The efficacy of popular analgesics and medicaments has been much debated in recent times, and the placebo effects of treatments subject to experimentation. Add to that the huge popularity, yet dubious advantages of, homeopathic, herbal and Chinese remedies and lively discussion is assured. It is nothing new.
I found three old letters amongst envelopes purchased for their stamps containing comments about products marketed by the Carlton Chemical Company. These letters, two from 1907 and another from 1930, describe the purchase of remedies from the aforementioned company, which was registered at companies house as follows:
Company number 146051
Incorporated Around 1916
Company status Dissolved 20/02/1973
So it survived formally until relatively recent times.
The first of these letters was sent from Sheffield in March 1907.
"Dear Sir....in reply to yours received this morning, I beg to state that I cannot afford to pay 9/- at once. If you can send smaller quantities I should be glad to have them, as that already sent seems to have taken effect. I am sorry I cannot have the 9/- worth."
Now let's set the scene. What is the equivalent value in today's terms of 9 shillings back in 1907? A bit of checking on several web sites suggests inflation 1907-2006 was about 8200%, which means that 9 shillings in 1907 was equivalent to about £38 in 2006.
And another letter:
"I am sending for another half package of Dipsocure, sorry I couldn't send before now. I think the powders must be doing good, as a glass of beer or two seems to satisfy my husband, whereas he used to get much more, he sleeps well and eats well. He could get much more beer if he wished to, as he is out carting all day long. I shall have had two whole packages now, with the one I have sent for, I should think that aught to be sufficient, if I possibly can send for more I will do so, as I should like a complete cure. Your testimonials speak so well of it, for drink is the ruination of thousands."
Nothing changes does it? Yesterday I walked past an old hall, over the door of which was engraved in stone 'Temperance Hall'. It is now a nursery school. Education, but not about drinking less.
So what of Dipsocure? Interestingly, the Melbourne Argos, on Saturday 27 January 1917, listed 'Dipsocure' as a prohibited preparation, so presumably Australians were denied the pleasure of its consumption. I found an analysis in 'Secret remedies, what they cost and what they contain. British Medical Association, 1909, Vol., 1 p.164' The manufacturer's blurb states:
'Eminent medical men have over and over again declared that if a cure for drunkeness could be discovered both TASTELESSAND ODOURLESS, and placed in the hands of a devoted woman to administer SECRETLY, the greatest difficulty in effecting cures would have been overcome. 'Dipsocure' IS TASTELESS and ODOURLESS, and CAN BE administered SECRETLY; so that it has been our privilege and good fortune to have solved the problem. whilst counteracting and freeing the alcoholic-laden system of the poison, it is soothing to the nerves and restores the health, and is harmless to the most delicate person.
.......when a cure has been effected we ask you kindly to acquaint us of the fact, and perhaps you will then consider our agency proposal, showing how a good income can be made by introducing the cure to others. To show you the ease with which it can be sold, if you remit us 10s. three packages will be sent, two of which you can readily dispose of to other sufferers at 9s. each, thus making 8s. profit and obtaining one packet quite free.'
The directions for use were:
'Give one powder three times a day, before meals, dissolved in half a tea-cup of Hot Coffee, Tea, Whisky, Milk, Gin &c. Use either the brown or white powder, as the colour of the liquid may require.'
The powders had an average weight of 4.2 grains (1 grain is approx. 0.065 gram), single powders varying from 2.9 to 6 grains. The composition of both kinds was found to be the same except for the trace of colouring matter contained in the tinted powder. Analysis showed the composition to be-
Potassium bromide....................35 parts
Sugar of milk.............................59 parts
'Acetanilide is used as an inhibitor in hydrogen peroxide and is used to stabilize cellulose ester varnishes. It has also found uses in the intermediation in rubber accelerator synthesis, dyes and dye intermediate synthesis, and camphor synthesis. Acetanilide was used as a precursor in penicillin synthesis and other pharmaceuticals and its intermediates.
Acetanilide is a prodrug with analgesic and antipyretic (fever-reducing) properties; it is in the same class of drugs as acetaminophen (paracetamol). Under the name acetanilid it formerly figured in the formula of a number of patent medicines and over the counter drugs. In 1948, Julius Axelrod and Bernard Brodie discovered that acetanilide is much more toxic in these applications than other drugs, causing methemoglobinemia and ultimately doing damage to the liver and kidneys. As such, acetanilide has largely been replaced by less toxic drugs, in particular acetaminophen, which is a metabolite of acetanilide and whose use Axelrod and Brodie suggested in the same study.'
So if the beer didn't destroy your liver, the acetanilide would !
'The anticonvulsant properties of potassium bromide were first noted by Sir Charles Locock at a meeting of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society in 1857. Bromide can be regarded as the first effective medication for epilepsy. At the time, it was commonly thought that epilepsy was caused by masturbation. Locock noted that bromide calmed sexual excitement and thought this was responsible for his success in treating seizures. There would not be a better drug for epilepsy until phenobarbital in 1912. It was often said the British Army laced the soldiers' tea with bromide to quell sexual arousal, however because doing so would also diminish alertness in battle it is likely to be an urban legend and similar stories were also told about a number of substances.
Potassium bromide is used to treat epilepsy in dogs. ........ Use of bromide in cats is limited because it carries a substantial risk of causing lung inflammation (pneumonitis) in this species.
Potassium bromide is not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in humans to control seizures. In Germany it continues to be approved for use as an antiepileptic drug for humans, particularly children and adolescents.......
The therapeutic index is very small for bromide. As with other antiepileptics, sometimes even therapeutic doses give rise to intoxication. Often indistinguishable from 'expected' side-effects, these include:
Acne-form dermatitis and other forms of skin disease may also be seen, as well as mucous hypersecretion in the lungs. Asthma and rhinitis may worsen. Rarely, tongue disorder, aphten, bad breath, and obstipation occur.'
SUGAR OF MILK
'The sugar characteristic of milk; a hard white crystalline slightly sweet substance obtained by evaporation of the whey of milk. It is used in pellets and powder as a vehicle for homeopathic medicines, and as an article of diet. See Lactose.
Saccharum Lactis. Sugar of Milk
Latin, Saccharum Lactis (Gen., Sacchari Lactis)
Eng., Sugar of Milk. Synonym, Lactose. Obtained from the whey of cow's milk.
Form: Usually a white powder. Odour And Taste: Odourless. A faintly sweet taste.
Solubility: In 4.9 parts of water. Insoluble in alcohol.
Sugar of milk is used in Powder of Ipecac and Opium and Trituration of Elaterin. It is therapeutically inactive, only faintly sweet as compared with cane sugar, and being a clean white powder it makes a very desirable vehicle in administering powders. It is a valuable constituent in the modified milk formulae.
The estimated cost of the ingredients for 50 powders was one third of a penny'
The last letter I have addressed to the Carlton Chemical Company is dated 1930, 23 years after the previous documents.
" I am enclosing remittance (of) 6/- (shillings) for your 'A' treatment, which was sent to me to be paid for by 6/- weekly for two weeks, and 10/- to be paid for by six weeks. I am pleased to say that I have not smoked any cigarettes since taking your treatment which I received last Monday, and have no desire to smoke. I will send my testimonial next week." What this amazing product was is not recorded, but who knows what it did to the imbiber's health generally.
The question is 'did the purveyors of these products really believe that they were effective, or was it just a money making scam?' The fact that they contain at least apparent medication suggests that they just might have believed it.
Max Planck the German Physicist said " A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it". Pharmaceuticals are no exception.