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We Have Come A Long Way! May 20, 2010

Posted by Dr. Jacqueline E. Campbell in Health, Narcotis, Wellness.
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The use and abuse of drugs has always fascinated me.  Humans have used drugs of one sort or another for thousands of years.  Many common drugs of abuse were originally used as medicine.


For thousands of years Cannabis has been used as a medicine.  It was described in a Chinese medical compendium traditionally considered to date from 2737 B.C.  Its use spread from China to India and then to North Africa and reached Europe at least as early as A.D. 500.  Prior to the 10th century B.C., bhang, a Cannabis preparation, was used as an anesthetic and anti-phlegmatic in India.  In China , in the 28th century B.C , cannabis was prescribed for beriberi, constipation, “female weakness,” gout,  malaria, rheumatism and absent mindedness.  In ancient Greece, the drug was used as a remedy for earache, edema and inflammation.  In Africa,  it was used to restore appetite, relieve haemorrhoidal pain and as an antiseptic.

During the 19th century, Cannabis was sold by major drug companies such as Eli Lilly, Squibb and Parke-Davis.  A potent extract of the drug was one of the top three most prescribed medical agents in the United States.  The United States Pharmacopeia listed the drug until its removal in 1942 under political pressure.  Cannabis was recommended for the treatment of over 100 illnesses including fatigue, cough, rheumatism, asthma, migraine, and menstrual cramps.

In 1890, Dr. J. Russell Reynolds, Fellow of the Royal Society and the Physician in Order to Her Majesty’s Household, stated in the journal The Lancet that Cannabis is  “one of the most valuable medicines we possess.”

He prescribed the drug for Queen Victoria to treat her PMS ( pre-menstrual syndrome ).


Cocaine is an alkaloid found in the coca bush Erythroxylum coca, which grows in the Andes regions of South America.  Coca leaves were chewed by some  South American tribes as early as 600 to 800 A.D.  Early myths and legends suggested that the coca plant was of divine origin.  During the Incan period, consumption was restricted to the priesthood and aristocracy.  After their conquest,  the Incas increased their coca leaf chewing possibly because of a decline in food supplies and the obvious enhancement of their ability to perform heavy physical work under poor conditions.  This habit of chewing coca leaves never became popular with North Americans and Europeans. Instead various drinks made from the coca leaf were concocted and subsequently became popular.  One of them was Mariani’s wine which was endorsed by notable artists and religious leaders.  In 1885, in the United States , John Styth Pemberton introduced a product similar to Mariani’s wine and promoted it as a nerve and tonic stimulant.  The next year, Pemberton concocted another coca product,  a syrup that he named Coca Cola.  This new “remarkable therapeutic agent” contained both coca leaf ( cocaine ), flavouring and caffeine.  Eventually all references to Coca Cola’s medicinal properties were dropped and cocaine removed from the drink.

Dr. Sigmund Freud promoted cocaine use for numerous physical and mental disorders and is said to have used the drug to cure his own depression. Between 1890 and 1906 , the “ golden age of patent medicines“, cocaine was a basic ingredient found in many products advertised as cures for depression, toothache, asthma, colds,  eczema,  alcohol and morphine addiction.  Prospective buyers were advised (in the words of pharmaceutical firm Parke-Davis) that cocaine “could make the coward brave, the silent eloquent, and render the sufferer insensitive to pain“.   By 1902 about 92 % of all cocaine use in the United States was in the form of non prescription tonics and beverages.  With growing concern about its toxic effects, laws were passed in the USA and Canada severely limiting the transport and sale of the drug.


Heroin was introduced into medical practice in 1898 as a cough suppressant. It was initially met with worldwide acceptance, because there were fewer side effects when compared with morphine and also because physicians were unaware of the drug’s potential for dependency. By 1924 the production and importation of the drug was outlawed in the United States.


The ” native peoples of North America” were observed smoking cigars and chewing tobacco by various explorers.  It was the Spanish who first brought tobacco to Europe.  At first it was treated as a medicine and many claims were made of its fantastic curative powers – it was reported to be effective in the treatment of ulcers, asthma, rheumatism and headaches.  Jean Nicot,  a French diplomat promoted the importation and cultivation of tobacco because of its perceived medicinal properties.  His name was given to the genus Nicotiana and subsequently to the alkaloid nicotine.  As tobacco use spread as a wonder cure,  it did not take long to catch on as a recreation  (although many persons stated that they were actually using it to prevent diseases such as the plague).   In 1604 King James I of England wrote an anti- tobacco treatise called  “A Counterblaste to Tobacco” in which he expressed his distaste for tobacco, particularly tobacco smoking.  He stated that smoking affects “the inward parts of man,  soiling and infecting them with a vicious and oily kind of Soote,  as hath been found in some great tobacco takers, that after their death opened“.   He even commented on the effects of second hand smoke.  The king rightly blamed Sir Walter Raleigh for the popularity of smoking in England.  Raleigh like any true smoker, smoked one last pipe before he was beheaded, in order “to settle his spirits”.

DR. JACQUELINE E. CAMPBELL B.Sc. (Hons) M.Phil. (Pharmacology) M.B., B.S.

Dr. Jacqueline Elaine Campbell is a family physician whose special interests are Pharmacology, and the use of Alternative/Complementary Medicine in the treatment of diabetes and other diseases that are common in Jamaica.

She is the author of A Patient’s Guide to the Treatment of Diabetes Mellitus.




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