Poison Cigarettes Treated Asthma In The ’60s

Belladonna, anyone?
Poison Cigarettes Treated Asthma In The ’60s

The most famous asthma treatment involves taking a puff out of an inhaler. But inhalers aren’t the only way to make drugs breathable. Just as you can inhale nicotine or marijuana using either a vape pen or cigarettes, you can inhale other kinds of medication by either using a dedicated nebulizer device or through cigarette smoking. And so for decades, right into the ’60s, asthma sufferers smoked Asthmador, a special type of anti-asthma cigarette.

These cigarettes contained no tobacco. Instead, we’re calling them “poison cigarettes” because they contained ingredients you’d much more likely label poison than you would tobacco. One is stramonium, derived from the plant devil's snare, which can be quite toxic. It was used in several famous poisonings from history and legend, from Cleopatra to the Odyssey. The other is belladonna, also known as deadly nightshade, which can be extremely toxic and is perhaps the most toxic plant in existence.

So, is this the part where we laugh at our forefathers for doing terrible things to themselves in the name of health, since they didn’t know any better? Not really. See, Asthmador really did treat asthma effectively. Substances toxic at high dosages can be harmless or even beneficial at low dosages. For other examples of this, consider, oh, just about every helpful drug out there, which can hurt you if you overdose.

So Asthmador cigarettes were fine for asthmatics until better tech came along, and they even existed alongside inhalers for more than a decade. The only small issues came when people abused Asthmador. They did this because sometimes deadly, sometimes healthy drugs can also sometimes get you high.

We have a couple reports from 1968 of people hospitalized after trying Asthmador in their own creative ways. These weren’t scaremongering TV news stories, by the way, but reports in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

In one incident, someone mixed six cigarettes with applesauce and ate the mixture instead of smoking it. He ran into the street in his underwear delirious, and when they got him into the hospital and took his temperature, he tried to light the thermometer, thinking it was a joint. In a second case, a high schooler mixed Asthmador powder with orange juice and drank it. Once the hospital finished treating them, they had amnesia of the past 30 hours ... or at least they claimed to, and we think we’d do the same in their position.

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Top image: Mary E. and Joseph F. Melfi, Jr.

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