Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Medications in the "Old West" a hint for writers and authors...

Image result for old west doctorsImage result for dr. Quinn

Medicines in the Old West

It’s easy enough to establish while watching a movie or television series about the “Old West” there was limited access to any kind of Healthcare. Just watch a few episodes of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman or something of Doc Cochran from Deadwood and you will see their hands were often tied due to lack of resources. Medical care in the 1800’s was growing fast in the civilized eastern cities such as Boston and New York, but even there some of the care would be viewed today as widely lacking even in the best facilities at that time. But take it out west, and if a doctor could be found, it was more likely he’d given better care to animals and had little access to anything that might be considered modern at the time.

As I write my historical novels and because I am a Registered Nurse, I get into a bit of trouble with my editor because I can get a little too graphic at times when someone in my stories is injured. But I have found as I write, I constantly have to think about the year a medication or treatment was discovered and even if it was available in the Eastern cities didn’t mean it was something that could be found with physicians out west. So I had to come up with a cheat sheet on a few things and thought I would share.

Whiskey-used as a mood depressant for pain-sometimes it was the only thing that could be given to dull pain for an injury.

Cognac-was often used to pack the sockets of tooth extractions to dull the pain.

Opiates/Opium-was used prior to 4000 b.c. and was extracted from the Poppy Plant as it is now. Many medications were derived from this medication including: Laudanum, Tincture of Opium, and eventually Morphine (1803-oral and injected). The concern with any of the pain relieving medications and given how the medications were made was dosaging. Many a cowboy lost his life or suffered ill effects of overdosing of opiate medications. Laudanum was a more stable product and commonly used in the Old West for pain relief, colds, insomnia, childbirth, nausea, vomiting, cough suppression, hysteria in women and heart ailments. Demerol and Codeine came along in 1930, so be careful of your history and the hypodermic needed was invented in 1803. Heroine was a boiled Morphine in the 1870s. This medication had a brief used as an accepted pain medicine in the 1900’s but only for a short time. It was discovered to cross the blood-brain barrier making it highly addictive with adverse effects.

Image result for early hypodermic needles

In the 19th Century and with the commonality of Opiates available and shipped in from the Orient or brought in with Chinese immigrants after 1850, Opium Dens grew in some western towns. The active ingredient was smoked or sipped in “medication” form and abuse was common. Lawson against Opium Dens came along about 1870 but were highly enforced by the 1900s.

Cocaine/Coca plant-(1885)-the leaves of the plant were chewed for energy and strength. The leaves were also wrapped around injured or broken limbs for pain relief and was thought to reduce festering of wound. It was sold in various forms in stores and was also prescribed for depression or melancholy. It wasn’t until years later that it was discovered that it held addictive properties.

Cannabis/Hemp/Marijuana: Has been used for centuries and is often a common news debates as the drug has become legal in some states. In the 1830’s it was used for medical spasms, seizures and for relaxation of a patient. It wasn’t until 1937 that the drug became controversial and still remains so.

Aspirin/Willow Bark Extract- First used by the Indians, this tree bark tea was known widely for it’s pain relieving properties. The active ingredient was Acetylsalicylic Acid or what is known today as Aspirin. Indians commonly chewed the stalks or boiled the bark for a pain relieving tea. Interestingly enough Hippocrates studied this medicine in 1850.

Image result for willow bark tea

Peyote (Cactus)-Was used by many tribes of American Indians for religious ceremonies. The highly potent extracted drug was known to cause hallucinations.

This list is by far not complete as to what might have been used in the “Old West” when relief was needed, but it’s a good start if you are a writer. My best advice would be to look up the medications before writing about them and to make sure of the years they were actually in use and then verify they would have made their way to the area where your story takes place. As any writers know, do you research and keep a notebook or typed file of your findings.

And stay tuned as next month I bring you a bit of modern medicine info for authors and writers. Stay tuned.


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