Friday, December 11, 2009

Cocaine - a Victorian mother's little helper

As Queen Victoria had nine kiddies, it's no wonder she resorted to cocaine wine and gum to get through her day. Her whacky contemporary, Sigmund Freud, prescribed coke as a treatment for postnatal depression  If she lived in Australia in the 50s and 60s, she would have rolled up a pound note and had a line of Bex and a good lie down.

The Victorian era - despite its reputation for prudishness and repression - saw the burgeoning of not only alcohol use, but prescription drugs which are now vilified and criminalised.  Heroin and laudanum (an opium derivative) were widely prescribed and became staples of the Victorian medicine kit.   Heroin (marketed and distributed by Bayer) was prescribed to women for period pain and depression as a 'non-addictive' alternative to morphine.  Cocaine was used as a treatment for morphine addiction.

Industrialisation (which helped distribution) and greater family income, meant these drugs were much more easily obtainable.

Cocaine found its way into cold tonics, toothpaste, cigarettes (thank you tobacco companies) and nasal sprays.

Cocaine was also to be found in alcoholic drinks - notably Mariani Wine.  This wine was enjoyed by Her Maj (and the Pope).  However, when when she entertained a young Winston Churchill (as internet legend would have it) they chose to chew cocaine gum to soothe their ailments.

Another famous person who used cocaine was Sigmund Freud. He described the drug as providing 'lasting euphoria', an increase in 'self-control and vitality' and the ability to work for long periods of time without fatigue.  

In literature, the bohemian Sherlock Holmes injected the substance with a syringe kept in a leather case.

Before too long, it became associated with prostitutes, pimps and ne'r-do-wells and it lost its respectability eventually becoming outlawed in the United States in 1914.  All good things eventually come to an end - or perhaps it was recognised for the poison it really was. 

Despite the good press given by the likes of Siggie Freud, coke (and its various offspring) is a nasty substance leading to a range of health, financial and social problems.  Some of the health problems cited include headaches, violence, heart attack, convulsions, psychosis, nosebleeds and so forth.

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Sources used:

Child and youth health
South Australian Drug and alcohol services, 2006
Harding, Oliver and Jockic, 2000

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