PAIN - in the 1800’s

SO O.K….. I may be in a bad mood because I’m getting totally HAMMERED with allergies right now.  I will be thrilled when the Junipers are no longer having sex.  So I looked up a little info on PAIN killers from some distant past.  I’m not a drug taker of any sorts, but if my face doesn’t stop trying to explode soon - I think I’d like to try some of these from the 1800’s……….

Pain in the Old West

by J.E.S. Hays

After a hard day on the trail, your cowboy's going to have sore muscles, and he might have a headache Sunday morning after a night on the town.


•    Pain Killer: 1854-1895, opium

 “adapted for both internal and external application, and reaches a great many complaints, such as sudden colds, chills, congestion or stoppage of circulation, cramps, pains in the stomach, summer and bowel complaints, sore throat, etc. Applied externally, it has been found very useful for sprains, bruises, rheumatic pains, swelled face, etc. Arising from toothache.  Is just what its name implies - a killer of pain. It is not a cure-all but is just the thing needed in case of the slight ailments and accidents which occasionally afflict us all. For cholera morbus, cramps, and all bowel troubles, it has no equal. It removes all pain and soreness from cuts, bruises and burns, etc.  It smarts upon application, but only for a moment”

•    Miller’s Anodyne Cordial: 1872-1883, morphine and chloral hydrate

•    Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup: 1849, 65 mg morphine per ounce 

"Should always be used when children are cutting teeth. It relieves the little sufferer at once; it produces natural, quiet sleep by relieving the child from pain, and the little cherub awakes as 'bright as a button.' It is very pleasant to taste. It soothes the child, softens the gums, allays all pain, relieves wind, regulates the bowels, and is the best known remedy for diarrhoea, whether arising from teething or other causes.”   For children, but adults sometimes indulged! 25 cents

•    Wolcott’s Instant Pain Annihilator: 1863, opium and alcohol 

“A speedy and permanent cure for headache, toothache, neuralgia, catarrh and weak nerves."  

•    McMunn’s Elixir of Opium: 1830

"This is the pure and essential extract from the native drug."  

•    Allen’s Cocaine Tablets; ca 1880

“for hay fever, catarrh and throat troubles; cures neuralgia, nervousness, headache and sleeplessness” 50 cents a box 


•    Cocaine Toothache Drops; ca 1880's “Instantaneous Cure! Price 15 Cents”   

gee… my crown has been bothering me a lot lately


Painkillers of the 1800s

By Kate Bridges

  “Give me somethin’ for the pain, Doc…” 

How many times have you heard this in a Western movie?

If you were to rate the knowledge about painkillers in the 1800s in North America, which one would you say:

1.   Doctors knew very little. Most of the time, they just gave whiskey. (same as today - except without the whiskey)

2.   They knew enough to help some people. Mostly with unknown herbs.

3.   They used the major painkiller that is still the major painkiller we use in hospitals today.

The answer is the last one. #3


MORPHINE. Morphine was discovered in 1803. It was named after Morpheus, the Greek God of Dreams. At first it was given orally, but when hypodermic needles were invented (1853) morphine was injected. It worked faster. It became popular for treating injured soldiers during the 1860s Civil War. Morphine was also used during childbirth, to suppress coughing, even to relieve diarrhea and dysentery. Side effects can include drowsiness, nausea, vomiting and constipation (that’s why it was effective with dysentery). Morphine is still the most prescribed major painkiller in the world. It has ten times the potency of Demerol (a synthetic painkiller invented 1930s). In hospitals today, morphine is often the medication prescribed for severe pain. There are other medicines, even more powerful, that have been developed in recent times, but their use is not as common.

OPIUM DENS. These sprang up across America during the last half of the 19th century. They began with the arrival of Chinese immigrants in San Francisco shortly after 1850, who imported opium. Customers smoked it through special pipes and lamps and got high. Laws banning drug use started in the late 1870s, but weren’t enforced until the early 1900s, when doctors realized these things were addictive and detrimental.

[see Drew Desmonds great blog article about Opium in Prescott!!]

 HEROIN. Did you know if you boiled morphine, you’d get heroin? (No! I never thought of boiling my morphine) They discovered that in the late 1870s. Heroin is several times more potent than morphine. When heroin was discovered, it was briefly used in hospitals for pain medication, but is no longer used in hospitals because it crosses the blood-brain barrier and is highly addictive.

CANNABIS. Hemp, or medicinal cannabis (also called marijuana) has been used for centuries. An Irish doctor, an herb specialist at a medical college in Calcutta 1830, is credited with training his Western colleagues in the benefits for relief of muscle spasm and pain. It was also used to treat migraines and insomnia, and as a primary pain reliever until the invention of aspirin. It became controversial in 1937 when the U.S. banned it.

(just watch the old movie ‘Refer Madness’ and see the movie that William Randolph Hearst created to help this ‘urban legend’.  Yup… Hearst didn’t want the competition  from ‘hemp’ paper - that and he was a blatant racist.  Ok ok… if you want to read the real story)

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 12.01.06 PM

ASPIRIN. (Acetylsalicylic acid or ASA) Aspirin ingredients originally came from extracts of willow bark. Indian tribes knew its value, and chewed on pieces of bark for pain relief. Even Hippocrates in 400 BC recommended it to his patients. Scientists began to study willow bark in the 1850s to see if they could isolate the analgesic ingredient. Voila…1899, aspirin.

COCAINE. Derived from the coca plant in South America. Indigenous people chewed on the leaves to give them ‘strength and energy.’ Medicine men used it to wrap broken bones, reduce swelling, and treat festering wounds. The plant didn’t grow in Europe and spoiled easily during travel, so it wasn’t until 1855 in Germany that the main ingredients were isolated. By 1885, cocaine was sold in corner stores in America in various forms – cigarettes, powder, even injection by needle (heroin was also widely available). In medicine, cocaine was commonly used as a local anaesthetic. Sigmund Freud prescribed it for his patients to induce euphoria for those depressed. It wasn’t until many years later they discovered its addictive nature.

LAUDANUM. Laudanum, or tincture of opium, was a very common painkiller because it was cheap and available to working class people. It came as a liquid, the main ingredients being morphine mixed with alcohol. There were different versions, with different ratios of opium (morphine). It was widely prescribed for many uses such as colds, pain relief, insomnia and heart ailments. Many writers and poets of the time were known to use it—Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

WHISKY. Alcohol is a depressant on the central nervous system and a mood modifier. It was used not as an analgesic in itself, but because it made the person groggy and intoxicated, so he or she wouldn’t notice the pain as much. As a local anaesthetic (numbing agent) they used it for toothaches (ex. packing the hole in the gums left by a tooth extraction with gauze soaked in cognac). Doctors today do not recommend alcohol as a painkiller.

(However it seems to works for me)

Screen Shot 2017-03-01 at 10.49.05 AM

Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 10.20.22 AM

Forget the cough….I have killer insomnia… where can I get this?

Screen Shot 2017-03-01 at 10.49.44 AM

Brought to you by Bayer… and you thought they only made aspirin.

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 12.29.38 PM

YES!  Drink more wine to get ride of that pesky alcoholism.


Screen Shot 2017-03-01 at 10.50.45 AM

Where can I get this?!?!?

Screen Shot 2017-03-01 at 10.50.00 AM

Ah… my personal favorite

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 12.32.16 PM

WHAT?!?  Look it up, it killed a lot of Romans

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 12.27.25 PM

Absolutely!  We can all use more Moxie!

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 12.34.17 PM

Mattie’s fav

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 12.27.44 PM

And when all else fails… the WONDER WORKER

                                                                     © Michelle Young 2012