Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Food additives: not your grandmother's recipe

Going through a file today, I came across a snippet which I had torn out of a National Geographic magazine some years ago. It's a small article titled: "More than just a sugar buzz: original Coca-Cola really did use the real thing." While the fact that the manufacturer did once add cocaine to its popular soft drink is fairly widely known, perhaps less well known is how commonly cocaine was used in other products of that era. Widely embraced as a potent painkiller, cocaine was put into throat lozenges, suppositories, and medicines for fatigue, asthma, and a host of "women's illnesses." (for a complete history, check out Joseph Spillane's book Cocaine: from medical marvel to modern menace in the United States, 1884-1920.)

Nor was cocaine the only addictive substance used in popular medicines: the National Geographic goes on to list early uses for heroin (cough medicine), opium (asthma), and morphine (syrup for quieting infants--and I bet it worked like a charm.)

A researcher interested in studying the manufacture of pharmaceutical preparations through time would need to get his/her hands on some of the original compounds, since most contemporary advertising neglected to list all of the active ingredients in a given potion. That's where our Medical Museum Collection comes in. In addition to a large array of equipment, instruments, and apparatus, we have numerous drug kits, patent medicines, Japanese medicines from World War II, even something called "Standard Radium Solution for Drinking." Scholars can sample these early compounds to isolate active as well as inactive ingredients, clarifying the possible effects of the medications and charting pharmaceutical history.

If you'd like to get a sense of what we have here in the Medical Museum Collection, you can read item descriptions online--many of the materials in the MMC have already been included in the OHSU Digital Resources Library. A search on the phrase "Medical Museum Collection" will get you all the objects, while a search on the phrase "Pharmaceutical Preparations" will narrow your results to drugs in particular. Don't worry--we won't be slipping these into anyone's drink!

No comments: