Medical Ephemera

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July 28, 2016 Sarah Ashlock

Once you're finished with that bottle of cough syrup or aspirin, you typically toss it in the trash can and forget about it. We are fortunate that so many did not dispose of these items, and we have a chance to take a walk down memory lane.

We've come a long way from what was traditional to prescribe or purchase when feeling ill. Britannica states that doctors would sometimes "prescribe opium, mandragora, or alcohol to deaden pain." During the Enlightenment period, surgery became more regulated, and they developed an understanding of how blood circulated.

According to Britannica, the practice of medicine was still simple in the 18th century: "In Edinburgh the writer and lecturer John Brown expounded his view that there were only two diseases, sthenic (strong) and asthenic (weak), and two treatments, stimulant and sedative; his chief remedies were alcohol and opium"

In the 19th century, anestethia was introduced. Something I'm sure we are all thankful for. This was "a procedure that not only liberated the patient from the fearful pain of surgery but also enabled the surgeon to perform more extensive operations. The discovery was marred by controversy." In 1899, aspirin was introduced.

In the early 1900s, heroin, opium, and cocaine were over-the-counter medicines. Many helpful drugs were introduced in the 20th century as well, most notable perhaps was penicillin. Vaccines against measles also came into use, and in 1933, amphetamines were prescribed.

From the 1950s through the 1970s, drug abuse was beginning to be investigated and understood more. From the 1980s until present days, laws were and are continuing to be introduced about controlled substances.

Below are images of medical ephemera from The University of Texas at Austin's College of Pharmacy. You can find tonic for malarial fever costing only 50 cents, as well as items including black root, wood charcoal, alcohol, opium, and so on.

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