Cannabis Quack Medicines

Chapter 15

The Dark Side of Antique Cannabis Medicines

There are those who question the inclusion of this chapter; After all why should a pro-Medical Marihuana museum go about bring up negatives. However, I for one feel that the truth (all the truth), must be told. That Cannabis was used by 19th Century charlatans and quacks is a historical fact. One, that if we don't bring it up, someone else will. Besides that, after extensive research, our museum has only been able to document eight (and only eight) accusations of quackery against pre-1937 Cannabis medicines and, as we shall see, many of these were unjustified.

Dr. James, medicine bottle
Dr. H. James

Dr. James, medicine bottle
Dr. H. James

Dr. James, medicine bottle
Dr. H. James

Newspaper Ad's

Dr. James The Smoking Gun

Piso's Bottle
Piso's Cure

Piso's Bottle
Piso's Cure

Piso's Bottle
Piso's Remedy

Piso's Ad
Piso's Cure

Piso's Newpaper Ad
Piso's Cure

Kohler's Bottle

Morphine Cure

Coffee Drug

Da Ka Ta
Da Ka Ta

Da Ka Ta
Da Ka Ta

Da Ka Ta
Da Ka Ta

Da Ka Ta
Da Ka Ta

Da Ka Ta
Da Ka Ta

Da Ka Ta
Da Ka Ta

 Skull Face




Victors Bottle

victors bottle

Hasheesh Candy


Chapter 15 -- QUACK MEDICINES:

The Dark Side of Antique Cannabis Medicines

The chapter is not partial (listing only select examples), but addresses ALL known (real or imaginary) claims of quackery, made by contemporaries, against pre-1937 Medical products that allegedly contained Cannabis. And here (as the reader will soon come to see), emphases is on the words; "Allegedly Contained." If the reader knows of any other "contemporary" claim of quackery against a medical marihuana product, s/he is urged to notify us.


At one time, with an estimated 3 to 6% of all medicines sold in America contained it as an ingredient, Medical Cannabis was as common as aspirin is today.[1] This however this has led many to falsely assume that it was also extensively used in Quack medicines. This simply was not the case.

As anyone who has read Samuel Hopkins Adams' now classic (1905) book "The Great American Fraud," can tell you; Alcohol (sometimes up to 45% by volume) and opium were by far the ingredients of choice for manufacturers of quack medicines.

Mr. Adams' himself was what is now termed, 'an investigative reporter' who documented his every accusation. He not only listed the brand names of numerous Quack medicines, but also gave their chemical formulas (as ascertained from hired chemists), as well as provided supporting affidavits from government and medical officials. It is therefore interesting to note, that while speaking volumes about the evils of alcohol and opium, he was unable to name more than three quack Cannabis products:
1. An unnamed brand of asthmatic cigarettes.
2. A "Cannabis Sativa Remedy" from a Mr. Noyes who seems to be "practicing medicine without a license."
3. "Piso's Consumption Cure"
It seems that what the Quack wanted was something that worked fast; packed a wallop; was addictive (for return patronage) and hopefully, wouldn't kill its customers (again for return patronage). Cannabis on the other hand was (in its oral form) anything but fast acting. Additionally, not only did it not pack a wallop, it instead acted as a sedative: Worst of all, it was NON-ADDICTIVE.

15.1.1 - The HALISH Power or Bread of Mr. Noyes:

The following is taken directly from the "The Great American Fraud." by Samual Hopkin Adams':

"Since the early 1860's, and perhaps before, there has constantly been in the public prints one or another benefactor of the human race who wishes to bestow on suffering mankind, free of charge, a remedy which has snatched him from the brink of the grave. Such a one is Mr. W. A. Noyes, of Rochester, N. Y. To anyone who writes him he sends gratis a prescription which will surely cure, consumption. But take this prescription to your druggist and you will fail to get it filled, for the simple reason that the ingenious Mr. Noyes has employed a pharmaceutical nomenclature peculiarly his own. If you wish to try the "Cannabis Saliva Remedy" (which is a mixture of hasheesh and other drugs) you must purchase it direct from the advertiser at a price which assures him an abnormal profit. As Mr. Noyes writes me proposing to give special treatment for my (supposed) case, depending on a diagnosis of sixty-seven questions, I fail to see why he is not liable for practicing medicine without a license." - page 50

However, according to the "The Western Druggist" [1886 pp 91]:

"The Halish sativa prescription comes from Noyes, of Rochester,N.Y. .. . . The Noyes prescription, although containing some obsolete terms, is readily deciphered. The medicine is a brick red powder, put up in a box holding about four ounces, and sold at the moderate price of $3.00. This powder, according to S. B. McKeown, of Youngstown, Ohio, consists of:
  • A meal closely resembling buckwheat...50.00 (%)
  • Sugar...25 00 (%)
  • Rochel salts...25.00 (%)
  • Red coloring matter.
F. Stearns found it essentially the same, with the addition of anise seed. I am glad to see you have declared war upon the nefarious traffic, as well as upon the patent medicine proper.---L. C. Hogan - Englewood, Ill., Feb 22."
In other words, there was No Cannabis to be found in the "Halish" bread or powder ---none at all. It can only be surmised that Mr. Adams' confused the term "Halish" with Hashish, which was another term for Cannabis Indica.


