Ancient Medicine And Its Errors: When Smoking Was Prescribed To Treat Asthma

Ancient Medicine And Its Errors: When Smoking Was Prescribed To Treat Asthma

Smoking to treat asthma? If you lived in the 19th century and had this disease, it is likely that your GP would have recommended this treatment to relieve symptoms.

Now in the 21st century this seems crazy, but more than 200 years ago it became very popular.

In fact, there were brands of cigarettes for asthma, created with the purpose of relieving symptoms, among them were the Asthmador, the Potter’s Asthma Cure, Himrod’s Cure for Asthma (endorsed by the famous otolaryngologist Morell Mackenzie), among others.

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In the left image. you can see cigarette brands for asthma. Photo: Fake History Hunter and Wikimedia Commons.

Asthma cigarettes mainly contained jimson weed, a poisonous plant with psychoactive qualities, which has had medicinal applications throughout history.

But they also included tobacco, lobelia, potash, and sometimes arsenic, the study notes.Divine jimsonweed: The rise and fall of smoking for asthma. written by the British researcher Mark Jackson and published in the journal History of Medicine on the page of the United States National Library of Medicine.

An advertisement for cigarettes for asthma / Image: Fake History Hunter

What we now know about asthma

We now know that asthma is a condition of the airways that “narrow and swell, which can produce more mucus,” says the Mayo Clinic.

“This can make it hard to breathe and cause coughing, a whistling sound when you exhale, and shortness of breath.” While there is no cure, symptoms can and should be controlled, because a severe asthma attack can be life-threatening, the institution says.

And above all, we now know that a risk factor for asthma is being a smoker or being exposed to someone else’s cigarette smoke as a passive smoker, so tobacco is not recommended at all.

Photo: iStock

The remedy was worse than the evil

Research by Marca Jackson, Professor of the History of Medicine, Center for Medical History, University of Exeter, shows that until before the 20th century, doctors “paid little attention to smoking as a health hazard”.

In fact, the doctors themselves emphasized its benefits and many could be seen smoking, as it was considered a habit that showed professional and personal success.

At the same time, the tobacco industry and its advertising grew enormously and advertised medicinal cigarettes as the best cure for people with respiratory diseases.

How did you stop smoking to cure asthma?

Researcher Mark Jackson explains that opposition to smoking to relieve asthma came from several directions.

In the first place, it was due to a greater knowledge of the disease, since little by little more doctors who specialized in allergies and respiratory diseases began to oppose it.

In 1911, the statements of JB Berkart, a doctor at the Hospital for Diseases of the Chest in the City of London, who warned asthmatics about the dangers of commercially available asthma cigarettes, “the smoke of which, when inhaled, intensely irritates the bronchial mucous membrane”, resulting in more inflammation. But he was not the only one to say so.

Also in 1950, research began to be published showing a link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. And to develop new drugs to cure asthma.

Photo: iStock

Despite all this, during the following decades the tobacco companies continued to advertise cigarettes against asthma.

Ironically, Jackson’s research points out, the definitive disappearance of these cigarettes was due to the fact that, starting in 1960, the press began to identify cases of adolescents and adults who crushed them, mixed them with water and ingested them to have hallucinations due to the psychoactive effects of the substances they contained.

If you want more information on the subject you can read the full investigation here.

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