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Weird pharmacy

Blogs are not edited by PJ staff*. The opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of The Pharmaceutical Journal.

*Blog pieces that have previously been printed in the PJ and Clinical Pharmacist are edited.

By Sara Valente
2 Apr 2013

Looking back at some health problems in the past can reveal another side to pharmacy that was very different to what is dispensed now and very weird. Every year there appears to be a repetition of the types of health problems that our society experiences such as obesity, smoking and which foods can combat/cause cancer. Obesity tends to get the most amount of media attention – there are diet shows, diet competitions, documentaries and constant news items on why we are all so fat. We are constantly being told to lose weight and eat more healthily – or eat whatever current trending food that claims to cure disease. It seems as though being fat has always been a big problem but this actually hasn’t always been the case. In the 1950’s it wasn’t fashionable to be too skinny and there were numerous advert campaigns to help, particularly women, gain weight to look more feminine. So instead of pharmacies selling diet shakes and herbal diet supplements, they were selling liquid emulsions and ironised yeast! Of course obesity is a serious disease that causes many health problems but it does seem that the media can influence pharmacy by deciding if being too fat or too thin is fashionable or not.

Advances in drug delivery are an important method for improving medicines. For example, it makes sense that in order to treat asthma, the drug should be delivered straight to the site of the problem – the lungs.  Nowadays, we use inhalers but before these were invented asthma sufferers would smoke cigarettes! The cigarettes themselves contained herbal medicines and it seemed sensible since it would do the job in terms of drug delivery but of course this was before the dangers of smoking were fully realised. 

Finally, my favourite weird pharmacy story is the way in which drugs, which are now illegal, were used. Presently, illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin pose great problems for people who are addicted and there are extremely heavy restrictions on them being sold and bought. A tonic that came into use around 1880 was recommended to be given to children and adults for aches and pains and yet it was laced with cocaine! It would have been used as a painkiller and it is weird to think how it was used so casually before since it has now become such an abused substance. There are even lots of weird medical cures on the market now such as eyelash and eyebrow growth serums and I’m sure there will be plenty more to come.