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10 Old-Timey Medicines That Got People High

Want some morphine in your cough syrup?

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8. Dr. Haines' Golden Specific

Dr. James Wilkins Haines M.D. of Waynesville, Ohio was certainly a colorful character. A Quaker with a deep (and controversial) belief in spiritualism, he was a serious campaigner for the temperance movement. His contribution to the wild world of patent medicines was  Dr. Haines’ Golden Specific, which purported to be a cure for alcoholism. “DRUNKENNESS, LIQUOR HABIT" claimed one typical ad in the The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post in 1891. “In all the World there is but one Cure. Dr. Haine’s GOLDEN SPECIFIC. It can be given in a cup of coffee or tea, or in articles of food, without the knowledge of the patient, if necessary. It is absolutely harmless, and will effect a permanent and speedy cure, whether the patient is a moderate drinker or an alcoholic wreck. IT NEVER FAILS…” Preying on the desperate families of alcoholics, the “cure” was denounced as a “cruel humbug” by the American Medical Association in 1917 when they analyzed it and found it contained little more than “milk sugar, starch, capsicum and a minute amount of ipecac.” Still, as far as quick cures go, it sure beats the hell out of Rapid Opiate Detox.

9. McMunn's Elixir of Opium

McMunn’s Elixir of Opium did exactly what it said on the box—it got you extremely high on opium extract. But, according to the hype, it was safer than standard opium or morphine because it had been “denarcotised"—a process where the opium was treated with sulfuric acid to remove the alkaloid  narcotine, which supposedly removed the drug’s ill effects. Of course the idea of “denarcotising” opium was bunk since narcotine contained no narcotic properties and the elixir was just as addictive and deadly as any other opium-based patent medicine when used carelessly. The product became extremely popular in the United States once the A. B. & D. Sands drug company bought the recipe in 1841 and then flooded newspapers with claims that it was “non-habit forming." McMunn’s Elixir of Opium was touted as a cure for “convulsions and spasmodic action,” as well as “pain and irritation, nervous excitement and morbid irritability of body and mind.” It was also prescribed to children—“To a child a month old, or younger, give from half a drop to two drops; to a child 6 months old, from 3 to 10 drops…”—which led to a rash of infant deaths. An infamous case from New York in 1875 described a young child who had worms being dosed with “15-20 drops every hour” in an effort to “cause the worms which were supposed to be in the child’s stomach, to have a good sleep.” Instead, as a local newspaper reported, “The little fellow was at play in the morning as ever and at 11 at night was a corpse.”

10.  Habitina

“An Infallible Cure For Drug habits of All Kinds!” claimed the ads for  Habitina. For $2, one could order this amazing remedy, which contained 16 grains of morphine and 8 grains of heroin per fluid ounce. Between 1906 and 1912, the Delta Chemical Company made a fortune flogging its own brand of smack to addicts, marketing it as a cure for addiction. Addicts were advised to “discontinue the use of all narcotic drugs and take sufficient HABITINA to support the system without any of the old drug.” Then, in a premise that will sound familiar to anyone who has seen the inside of a methadone clinic, patients were instructed to gradually reduce their dose until—BINGO!—they were cured. But it didn’t tend to happen like that. In later court cases, former Habitina users testified against the company’s founders. “Mr. W. J. H., Missouri testified that he purchased Habitina to cure himself of the morphine habit,"  read the notesfrom one of these cases. "He increased from a bottle a week to a bottle a day, and at last ordered six bottles at a time, which the company always sent without question." A 26-year-old woman supposedly spent $2,300 on the drug over the course of five years—a staggering sum at the time—and even went without shoes to afford her habit. In the end, the makers of Habitina were convicted of sending poison through the mail, which resulted in a sentence of five years hard labor. On appeal, the conviction was overturned but the bad press proved to be the death knell for Habitina—much to the disappointment of dope fiends all over the US.

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