I thought I would do a blast from the past for Pharmacists Month and take a look at a prescription from 1924 for a cough preparation called Sedatussin.
I picked this Rx from my collection because it it for a proprietary product. Most Rxs from 1924 are true Rxs or “recipes,” much like this one:
Sedatussin was marketed by Eli Lilly and Company beginning in 1909, advertised as free from alcohol and narcotics, which made it very different from many of the cough syrups on the market in the early twentieth century.
It contained cephaeline, a plant alkaloid more recently found in syrup of ipecac, which is used to induce vomiting. It was thought to be an expectorant back then. Today we use guaifenesin, which is of dubious effectiveness also, and even it did work would require doses approaching emesis inducing levels.
Another ingredient in Sedatussin is tincture Sanguinaria, from the bloodroot flowering plant. Used by Native Americans as an emetic, various tinctures appeared in the US Dispensary until the mid 1900’s. It is probably most notable for being listed by the FDA in 2010 as one of 187 “Fake cancer cures that consumers should avoid.” In fact, oral use of bloodroot preps have been linked to oral cancers.
As with many other cough syrups in the 1920’s, Syrup of Squill has many reported uses, from “heart tonic” to cough remedy, to an emetic, and even in some cultures as an abortifacient! We get squill from the bulb of the squill plantand has since been deemed unsafe for causing GI problems, rashes, cardiac dysrhythmias, and seizures. Syrup of Squill gained modest notoriety when it made an appearance on Star Trek:Deep Space Nine as a breakfast syrup valued by Klingons and price-manipulated by the Ferengi!
Sedatussin also had Syrup Tolu, derived from the sap of South American balsam trees. It still is in use today in some “natural” cough syrups, again as an expectorant, but it is valued in the perfume industry for its spicy, warm scent, likely due to the cinnamyl esters present.
I find exploring the evolution of pharmacy practice by taking a closer look at past products and ingredients quite a bit of fun since you never know where the journey will take you!