The following was taken from the Chicago Daily Tribune [May 19, 1858 ppO_2]:

The Retired Physician whose Sands of Life have Nearly Run Out" . . .
"The Retired Physician; His Adventures--His Aliases--His Swindles--his Profits."

"About two years and a half ago a comparatively young journeyman printer, born in Vermont, but reared and instructed principally in Connecticut, having failed in various newspaper enterprises (among them the Empire city, the golden [De???] and the Cheerful visitor, which was anything but a cheerful visitor to many of the subscribers, who paid their money but did not get their paper;) conceived the brilliant idea of going into a new style of business. He selected the patent medicine trade, as that offering the greatest inducements, and employed a literary man connected with the Sunday press to write him a scheme. The scheme was written. It was that of the "Retired Physician, whose sands of life have nearly run out." The basis of this medical scheme was Cannabis Indica, or, in other words, East Indian Hemp, a powerful drug, which can only be procured in small quantities, and then merely at intervals, and at great expense. A skillful story, which our readers have often perused, was contrived to make the medicine "go down." There is no old or young Dr. H. James who was in the East, or even the West Indies; there is no Cannabis Indica in the medicine sold, it being merely a compound of cough simples, (liquorice, slippery elm decoction, and honey prominent, costing, the bottle included, sixteen cents. The real Dr. H. James is the printer afore-said--Oliver P. Brown. He hires an old man Euided Kuyper to represent to represent Dr. H. James, and pays him a mere stipend for the personation. . . . . "
If one were to take the above at face value [and this author for one has learned to be skeptical of all things], Dr. James Cannabis Indica Elixir contained, "NO CANNABIS," -- Hummmm!!! ----[a quack medicine if ever there was one]

However, whether it did or did not is irrelevant ---- One need only look at their various advertising claims to know that something is wrong. Just those that run in the Saturday Evening Post [see pictures] claim it to be a cure for:

Consumption, Asthma, Bronchitis, Coughs, Colds, and General Debility, Night Sweats, irritation of the Nerves, Difficult expectoration, sharp Pains of the Lungs, Nausea at the Stomach, Inaction of the bowels, the wasting of the Muscles. That someone gained 15 Pounds in three weeks, and that it was a Cured for Consumption. [----While true cannabis can be used to treat some of the above, still consumption, night sweats?? Again, I for one have learned to be skeptical of many things]


Originally named after one of the founders Ezra T. Hazeltine, the Hazeltine Corp., of Warren Pennsylvania, was founded in 1869, and soon became famous for its cough medicine, "Piso's Cure for Consumption". In fact, the product became so popular that in time, the company actually changed its name to "The Piso Company."

Unfortunately, Piso's has the distinction of being the only brand name cannabis medicine named in Samuel Adam's (now classic) book on quackery "The Great American Fraud."

Now in all fairness it should be pointed out that the company has its defenders, who point out that the company itself voluntarily gave up the use of opium and opium by-products before the 1880's. In addition the lexicon of the English language has changed somewhat over the years, when "Piso's Cure for Consumption" first came out, the term 'cure' and 'treatment' could have been seen linguistically as synonymous.

However, I for one think otherwise. It took the 1906 Pure Food & Drug Act, before Piso's was forced to change its name from, "Piso's Cure for Consumption" to the more truthful, "Piso's Cure," and still later on to the more accurate "Piso's Remedy" for cough and colds.

Additionally, the very name "Piso" in Spanish literally means floor, such as, "hey drink some of this stuff and you'll be floored." This is something that Ezra Hazeltine would have been well aware of. However, the smoking gun, what seals the argument, may be an ad that they themselves ran in a reputable medical journal of the day, which reads as follows::
At great cost, the suit brought against the counterfeiters of Piso's Cure for Consumption. The defenses set up by the counterfeiters were that consumption could not be cured, that Piso's Cure was not a cure, and that it contained opium, morphine or other dangerous ingredients. All of these defenses the court held to be baseless and unsustained, and granted us an injunction perpetually restraining these infringers. Many of the best chemists in the United States, after careful analyses, testified to the truth of our representations. Several physicians, and a multitude of our customers testified to absolute cures of consumption in its earlier stages, accomplished by Piso's Cure.---- The Pharmaceutical ERA Oct. 1, 1903 pp7

The Following is taken directly from: Farmers Bulletin 393; an official U.S. Government Bulletin:[2]
. . . . The craving for the drug, with rare exception, cannot be controlled or overcome as long as the drug is obtainable.

