6 Of The Most Important Milestones In The History... - Wissenschaft und Deutsch

6 Of The Most Important Milestones In The History Of Drugs


1. Colchicine

James Gillray (1799)

Descriptions of gout date back almost 5,000 years to ancient Egypt and are included in the Smith and Ebers Papyri. The most prominent symptoms of gout—a type of arthritis—are swelling, redness, and intense joint pain that most commonly affects the big toe and that may persist for days to weeks. In this condition, crystals of uric acid—the normal end-product of purine metabolism—deposit in the joints.

In his classic work De Materia Medica (Regarding Medical Matters), written in approximately the year 70, Dioscorides describes the use of Colchicum (meadow saffron) seeds to treat gout. Extracts of the seeds were used well into the nineteenth century. Colchicine, an alkaloid and the active constituent in Colchicum, was extracted and isolated from the seeds in 1820 by the French chemists Pierre-Joseph Pelletier and Joseph Bienaimé Caventou.

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2. Arsenic

Uwe Neumahr, Cesare Borgia: Der Fürst und die italienische Renaissance

When arsenic comes to mind, few think of its medical uses, which date back to ancient Greece and China more than two millennia ago. More recently, potassium arsenite— now a reputable anticancer treatment—was sold as an early cure-all medication in 1786. Of far greater significance, arsphenamine (Salvarsan), an organic arsenic-containing drug, was the first authentic cure for syphilis, which plagued humankind beginning in the sixteenth century.

Arsenic’s role as a medicine, however, is dwarfed by its esteemed reputation as a poison between the times of ancient Rome and the nineteenth century. It was first isolated as an element in 1250. The poison of choice for nefarious professionals, arsenic trioxide (white arsenic) is colorless, nearly tasteless, and readily dissolvable in water and other drinking liquids. Thus, victims are oblivious to their impending doom. While the signs and symptoms of strychnine and cyanide poisoning are obvious, family members, physicians, and authorities might unwittingly attribute arsenic-induced vomiting, diarrhea, and muscle cramps to any number of ailments.

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3. Absinthe

Library of Congress

Switzerland has the dual distinction of being the first country to commercially manufacture absinthe in the 1790s and among the first in Europe and North America to ban it one century later. During the intervening period, the “green fairy” was mythicized in the works and by the drinking habits of artists and writers living in France, including van Gogh, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Baudelaire, Hemingway, Rimbaud, and Wilde.

During the early years of the twentieth century, absinthe drinking lost its mystique and was linked to violent crimes and social disorder. This led to bans on its manufacture in much of Europe (excluding the United Kingdom) and the United States. In the 1990s, the hazards of absinthe were reevaluated, and the potent liquor was returned to the shelves worldwide.

Absinthe is a spirit containing 50–75 percent alcohol, anise (imparting its flavor), fennel, and the leaves of wormwood (Artemisia absinthum). The wormwood leaves contain thujone, absinthe’s chief behaviorally active constituent, and its characteristic green color is the result of chlorophyll in the herbs. The method used to prepare the drink generally involves pouring ice-cold water over a sugar cube into a glass that contains the spirit.

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4. Pure Food and Drug Act

The Argus, Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition special issue (1909)

Many of the best-selling patent medicines available at the turn of the twentieth century claimed to not only benefit but actually “cure” a range of medical problems, including cancer, infertility, tuberculosis, epilepsy, and “female complaints,” to name very few. Although they contained secret formulas, none contained “harmful” ingredients—or so claimed testimonials or the creative pens of manufacturers. Two monumental works by American activists destroyed these long-held myths and led to the passage of the first federal legislation enacted to protect the public from unsafe medications—the Pure Food and Drug Act, which President Theodore Roosevelt signed into law in 1906.

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5. Prozac

Library of Congress

Prozac and its half-dozen “band of brothers”—selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)—are the most commonly prescribed class of antidepressants, in spite of questions regarding their effectiveness. However, there is no question that SSRIs cause fewer side effects and are safer when taken in overdose than the tricyclics.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the link between serotonin and depression became more convincing. Interest focused on the SSRIs, drugs that preferentially increase serotonin at mood-influencing sites in the brain. Prozac (fluoxetine), first approved in 1987 and marketed the following year, was later joined by Celexa, Lexapro, Luvox, Paxil, and Zoloft, plus a generous number of generic equivalents.

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find out what the other three are here! 

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