Tag Archives: Opiates

Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang and Nate Petersen

The human body has been an enigma since time began when Adam and Eve discovered the meaning of nakedness. Mankind has been obsessed with maintaining a sort of harmony of body and soul which has led to some interesting “techniques” flavored by both our passions and our ignorance of scientific facts. Even if a procedure had some foothold in curing our ailments, there were those who deigned to use their talents to take a popular idea, twist it up, package it prettily, and make a profit off of the foolish purchasers who paid big bucks for something which at best had a placebo effect or at worst could kill you.

Which brings us to the book, Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang and Nate Petersen which provides an in-depth discussion of the various “cures” which have been perpetrated on society since “written” records have existed (this includes drawings on cave walls). The sixty seven entries fall under five categories – Elements, Plants and Soil, Tools, Animals, and Mysterious Powers. Kant, a doctor, and Petersen, a journalist, investigate various medical techniques giving a complete historical background of their usage along with fascinating anecdotes, also delving into the lives of those individuals who took advantage of the public’s ignorance to sell a product they knew was worthless (such as snake oil without the snake or the oil). This book covered a multitude of topics relevant to the 21st Century reader. It will surprise you to discover how many recognizable names supported and even died using some of the listed cures – even a couple of United States Presidents. In my review copy, the index was incomplete and the numerous illustrations and photos were labeled in a language other than English, although I assume this will be corrected before publication.

It wasn’t until the last century that we started to recognize the value of cleanliness so our forbearers suffered from all sorts of maladies related to infections that set in from the after effects of common diseases. To top it off, “doctors” had the idea that out was better than in, so techniques such as bloodletting, leeches, and enemas (they were obsessed with excrement), were commonly used to alleviate the body of harmful elements. Of course, constipation must have been common because opiates in various manifestations were used on a regular basis. Mothers little pill in the form of laudanum could easily become addictive. It did relieve ones’ pain, however, although an overdose was lethal. Considering heroin use, a cheap opiate, has become such an epidemic in the United States that the Governor of New York State has called for people to walk around with syringes full of narcon (an antidote to a heroin overdose) tells the tale that we haven’t learned enough from our past mistakes.

Besides narcotics (which included ether and laughing gas), people also were “cured” with known poisons such as mercury, arsenic, and strychnine. When Marie Curie discovered radiation it became a tool for treating cancer and while it is still a useful tool (now a limited dose pinpointed at an exact location) it originally was taped to the body or even inserted into the vagina to treat cervical cancer. While I’m sure this reduced tumors, the radiation poisoning might kill you instead. Ignorantly, doctors would carry radon around in their pockets thus hastening their own demise.

The philosophy was often: “If some is good, more is better”. So while a hot bath would be soothing, two weeks in a hot tub might not be a good thing, especially if you had to sit in your own excrement. Other treatments included being prodded with a hot poker, swallowing pearls and gold, or drilling a hole in the head and letting the brain leak out.

Perhaps the most disgusting item was the eating of human flesh (right next to drinking the blood of people being executed, preferably from a human skull). Mummy remains were also a popular repast, and when mummies became scarce (those tomb robbers weren’t just looking for gold and gems), individuals killed by the desert elements were a good second choice.

Mesmerizing became popular in France in the 1700s, which was really a sort of mass hysteria, but after a while it fell out of favor. However, hypnotism was a natural progression which still is in use today to treat various ailments such as quitting smoking or losing weight. It was also used as a type of anesthetic at the time when there was a lack of such products.

The upsetting point is that despite our knowledge of medicine, quackeries still exist in 2017. Non-doctors make their “inventions” sound miraculous when in reality there is no scientific evidence to the truth in their advertising. In order to be an acceptable medical practice, the results have to be reproducible. Many people still believe that vaccinations cause autism based on one doctor’s discoveries even though the medical community has debunked this idea. Still, enough children have skipped their required shots to result in more than one measles epidemic.

Alternative” medicines, even if banned in the United States, are available in other parts of the world, taking advantage of desperate people who will try anything, a fact which the shysters count on when they package their products. I was determined to find a “cure” for my dyslexic son, and even tried Irwin Glasses (tinted purple to help him follow a line of print) and Fast Forward (a computer program which was supposed to reconfigure the brain). While eventually he did learn to read (more due to his teachers and programs such as Earobics and Orton Gillingham) he is still dyslexic. My philosophy was to throw everything at the problem and see what worked. I, however, would not try any methodology which even hinted at physical damage. I didn’t mind losing money, I would mind if my son were harmed.

