Nevertheless, typical coca wine claims of increased vitality remained for many years.
“A valuable brain tonic, and a cure for all nervous affections — sick head-ache, neuralgia, hysteria, melancholy.”
A combination of two amphetamines; known popularly as “black beauties.” Marketed for its weight loss benefits.
Brand name for methamphetamine. “The selective cerebral action of Norodin is useful in dispelling the shadows of mild mental depression.”
Brand name for dextroamphetamine. “Many of your patients — particularly housewives — are crushed under a load of dull, routine duties that leave them in a state of mental and emotional fatigue…Dexedrine will give them a feeling of energy and well-being, renewing their interest in life and living.”
McNeil Butisol Sodium
Brand name for butabarbital. “Mabel is unstable…it’s ‘that time’ in her life. To see her through the menopause, there’s gentle ‘daytime sedation’ in Butisol Sodium.”
Brand name for pentobarbital. “When little patients balk at scary, disquieting examinations…When they need prompt sedation (and the oral route isn’t feasible)…try Nembutal sodium suppositories…There is little tendency toward morning-after hangover.”
Lakeside Pentobarbital and Phenobarbital
“When crisis demands quick-acting hypnotics.”
Dr. Miles’ Nervine
“Since I have been taking Nervine, nothing bothers me.”
Wolcott’s Instant Pain Annihilator
“A speedy & permanent cure for headache, toothache, neuralgia, catarrh and weak nerves.”
Dalley’s Magical Pain Extractor
“Molly Pitcher, the heroine of Monmouth, avenging her husband’s death.”
Dr. Ham’s Aromatic Invigorator
A “cure for Dyspepsia, Low Spirits, Nervousness, Heartburn, Colic Pains, Wind in the Stomach or Pains in the Bowels, Headache, Drowsiness, Kidney and Liver Complaints, Melancholy, Delirium Tremens, and Intemperance.”