|Addiction Research Unit
|Department of Psychology/University at Buffalo
Images from the preprohibition era when many psychotropic
were legally available in America and Europe
Many of the substances prohibited today were legally available in the
past. This small exposition contains samples of the many psychoactive medicines
widely available during the late-19th century through the mid-20th century.
Some of the pictures are oversized to improve legibility. Additional photographs
are available for some products in the author's private collection. For
a quick comparison with current drug regulations, see Drug
|Note: Most contemporary pharmaceutical manufacturers and several
spice companies produced products containing potent psychoactive compounds
like opium. Some of these companies are prominent companies today manufacturing
and distributing well-known consumer products. The incorporation of potent
psychoactive substances in a company's product line was common practice
during the 19th and early 20th centuries. This was before the deleterious
effects of habitual use of these substances was widely recognized.
The prohibition of psychoactive substances has evolved gradually in the
United States and in Europe. The opium-containing preparation laudanum
had been widely available since the 18th century. Morphine, cocaine, and
even heroin were seen as miracle cures when they were first discovered.
During the mid to late 19th century, many manufacturers proudly proclaimed
that their products contained cocaine or opium. A few, like Mrs.
Winslow's Soothing Syrup for infants which contained morphine,
were more guarded in divulging their principal ingredients. By the beginning
of the 20th century, problems with habitual use of cocaine and opiates
was becoming increasingly apparent. This led to the removal of these substances
from some products (e.g., Coca Cola) and to the introduction of
the Pure Food and Drug Act (1906) in the United States which required the
listing of ingredients on product labels. Nonetheless, standard narcotic
remedies like paregoric remained readily available
into the early 20th century, and Benzedrine inhalers were marketed without
prescription until the early 1950s. Codeine wasn't removed from most over-the-counter
cough suppressants until the early 1980s.
There were three types of medicines often containing cocaine--topical anesthetics
such as toothache powders, catarrh medicines for relieving head and chest
congestion, and medicinal (probably also recreational) cocaine-containing
wines advocated for their numerous beneficial effects.
|Paperweight advertisement for C.F. Boehringer & Soehne (Mannheim,
Germany), "largest makers in the world of quinine and cocaine." This chemical
manufacturer was proud of its leading position in the world's cocaine market.
|Early Coca-Cola syrup label listing ingredients. Even after
the cocaine was removed from the coca leaves used to make Coca Cola (c.
1906), the product was still sold for its medicinal effects. Today the
company generally refuses to comment on the use of coca leaves in their
Cocaine-containing topical anesthetics
Cocaine is an effective local anesthetic, and some of the earliest uses
of cocaine was for its local anesthetic properties. Today, other compounds
such as lidocaine and procaine are the medically preferred local anesthetics.
These compounds do not produce the mood-elevating and euphorigenic "side
effects" that can occur with cocaine.
|Cocaine toothache drops were popular with children and with
their parents. Not only would the medicine numb the pain, but it could
also put the user in a "better" mood.
|Cocaine-containing throat lozenges, "indispensable for singers,
teachers, and orators." In addition to quieting a sore throat, these lozenges
undoubtedly provided the "pick-me-up" to keep these professionals performing
at their peak. This box of lozenges is from a Belgium pharmacy (c. 1900).
Local pharmacies often bought their drugs in bulk and packaged them for
consumers under their own labels.
There were many companies competing in the lucrative coca-wine
market. Vin Mariani is the most recognized and perhaps the most
popular at the time, but many other brands were produced in the United
States and abroad.
|Metcalf's Coca Wine was one of a large number of cocaine-containing
wines available on the market. All claimed medicinal effects, although
they were undoubtedly consumed for their "recreational" value as well.
|Vin Mariani was the leading coca wine. This advertisement features
an endorsement from Berthelier, a popular late 19th century actor. The
caption immediately below the photograph reads, "Your marvelous Tonic needs
certainly no further recommendation as everyone is familiar with it, and
no one would be without it. I claim 'VIN MARIANI' can have no equal; it
will live forever." The caption also proclaims "over 7,000 written endorsements
from prominent physicians in Europe and America" and that the product has
had acclaim for 30 years. (From Harper's Magazine, March, 1894.)
|In addition to endorsements from celebrities, physicians, and scientists,
Pope Leo XIII also endorsed the popular product for its beneficial effects.
|This coca wine was made by the Maltine Manufacturing Company
(New York). The dosage indicated on the back of the bottle reads: "A wine
glass full with, or immediately after, meals. Children in proportion."
Malt extract was taken for its health-promoting effects and alcohol was
considered by many to have medicinal effects. It's not surprising to see
the 'virtues' of these three "medicines" combined into a single product.
|In addition to curing the usual ailments coca wine was claimed to remedy,
Bullard & Shedd's brand of coca wine claimed to be effective
in curing sea sickness. It was also promoted to cure the "opium or alcohol
|Burnett's Cocoaine (c. 1880) contained coconut oil not cocaine
as its primary ingredient. Hoping to capitalize on the popularity of products
containing cocaine and their association with "modern medicine," some manufacturers
developed similarly sounding proprietary names. Burnett's Cocoaine bottles
are bought and sold by many modern collectors who mistakenly believe the
product contained cocaine. They must be similarly confused about the nature
of "cocoa" and "coca" products. ("Cocoanut" is also a variant spelling
of "coconut," and hence the aptly named product.)
