Of Cocaine, Sugar and Medicine – When Cures Were So Much More Fun


Since the beginning of time, humans have sought various medicinal treatments for everything from headaches to sore butt syndrome; something I’m suffering from right now, as I pursue my writing career.  With all the regulations here in the U.S. imposed by our omnipresent Food and Drug Administration and the ongoing (and almost fruitless) ‘War on Drugs,’ it’s tough to believe some medicines contained narcotics that would now land you in prison for life.

Consider, for example, that the Lloyd Manufacturing Company of Albany, New York, once produced “cocaine toothache drops.”  Billed as an “instantaneous cure” and sold for 15¢, Lloyd sold this oral miracle from 1885 until cocaine was outlawed in 1914.

In 1849, Charlotte M. Winslow of Maine got tired (like so many mothers did then and now) of dealing with a baby afflicted with coughing spasms.  Since necessity is always the mother of invention (in this case, literally!), Winslow created “Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup” – a cough elixir that included 65 mg of morphine.  Even the most colicky of babies would settle down after a single dose, so mother could get her rest and do whatever women liked to do when they had the time; like read, knit, or drink whiskey.  But, in 1911, the American Medical Association deemed the syrup a “baby killer,” thus prompting the government to ban it.  However, it remained on sale in the U.K. until 1930.

Mothers everywhere could sleep better knowing their kids were on morphine.

Mothers everywhere could sleep better knowing their kids were on morphine.

Another 19th century cough and cold remedy, “Dr. John Collis Brown’s Chlorodyne,” contained laudanum, which is a mixture of opium, cannabis and chloroform.  The medicine was also marketed as a cure for asthma, migraines, bronchitis and even cholera.  Hell, with those three ingredients, what ailment wouldn’t go away?

In the early 1800s, Scottish botanist James Edward Smith developed “Tilden’s Extract,” a cannabis extract manufactured and sold by the Tilden Company of New York as a cure for “hysteria, chorea, gout, neuralgia, acute and sub-acute rheumatism, tetanus, hydrophobia and the like.”  American author and journalist Fitz Hugh Ludlow became such a fan of the extract he wrote an entire book in 1857 entitled “The Hadeesh Eater” extolling its benefits.  Ludlow described the marijuana user as someone who’s searching for “the soul’s capacity for a broader being, deeper insight, grander views of Beauty, Truth and Good than she now gains through the chinks of her cell.”  Would anyone disagree, even now?

In 1863, French chemist Angelo Mariani developed his own wine, “Vin Mariani,” a Bordeaux wine treated with coco leaves.  Apparently, through natural chemical infusion, the ethanol in the wine extracted the cocaine from the coca leaves, leaving it with 7.2 mg of cocaine per ounce.  Contemporary ads claimed the wine would restore “health, strength, energy, and vitality.”  The beverage acquired some famous fans, including Queen Victoria, Pope Leo XIII and Thomas Edison who claimed it allowed him to stay awake for longer, which subsequently assisted his inventing prowess.  Even U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant allegedly partook of the concoction.  There’s nothing like having friends in high places.

Pope Leo XIII liked Vin Mariana so much he gave it a medal.

Pope Leo XIII liked Vin Mariana so much he gave it a medal.

“Vin Mariani” spawned many imitators, including “Pemberton’s French Wine Coca.”  John Pemberton came up with the idea after being severely wounded in April of 1865 during the Battle of Columbus.  He became addicted to morphine as a result of his injuries and used his chemistry background to develop an alternative – a cocaine-infused elixir that was patented by the Eagle Drug and Chemical Company of Columbus, Georgia.  When “Temperance Legislation” was enacted in 1885 to curb the growing dilemma of alcoholism in America (this was a precursor to “Prohibition”), Pemberton began experimenting with a non-alcoholic version of his “wine.”  He created a syrup made of cane sugar, coca leave extract and cola nuts.  He then diluted the syrup with water and added ice to keep it cool.  Thus, was born one of the most legendary beverages of all time: Coca Cola!  This new formula contained 8.46 mg of cocaine and was advertised as “a cure for morphine and opium addictions.”  The drink was first sold to the public at Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta.

By the time Pemberton died in 1888, three versions of Coca-Cola were being sold in the U.S. by three different businesses: Asa Candler, Margaret Dozier and Woolfolk Walker.  Candler sold his version under the names “Yum Yum” and “Koke,” before purchasing exclusive rights to the formula from Pemberton’s estate.  In 1892, he incorporated the Coca-Cola Company and two years later, sold the beverage in bottles for the first time.  Because of revised drug laws in 1914, cocaine was removed from Coca-Cola, but the name remained.

So, next time you reach for that Benadryl or can of Coke, just think – things weren’t always this dull.

Who needs a nurse when you a Coke?

Who needs a nurse when you have a Coke?


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2 responses to “Of Cocaine, Sugar and Medicine – When Cures Were So Much More Fun

  1. And, there was a time back at or before the turn of the century, I think, when doctors prescribed heroin for ladies suffering from the ‘vapors’ or headaches. Now, we’re conducting a war on this very same drug.

  2. Of course, there was a time when doctors ‘masterbated’ women suffering from ‘vapors’ also. God save queen and country, bring back cannibus.

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