Medicine has come a long way in only a few decades: since the 19th century, we have seen the eradication of deadly diseases and a deeper understanding of the substances that can heal illnesses and protect against the spread of disease. Of course, not every medical discovery has had a triumphant and positive impact on society. Some substances that were initially developed with good intentions and intended to be used as essential medicines and treatments ended up having dangerous side effects, leading to dependence, addiction and generations of individuals who suffer from substance abuse.
Before chemists started to experiment with synthesizing chemicals in the 19th century, doctors and pharmacists had cobbled together medicines using natural substances, which were successful only to varying degrees. The discovery of synthetic chemical medications led to many of the very effective, essential treatments that are used every day, such as aspirin… and a few others that had much more disastrous consequences.
Substances such as morphine, cocaine, and LSD that are heavily controlled or illegal in most countries today were once created with good intentions and prescribed by doctors and pharmacists as useful treatments. Many of these substances were in use for decades and were seen as necessary to ease the pain of those who were suffering from painful ailments and even psychiatric conditions. Over time, however, the side effects of these substances became better known and, as we all know now, the risks posed by these substances ended up outweighing their potential benefits.
The following substances were once used by medical doctors and practitioners, but are now either heavily controlled and illegal because of their disastrous side effects.
Absinthe is created from wormwood, which was used in ancient times as miscellaneous remedies. It was well known and referenced in literature as a bitter-tasting plant that induced drunken ramblings and streams-of-consciousness. In more modern times, wormwood was distilled into the green spirit absinthe, which was created as a remedy by a French doctor in the 18th century. Absinthe was sold as a medical elixir and in the 1840s was given to French troops as a preventive treatment for malaria. However, the troops brought the substance home and drinking absinthe became a popular activity in bars and cabarets in Paris. By the late 1800s, it was embraced as a drink by poets artists and other creative, bohemian types. Finally, it was banned in the early 1900s because of its extreme side effects, which included hallucinations and disorientation. Interestingly, those side effects are now understood to be caused by the drink’s high alcohol content and the irresponsible ways in which it used to be distilled. Absinthe has recently had a modern revival and it is no longer illegal in many countries. In fact, in 2011, the ban on absinthe was lifted in France.
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