Dodgy Medicine Ads

I haven't looked this up to see what it is, but it sounds weird.

“Cascara sagrada” is a potent laxative and possible carcinogen, in case you were wondering. Also, not related to this picture, but for some reason the text formatting keeps messing up in this post. I can’t seem to help it. Sorry!

I have been having a semi-terrible week (my cat went missing, among other things) so my mental energy is not really high enough to do a full-length post. Instead, let’s look at some weird advertisements posted in the Kingston Medical Quarterly around the turn of the twentieth century! This journal was a publication affiliated with the medical faculty at Queen’s which ran for at least seven years (1896-1903) and occasionally included some interesting case studies of Kingstonians. It also included ads for some pretty dodgy-sounding medicines. In case we forget, medicine was still quite touch-and-go in the early 1900s. An article in the Kingston Medical Quarterly Vol.5 No.1 of October 1900 states:

Medicine is ceasing to be empirical and becoming scientific. By empirical, I mean, as the dictionary has it, “practiced only by rote, without rational grounds.” The reign of science has not yet been completely established but we can look forward to it as the time when the physician shall be as beneficial in act as he always was benevolent in intention.

Yikes. Well, at least they were trying.


Parke, Davis & Company had a lot of weird ads in the Kingston Medical Quarterly. This one for chocolate-covered pills isn’t potentially dangerous, but just kind of strange. Somehow chocolate-covered pills don’t sound that great – I’m not surprised it didn’t catch on.


Parke, Davis & Company again, this time with an ad for Cannabis indica. This is a relative of Cannabis sativa commonly used to make hashish, and is somewhat more potent that C. sativa (regular old marijuana). It can also be used medically for pain relief and insomnia. I’d be kind of nervous getting it from these people, whose ad basically says “The only problem is that you’re not using enough of it!”


This advertisement is clipped from a larger Bayer ad (the original manufacturer of brand-name Heroin). The Kingston Medical Quarterly ran several ads for heroin before it was recognized as being dangerously addictive. I’m not sure about the potency of heroin, so I don’t know how badly 0.01 g three times a day would knock you out.


Another ad for a heroin product, “now largely in vogue.”


Parke, Davis & Company are at it again, this time with a full-page ad for animal testing. Once again, while not exactly jaw-dropping, it rings oddly in modern ears to say the least.


“Wine of Cod Liver Oil” says enough.


I haven’t linked to each individual ad because they often appeared in more than one edition of the Kingston Medical Quarterly. However, you can read all available editions online at by clicking here.

Information on the medicines was obtained via our good friend Wikipedia.


3 thoughts on “Dodgy Medicine Ads

  1. Very amusing and kind of scary–but there is still a good dose of hucksterism in the unholy mix of science, business and politics (IMHO) even in our day. Still, I like the idea of a thin chocolate coating to disguise “many ill-tasting and malodorous substances”. Why not?;-)

    • Haha yes, I always wonder if the friends and families of people taking those medications ever thought, “Hmm, Mother always acts kind of strangely after taking her cocaine pills…”

      Thanks, I hope we find Cleo too! 🙂

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