The Conventional Medical Establishment has been developing and giving us drugs for centuries, and most of them have proven to be either useless, or dangerous, or more often, both.
These ‘older drugs’ were used in the 18th and 19th centuries, and some into the first half of the 20th century, before the spectacular rise of the big pharmaceutical companies, which were to become so powerful, so influential, and which now dominate the conventional medical establishment.
These are no longer used, but are regularly referred to in historical novels! They demonstrate that conventional drugs have always been dangerous, that they have always harmed patients, and that the rise of the pharmaceutical industry was not based on any prior success in the treatment of illness and disease.
Antimony tells us much about medieval and pre-20th century medicine, and the medical practitioners of the pre-modern era, the predecessors of our current doctors. They routinely used highly toxic drugs to treat illness and disease. What links the modern doctor with those of earlier centuries was the understanding that the sick body is a malfunctioning machine whose chemistry must be forced back into submission and good order.
Antimony was a drug used in medicine from about 900ad, and it was still being used by conventional medical practitioners at the turn of the 20th century. Antimony was a powerful purgative and emetic combined, and it held an almost magical hold over conventional medicine for over a millennium.
Purgative and emetic drugs, alongside enemas and bloodletting, were all highly prized means of 'purifying' the body, used to 'wash away' the 'putrid matter' that was perceived to be the reason for ill-health.
It should be remembered that during medieval times the origin of disease was widely believed to be spiritual, the supernatural governed our vital powers. So during these more religious times, both the disease and the drug used to treat it was seen as a punishment from God, retribution for some form of personal sin or wickedness. People believed that they were ill because they had been sinful.
Yet whereas wickedness was regarded as the definitive cause of disease, its manifestation was in the putrid matter found within the body. So not only must the sin be expunged, the putrid matter must also be forcibly expelled too, regardless of the cost to the patient, the sinner. The body needed to be purged in order to cleanse and heal from both disease and sin.
If this was so, then Antimony was indeed a suitable punishment! We now know that just by breathing Antimony for a time irritates eyes and lungs, and can cause stomach ulcers, heart and lung problems. No doubt its medicinal use caused considerable pain, disease, and death to those unsuspecting patients who were given the drug.
"If the cure was infinitely worse than the disease, the prospect of a treatment capable of eliminating all corruption from the body, was surely irresistible. In the last resort, the triumph of hope over experience may explain why antimony enjoyed such an enduring popularity."
Rawcliffe, Carole, Antimony in Medical History by R Ian McCallum, Pentland Press, book review, BMJ 2000; 320: 879 [25 March].
It was purgative drugs like Antimony, extolled by the conventional medical establishment of its day as being so virtuous and efficacious, that Samuel Hahnemann sought to extricate himself. Homeopathy was the result.
Yet whilst conventional medicine has now also extricated itself from the use of Antimony, as well as practices such as bloodletting, blistering, emetics and purgatives, the same love of toxicity, the need for medicine to have a physical and/or chemical effect on the body, remains apparent in conventional medical practice today.
Calomel, also known as quicksilver, is a drug based on the deadly poison, mercury. It had a long and tragic history in the sphere of human health. It was used for a variety of physical and mental ailments, and was taken internally as a laxative and disinfectant, as well as a treatment for syphilis.
Calomel was highly toxic, and its toxicity was made worse because the mercury accumulates in the body over time as a poison.
Conventional medicine used calomel into the beginning of the 20th century. It was believed to be an effective purgative that released the 'impurities' from the sick patient. It also did irreversible damage to the body, including the loss of hair and teeth, and was ultimately the cause of many deaths. Some of its historical uses involved important historical figures. The physicians attending General Washington, during his final hours, gave the dying President calomel. Louisa May Alcott (the author of Little Women) suffered from the drug.