While fascinating, this book did have a sense of tongue and check irreverence, making witty and at times silly comments about the more outrageous “medical” promises. I thought it added some humor to an already ridiculous topic, although some might not like the mixed use of tones – at times serious and at times frivolous. However, this is one of those nonfiction books which is both entertaining and educational with an easily readable format, although it makes you wonder about some of the common approaches used in medicine today. Four stars.

A thank you to Netgalley and Workman Publishing Company for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.


Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler, translated by Shaun Whiteside

There is an expectation that the leadership of a country maintains good health and refrains from excessive drinking and drug use. We also assume that our doctors have the best interests of their patients in mind when suggesting appropriate treatments for their various maladies.

According to Norman Ohler in his book Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich (translated from German into English by Shaun Whiteside) both presumptions are misguided when referring to Nazi Germany.

It seems Hitler, who prided himself on maintaining a healthy lifestyle as a vegetarian, suffered from stomach upsets, abdominal cramps, constipation and insomnia. Seeking relief he called upon a doctor who was a favorite among those in the private sector, to see if he could help abate the symptoms. Dr Theodor Morell’s popularity was due to his liberal script writing practices, a skill which he exploited when he became Hitler’s personal physician. Ignoring the root cause of the complaints, Morell treated the symptoms with various “nutritional” shots which started with vitamin supplements but slowly progressed to designer injections including animal extracts as well as various highly addictive narcotics. As the victories of the Third Reich lessened, the health of the Fuhrer declined, necessitating higher and more frequent dosages of the injections to make him “feel more like himself”. This euphoria helped Hitler deny the inevitable as he continued to search for a secret weapon to finally defeat the Allies. Towards the end of the war when the pharmaceutical factories were destroyed by American bombs, Dr Morell could no longer give his addicted master the necessary fix so his role as drug dealer was terminated. When the inescapable take over of Berlin occurred Hitler’s final drug choice was a cyanid tablet which he freely passed around to his inner circle, including his dog and his girlfriend/wife.

In the beginning there were numerous pharmaceutical companies in Berlin which were producing heroin and cocaine, readily available as over the counter drugs. Remember during the 1920’s, cocaine was one of the ingredients in Coca Cola. When Hitler came to power, he wanted to purge Germany of those who had a dependency, so drug addicts were either put into rehab, neutered, or sent to the concentration camps for extermination. The Supreme Race had no room for flawed individuals.

But lessons about the results of indiscriminate drug use were not taken to heart. The army was looking for a chemical fix so that their soldiers could move forward without the need of sleep or rest. Thus began the prolific distribution of Pervitin, which uses the same chemical components found in crystal meth. It worked. The German Army moved like a battering ram, taking France under its control with little resistance. Who could fight an army of zombie-like creatures – hyped up on medication which banished the need for sleep or food, making the user feel invincible?

Throughout the war, the SS continued to search for and experiment with various drugs to increase their soldiers endurance without considering the eventual effects of their overuse. In other words, “What goes up, must come down”. Whether the abuse of stimulants led to the downfall of the Third Reich might be arguable, but it certainly didn’t help their cause.

The author backs up his claims with research, especially with the use of the extensive records/diary of the “good” doctor which were available in various archives in Germany as well as in the National Archives of Washington DC. This meticulous process of research (not everything is readily available on the Internet) led to Olney’s conclusions. In answer to why the Americans didn’t glom onto this information at the war’s end might be due to the sloppy penmanship of the Doctor, an insufficient grasp of German, and a lack of knowledge about the significance of the pharmaceutical industry. Patient A – Hitler – at one point was downing 120 to 150 tablets a week and receiving at least 8 injections including the highly addictive Eukodal and the opioid Eupaverin. Many of the doctors involved in the distribution of these medications, due to this oversight of the Allies, were able to take a stance of innocence when they should have been questioned as war criminals.

