Cocaine Toothache Drops for Children

As you can see from the advertisement, this product was touted as an “Instantaneous Cure!” for toothaches in children.  Charles E. Lloyd and S. Dexter Pilsbury applied for a patent for this product from the U.S. Patent Office in March of 1885.

Knowing what we know now in the 21st century about the addictive nature of this drug, we would never allow this drop to be given to adults, much less children!  In fact, we might call this quackery medicine.  But in the late 1800’s, cocaine was widely used in the medical field given its numbing or painkilling properties.  It was even an ingredient in the soda, Coca-Cola.  Additionally, the url: shows ads for cocaine in Metcalf’s Coca Wine, Vin Mariani, Maltine, and throat lozenges.  It even shows a paperweight advertisement for the chemical manufacturer, C.F. Boehringer & Soehne, boasting that they were the “largest makers in the world of quinine and cocaine.”  It is easy to see how mainstream cocaine was back then.

In the 1800’s, people were fully ensconced in an era of scientific revolution where ideals of progress, higher standard of living, chemistry, etc. were at the forefront of social and cultural values.  So as the article implies, the use of this drug may have been considered “modern.”  Cocaine Toothache Drops were used as a local anesthetic which was much preferred to using a general anesthesia.  In this way, you can appreciate how parents would be open to giving it to their children.  Unfortunately, doctors and the general public had not yet realized just how addictive cocaine is and, unfortunately, that did not occur until the early 1900’s according to the article.  On an interesting note, one of the founders of the prestigious Johns Hopkins Hospital, William Stewart Halsted, who was a proponent for the use of cocaine in medicine became addicted to cocaine.  Although cocaine is no longer used as an anesthetic, it is also interesting to note that novocaine, which dentists currently use as an anesthetic, is derived from cocaine.

I find it incredibly weird and bizarre to learn that cocaine was so prevalent and widely accepted as an ingredient in everyday products of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  In fact when I think of cocaine today, the word “illegal” is the first thing I think of followed by images of 1970’s cocaine users going crazy, challenging police officers, and jumping off of buildings to their death (although I could be confusing the effects of cocaine with those of PCP).  I also think of Eric Clapton’s 1977 cover version of the song, “Cocaine” by J. J. Cale, released in 1976, which glamorizes the use of cocaine and implies that taking cocaine will help you chill and hang out or “kick them blues”.  This is in stark contrast to the song “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)” by Grandmaster Melle Mel, which was released in 1983 and warns about the dangers of using cocaine.  Unlike the 1800’s, using cocaine today will land  you in jail or prison serving hard time.

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