Cough syrup from the heroic age



Perhaps you missed it, but the quantities listed on the label are trifling.

This is almost homeopathy. Not gonna help much at all, but likewise not gonna hurt anything.

Most “snake oil” mixtures work on the basic principle of putting something people ordinarily think of as potent or dangerous or outlandish into the product in tiny amounts. People see the ingredient list, get freaked out a little and subsequently impressed by the weird stuff in it, assume it wouldn’t be there for no good reason, enjoy a little placebo effect, and come away a little poorer and a little less wise.

Remember, the entire point of selling crap like this is to make money - and killing or sickening your customers is bad for business.


Most of us don’t know English units below 1 ounce. Care to enlighten us?


I agree. There isn’t nearly enough chloroform in today’s cough medicines.


Well the morphine and sulphur are listed as 1/8 of a gram, present in each ounce of cough syrup.

An ounce is 28.3495 grams, so that’s about four thousandths of an ounce - and a tablespoon (the typical dosage) is equal to half an ounce, so you’re getting 0.002 ounces of each.

The alcohol, cannabis, and chloroform are all listed with a unit of “m”, which is unhelpfully a nonstandard and unspecific abbreviation, but context (and the usage of the metric gram) suggests “milligrams”.

The worst thing in this is undoubtedly the chloroform, but the amounts are tiny and your body would likely metabolize it with no noticeable effect.


It probably means minim, which is a drop. And the .gr is probably ‘grain’, which is about a 15th of a gram.


Ah, yes, thank you.

Indeed, looking closer, it is most likely an “:scorpius:”, denoting a minim - making it equal to 1⁄480 of an ounce. What most people would call a “drop” would be considerably more than that, but again, using irregular measures, you are correct, as a “drop” as used in things like IVs is anywhere from 1/10 to 1/60 of a milliliter - and according to a quick google search, “drop” was used interchangebly (if inaccurately) to mean “minim” in the 18th and 19th centuries.

I had very briefly considered grains as well, but dismissed it as unlikely they’d use even less of the stuff than a measure in grams would indicate. But in all liklihood, especially if we suppose minims over milligrams, it would indeed be grains.

This stuff would be essentially harmless - aside from the taste.


A bit of googling later, I think those are grains and minums. Grains are gr, grams are g.
1 US minim = 61.611519921875 microliters (exactly)[9]
1 grain = 64.79891 mg

I don’t know if this makes for large or small dosages.


As for the “One Night” labeling, the notion was that if you took the cough medicine at the first sign of illness, you’d only be sick for “one night”.

Probably wishful thinking, but at least the morphine will supress the coughing and dull the pain.

My mother had a homemade cough medicine recipe that worked pretty well: honey, lemon juice, and a touch of bourbon. When my teetotaler grandmother found out she went crazy. My father finally shut her up by telling her that over-the-counter cough syrups had more alcohol in them.


Certainly good for soothing the throat, but not gonna really combat the cough itself. Not that you need it to, mind.

Your immune system will handle the cough - most folks just need something to make them a bit less miserable while the body does its work.


So that’s about 8mg of morphine per oz. which is the bottom end of a therapeutic dose for extreme pain (10-30mg), so probably a significant dose for someone who’s not in shock, and doesn’t have a tolerance. Sounds like that’s probably the active ingredient. (Opiates are effective couch suppressants)

Sure would be nice if we could still go down to the drugstore and get some laudanum to take the edge off when w get sick. Too many fucking busybodies around, if you ask me.


You should read historical accounts of laudanum usage. Even trained physicians fell prey to its addictive qualities when self dosing, and the end results were typically pretty grim.

I’m perfectly happy not letting the average person have tincture of opium over the counter, thank you very much. It’s hard enough getting people to not kill themselves on aspirin and ibuprofin.


How would that help? [In my experience] honey is a throat irritant. [In my experience] honey and alcohol are intestine destroyers. [And what I’ve read on fructose malabsorption indicates that similar reactions to fructose and some alcohols are quite common, although some people can handle higher doses than others.] I’d expect that to make things much much worse.

[Edited to cover what should be obvious, and to address some related issues.]

Honey has been used for centuries as a throat soother-- it’s about the furthest thing from a throat irritant, and it’s a natural antibiotic. The lemon juice and bourbon are both antiseptic. Manuka honey, especially, is fantastic for sore throats. I’ve had multiple doctors suggest both tea with honey and a shot of bourbon or scotch for sore throats.


I can see alcohol, but raw honey (as it would have been a 100+ years ago) should actually be fairly healthy for you assuming your not eating large quantities of it.

And as they say around here, citation needed?


i don’t know about alcohol but honey is one of the top foods recommended for people with irritable bowel syndrome to either ease their symptoms or as being safe to eat. my sister’s internist suggested she replace as much of the sugar in her diet with honey to help calm her ibs attacks down.


Trying to figure out the equivalent has broken my brain. If it’s 8mg per ounce, that’s 4mg in a tablespoon. There’s a chart for estimating the approximate equivalent of different painkillers compared to morphine.

The one I’m most familiar with is codeine. That chart says it’s about 1/10 the strength of morphine taken orally. That would mean one tablespoon of this cough syrup has the equivalent of 40mg of codeine in it. The type of codeine I can buy over the counter in Canada is Tylenol 1. It has 8mg of codeine per pill. That would mean 1 tablespoon of this cough syrup is the equivalent of 5 T1 pills. That’s not all that bad by itself, but it seems pretty easy to take too much.

Also I just noticed that it says at the bottom of the image to take “one half teaspoonful three”. Presumably that’s three times per day. So we’re talking about a much lower dose.

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Every single reference to honey and throats I can find online says honey is a soothing agent. I am desperately curious where you are getting your fact(oid)s from…


If honey soothes thoats, and honey doesn’t irritate throats, then why does honey irritate my throat so much?

Also honey is full of sugar, mostly fructose. Some people can absorb more fructose than others, and glucose makes it possible to absorb more fructose, but everyone has some limit. I have had trouble with severe gut pain due to fructose, sugar alcohols, and so on. I may have trouble withn malabsorption due to not avoiding fructose too.