I found the whole premise fascinating, providing a plausible explanation for the occurrences of WWII, although appalling to read. One particular nightmarish story sticks in my mind. At Sachsenhsusen Concentration Camp there was a special track which the prisoners in the so-called walking unit were forced into an uninterrupted march to test out the endurance of various substances used to create shoes since leather was in short supply. The SS decided to use these inmates to test out various combinations of drugs to discover their effect on a soldier’s endurance to march through the night. Towards the end of the war, the Navy took several of these drugs to give to a new set of recruits from the Hitler Youth who were assigned to a mini sub which was supposed to go into the enemy harbor, torpedo English ships and then quickly retreat. The goal was to have the crew remain awake for the three to four day mission. Unfortunately, while these drugs increased endurance, they also decreased competency (an aspect which wasn’t tested). Most of the sailors perished when their hallucinations made navigation difficult and the muddied instructions too garbled to implement. One sub even surfaced and put up a white flag, ready to be put out of their misery.

If these stories aren’t horrid enough, after the war the Americans continued to study the effects of these drugs for their own potential use in warfare. It is difficult to be smug since, during that time period, our knowledge of the side effects of narcotics were rudimentary at best with uppers prescribed for weight loss and downers to assist insomniac patients. Even today, the pharmaceutical industry “experiments” on a society looking for a quick fix to better health, despite the lengthy process necessary for a drug’s approval for distribution. Every day there is an obituary for one or more people in any given community who has overdosed on heroin, with addictions to cocaine and crystal meth a continuing problem – even though these are illegal substances. We won’t mention the pervasive use of pot, legal in many states, for both medicinal and recreational use. This books gives a glimpse into the attitudes many still hold about the use of artificial means to reach a goal without regards to the predetermined resulting harm.

In picking up this particular book, one concern is the intent of a German author (this book was recently translated into English). Is Ohler trying to minimize the atrocities of Hitler and the Third Reich, blaming WWII on a rash of drug use? The answer is a resounding “no”, backed by his use of derogatory adjectives in describing the key players and the note that Hitler’s plan was clearly written in Mein Kamph years before the war, indicating his megalomaniac ways were ever present. While the drugs exaggerated the Fuhrer’s egotistical stubbornness, paranoia, and controlling manner, they didn’t create these character traits.

My one complaint is the author’s use of a fair bit of repetition as well as too much of a hard sell to prove his point. However, almost half the book contains notes for the various citations, resources, and illustrations/photos used to come up with this scenario. There is just too much evidence to dismiss this theory as ridiculous.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Houghton Mifflin for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review is also posted on Goodreads.

The Viscount of Vice by Shana Galen

In the Regency Romance,The Viscount of Vice by Shana Galen, Henry Flynn, the new Earl of Chesham, also aptly known as the Viscount of Vice, finds himself in Bath, instead of London, at the urgent request of Sir Brook Derring who has accidentally found Flynn’s long lost, presumed dead brother. With the help of Lady Emma Talbot, Flynn finds, not just his brother, but true love, in this satisfying novella, an introduction to the new Covent Garden Cub series.

Galen takes us on a merry ride as Flynn fights his past transgressions and pulls out his gentlemanly manners to protect the innocent Emma from both the outside world as well as from the rising passion which threatens to overwhelm them both. It takes all his will power to keep from ruining Emma, although circumstances allow him to give her the pleasure he feels she deserves. The romance is titilating, the action satisfying, and the ending fulfilling, yet leaving us wanting more. In addition, Galen makes the characters come alive and provides understandable motivations for their actions. Flynn suffers from guilt for his part in his little brother’s supposed death which results in his bad-boy-devil-may-care behavior and his inability to develop any meaningful relationships, even with his own mother. Lady Emma has her own issues since her brother, the Duke of Ravenscroft, is forcing her to marry his choice for a husband, after her rejection of too many acceptable suitors. It is not her fault that she is secretly in love with the unacceptable Flynn and all others seem just plain boring in comparison. It is the motivations of ruthless kidnapper, Satin, which leave us wondering, so it is lucky for the reader that there is an upcoming novel, Earls Just Want to Have Fun, which further delves into this evil doers misdeeds through the quest of Bow Street Runner, Sir Brook Derring, who searches to track down another one of Satin’s victims and bring this devil to justice.

I thank Sourcebooks Casablanca for allowing me to download this preview in exchange for an honest review. I heartily recommend this short story/novella to all lovers of a good romance and I give it four stars.