Various medicines were used for a wide variety of reasons, although few were very effective. Medicines were used to counteract the effects of inflammation, to induce purging or vomiting, as stimulants or as sedatives. Unfortunately, many of these medicines were poisonous and if taken in large doses, would be fatal.
Some of the more common types of medicines used at the time included:
- Anesthetics - such as ether.
- Anodynes - or narcotic pain relievers such as opium and morphine.
- Antiperiodics - such as quinine and arsenic which were used to stop the recurring fevers of malaria. Quinine was a successful treatment, but arsenic is a poison, mistakenly thought to cure malaria because workers in a copper smelting plant were found to be free of the disease in an area where malaria existed in epidemic proportions. It was thought that the workers had benefited from ingesting the arsenic fumes, when what had in fact happened was that the arsenic had killed off the mosquitoes in the area.
- Astringents - which helped blood to clot and decreased hemorrhaging.
- Cathartics or purgatives - such as calomel which had the same effect as a laxative. Calomel though was a mercury based poison which did more harm than good. Harmful effects included tooth loss, painful and bleeding gums, and mouth ulcers. Even more serious, it could cause cell damage and tissue loss which could lead to a deformity or a disabling injury.
- Depressants or sedatives - which calmed or tranquilized.
- Diaphoretics and sudorifics - whh induced sweating.
- Diuretics - which increased urination.
- Emetics - which induced vomiting.
- Emollients - which softened or soothed the skin or an irritated area beneath the surface of the skin.
- Escharotics - which were used to destroy or cauterize infected tissue.
- Expectorants - which produced saliva.
- Rubefacients - such as cantharides which were used to produce redness and blistering of the skin.
- Stimulants - such as brandy, gin, wine, whisky rum and spirits of ammonia. A stimulant was a substance that excited a part of the body to normal activity.
- Tonics - a class of medicines believed to have the power to restore normal tone to tissue.
Of all these different medications, only a few were actually effective. Quinine actually did help cure malaria. Ether did put you to sleep and morphine and opium were effective pain killers; although, they are addictive and often, in the long run, destructive. Most other medicines had either no effect or were detrimental to the patient.
The bottles and labels are authentic reproductions but do not contain the real medicines.