Opiate-based formulations were probably even more widely employed than
those containing cocaine. Laudanum had been in use for over two centuries,
and the isolation of morphine in the early 19th century (c. 1803/1817)
and the later development of heroin (c. 1898) were lauded as even more
Modern authors usually suggest that widespread opium use was a major
health problem during the 19th century. However, the use of opiates must
be kept in proper perspective with other contemporary health problems.
Mortality from cholera, malaria, and dysentery was very high, and opiates
provided some relief from these illnesses (Opiates remain the most effective
treatment for dysentery.). Some authors have suggested that the easy availability
of opiate-based medicines saved more lives than it took. As the deleterious
effects of chronic opiate use became increasingly recognized during the
late 19th century, several factors helped ease the need for opiates: the
improvements in sanitation diminished cholera and dysentery, the drainage
of swamp lands decreased malaria, and the introduction of acetylsalicylic
acid (aspirin; 1899) provided an alternative medicine for moderate pain
|This bottle of Stickney and Poor's paregoric
was distributed much like the spices for which the company is better known.
McCormick also manufactured and sold paregoric, which is a mixture of opium
and alcohol. Doses for infants, children, and adults are given on the bottle.
At 46% alcohol, this product is 92 proof which is pretty potent in itself.
|Heroin was commercially developed by Bayer Pharmaceutical and
was marketed by Bayer and other companies (c. 1900) for several medicinal
uses including cough suppression.
|This magazine advertisement is for Glyco-Heroin manufactured by
Martin H. Smith Company (New York). Heroin was widely used not only
as an analgesic but also as a remedy for asthma, coughs, and pneumonia.
Mixing heroin with glycerin (and often adding sugar or spices) made the
bitter-tasting opiate more palatable for oral consumption. (From International
Medical Magazine, January, 1902.)
|These Heroin tablets manufactured by The Fraser Tablet Company
were marketed for the relief of asthma.
|This National Vaporizer Vapor-OL (opium) Treatment no. 6 for asthma
may have provided a unique method of essentially "smoking" opium. The volatile
liquid was placed in a pan that was heated by a small kerosene lamp (see
below). Other substances were also used in these early (c. 1890) vaporizers,
but this mixture probably ensured plenty of visitors for the spasmodically
|Vapo-cresolene lamps were marketed primarily to vaporize creosol-based
products for the relief of head and chest congestion. However, they were
also used with other products such as the opium-based asthma medicine shown
|Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup was an indispensable aid to mothers
and child-care workers. Containing one grain (65 mg) of morphine per fluid
ounce, it effectively quieted restless infants and small children. It probably
also helped mothers relax after a hard day's work. The company used various
media to promote their product, including recipe books, calendars, and
trade cards such as the one shown here from 1887 (A calendar is on the
|Although not required to list ingredients until the Pure Food and Drug
Act was introduced in 1906, products containing opium and other narcotics
were required to pay a special tax on each bottle of "medicine" and to
signify that the tax was paid by sealing the unopened bottle with a tax
stamp. Note the irony of portraying a child on the narcotic tax stamp used
with Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup (c. 1900). (Domestically sold alcoholic
beverages and tobacco products still require a tax stamp.)
|Opium smoking was another common method of administering opium.
Although often associated with the Chinese, opium smoking was much more
widespread and especially popular with some affluent occidentals. Various
media, such as this postcard from San Francisco (c. 1900), encouraged the
popular stereotype. In addition to the "recreational" effects produced
by smoked opium, certain medicinal effects were also produced. These effects
were similar to those produced by Glyco-heroin, paregoric, and other opiate-containing
medications. (cf. Vapo-OL [opium] Treatment no. 6 for asthma illustrated
|Students at the University of Heidelburg take a break from their studies
while smoking opium (c. 1900). I suppose it makes the accordion music even
Amphetamine was synthesized too late to have the widespread applications
enjoyed decades earlier by cocaine and the opiates. It was, however, marketed
in products commonly used to relieve head congestion and asthma. Amphetamine
continued to be employed as a popular prescription diet-aid into the 1970s.
|Benzedrine (racemic amphetamine) inhalers were available over-the-counter
until the early 1950s. Some airlines even gave them out to passengers to
minimize discomfort when the plane was landing and taking off. The Smith,
Kline, and French advertisement proudly proclaims that over 10 million
Benzedrine inhalers had been shipped by 1938, only 7 years after the product's
introduction. This may have even outpaced McDonald's hamburger sales during
their early expansion (Remember the "over x million hamburgers sold" signs
on the golden arches?).
|On-board service menu from an early Pan American World
Airways Flight (c. 1950). Note the Benzedrine Inhalers listed under Service
Items along with Kleenex and other items provided free to make your
flight more pleasant.
For some products, such as coca wine, the formulations varied
considerably across manufacturers. Other products also showed variations
(e.g. alcohol content for paregoric ranged between 18% and 46%), but USP
standardization later ensured consistent formulations among chemists and
commercial manufacturers. Because opium is a natural product, early formulations
using opium would have a variable opiate content, depending on growing
and refining conditions (generally, opium contained 6 to 12% morphine).
Later opium formulations were more consistent as chemical assays ensured
more consistent opiate content.
for early psychoactive medicines
Some Early Medicines with
||30 grains Erythroxylum coca per ounce of wine
||45% alcohol with 45.6 grains opium (2.964 grams) per fluid ounce
(equivalent to around 296 mg morphine per ounce)
|Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup
||1 grain (65 mg) morphine per fluid ounce
||camphorated 46% alcohol with 1.8 grains opium (117 mg) per fluid ounce
(equivalent to around 11.7 mg morphine)
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© 1999-2001 Addiction Research Unit/University at Buffalo
This page was last revised 20 September 2001 22:43 EDT.
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