Dr James Hamilton, a distinguished Edinburgh physician, in his book "Observations on the Use and Abuse of Mercurial Medicine" published in 1819, was one of the first studies of drug side-effects. He said that whilst the immediate side-effects of Calomel were rare, its long-term action might be much more insidious, especially in children, and just as deadly. Griggs (p194) describes his argument:
"He suggested that a great many of the major health problems of the day, as well as much general ill-health and debility, were due to constant dosing with calomel. He was frightened by the alarming rise in the incidence of convulsions - 'all those fatal conversions to the head, which of late years have so frequently taken place in the fevers of children' - and by 'the daily increasing ravages of hereditary scrofulous disorders' that tuberculous infection of the lymph nodes in the neck which produced the huge disfiguring ulcers known as The Kings Evil. Hamilton became more and more convinced that both could be laid at the door of calomel, and he strongly suspected that this drug might also be a factor in the upsurge in numbers of deaths from ordinary tuberculosis”.
It took another 100 years before Calomel finally fell out of use within the conventional medical establishment!
Watch most movies, or read most books set in the 18th and 19th Centuries, and the drug Laudanum will often feature. It appears to have been the conventional medical ‘drug of choice’ for a variety of conditions and illnesses for a very long time.
What many people do not realise is that it is still around, and that it is still being prescribed in many countries, although, of course, with a different name. It is still present in many conventional ‘medicines’, and many of us were given it as children, and can still give to our children today!
Laudanum is a drug based on opium. It is a tincture containing almost all of the opium alkaloids, including morphine and codeine. Its use dates back to the 16th Century, and Paracelsus. It is a highly potent narcotic and extremely addictive. Laudanum was used to treat a variety of ailments until the 20th Century.
Today it is usually referred to as ‘tincture of opium’, and can still be prescribed in countries such as the USA and Britain.
Laudanum was used to treat coughs, sleeplessness, diarrhoea, and pain, including menstrual cramping, but as Wikipedia confirms, it was “widely prescribed for ailments from colds to meningitis to cardiac diseases”.
It was routinely used for children, and widely used in epidemics of cholera, dysentery and yellow fever in the 19th Century, and also for diseases such as dropsy (Oedema), consumption (TB) and rheumatism.
Today the drug is sometimes used for controlling diarrhoea, relieving pain, or for babies of mother’s addicted to heroin and other opioids
The side effects and adverse reactions to Laudanum, tincture of opium are well known. They are a refinement of those known since the 19th Century.
• Difficulty having a bowel movement (stool)
• hives or welts
• blurred vision
• blue lips and fingernails
• chest pain or discomfort
• cold sweats
• constricted, pinpoint, or small pupils (black part of eye)
• cool, clammy skin
• coughing that sometimes produces a pink frothy sputum
• difficult, fast, or noisy breathing, sometimes with wheezing
• difficult or troubled breathing
• difficulty sleeping
• dizziness, faintness, lightheadedness
• drowsiness to profound coma
• fast heartbeat
• increased hunger
• increased sweating
• irregular, fast or slow, or shallow breathing
• mood or other mental changes
• no blood pressure or pulse
• no muscle tone or movement
• not breathing
• pale or blue lips, fingernails, or skin
• shortness of breath
• slow or irregular heartbeat
• slurred speech
• stopping of heart
• swelling in legs and ankles
• unusual tiredness or weakness
• Itching skin
• redness of skin
• skin rash
Yet whilst Laudanum is no longer widely proscribed it can apparently still be purchased through conventional chemists on the High Street, and on the internet! Gee’s Linctis. One chemist describes it as “a trusted name for cough relief for generations”.
The side effects given on a packet of Gee’s Linctus include nausea, sickness, constipation, drowsiness, confusion, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, stomach pain, shortage of breath, difficulty in urinating, skin itching and flushing, rash, low blood pressure. And “prolonged use may lead to tolerance (the medicine loses its effect) and dependence’.
Not much changes then! Including the willingness of the conventional medical establishment to continue giving us harmful and dangerous drugs, even to our children.