There are at present [1910] "mail order express treatments" for all kinds of drug addiction. All correspondence and transactions take place through the mails except the sending of the "dope" itself. It is usually represented by the exploiter that the habit can be successfully treated at home, by the particular treatment he is interested in, and its composition is a profound secret, known to him alone. As a rule, these treatments are composed of well-known drugs. In most instances they contain the very drug or drugs for which the treatment is advertised and sold. For example, one physician furnished a treatment to a supposed morphin addict containing, according to his own statement, 22 grains of morphin to the fluid ounce, and in addition 4 -minims of fluid extract of cannabis indica in the same amount (see fig. 5)".

Upper Label: No. 2 For L.F. Kay , Alcohol 12.1 % , Morphine 22 grains to the Fluid Once. Cannabis Indica Fluid Extract 4 minims. Together with other ingredients.
Lower Label: When you open this bottle order your next month's treatment in order to avoid any break. [Those parts underlined are handwritten.]
Here are the facts as the author sees them. First, if the allegations are true (and we have no reason to believe that they were not), an unscrupulous Doctor is/was selling a cure/treatment for morphine addiction -- WHICH IN FACT -- contained lots and lots of morphine. And I can assure you, twenty-two grains (per fluid oz.) is quite a lot. Thus, whether or not, Cannabis was one of the ingredients becomes irrelevant. The issue (again, at least as this author sees it) is fraud or at least fraudulent advertisement.

For this reason, we must acknowledge that this product (assuming that it indeed existed)[4] was in fact, a Quack Product.


The following [accusation] is also taken from the above Bulletin, published by the Federal Government in 1910, [2] dealing with Quack medicines.

Colds and coughs are among the most common ailments of childhood and youth, and many special mixtures have been devised and placed on the market for treating them. These concoctions usually contain one or more habit-forming drugs, as is clearly shown by the following examples: [Included in the list is] Kohler's One-Night Cough Cure (morphin sulphate, chloroform, and cannabis indica)"
Chloroform and Cannabis Indica (dealt with elsewhere) we will ignore for now. However, the use of Morphine in cough syrups is another matter altogether. The question is: Was the use of morphine justifiable? The answer seems to be NO---it was not!

This, especially as codeine (which like morphine is and opium derivative) would later on become a common ingredient found in most cough syrups, needs some further explanation. When dealing with quack or dangerous medicines, one must always take the technology of the times into account and ask the questions:

  • Was the drugs benefits worth it---that is, did it actually treat the disease to the point that its harmful side-effects were worth it?
  • Given the medical technology, were their any other (safer) alternatives?

    If one were talking about Kohler's formula back in 1875, I would say yes to the first and no to the second. But, by 1910 (the year the bulletin came out) the answers would be totally different. True its close chemical cousin codeine would soon come into widespread use, but ONLY because of other politically motivated reasons. While alcohol could be used to replace Chloroform (ask any drunk during prohibition), numerous other ingredients would soon no longer be available to pharmaceutical manufactures. For example: Cannabis (aka the 'killer weed') would soon come to be associated (thanks to the reefer madness era), with axe murders and scantly clad-coeds jumping out of windows. Thus its reputation, not to mention, the passage of the anti-medical marihuana laws, made it unavailable for use in cough syrups.

    It was for this reason, and only for this reason, that codeine, at that time a little know drug, and thus not associated with opium in any way, made its way into cough syrups.

    But all that would be in the future, in 1910 numerous safer formulary ingredients were available and thus should have been used. Its use of morphine therefore is what makes Kohler's One-Night-Cough Cure, into an overly dangerous medicine and thus (at least in the authors opinion) a Quack product.

    15-2 -- NON-QUACK (But Alleged So) MEDICINES:
    Anyone can accuse a medical product of being Dangerous and of Quackery, one need only look at present day claims made by the DEA (those being that Medical Marihuana has no medical value, non-what-so-ever), to see proof of that. For this reason therefore, that one must look well at the accuser and ask the simple question: Who stands to benefit from the accusation?

    Is the answer the accuser?

    Much can be said about the real motives behind such accusations made by present day institutions (a.k.a. the DEA). So much so, that our museum has had to adopt a policy of only recognizing allegations made by 19th and early 20th Century contemporaries of the products themselves. To no ones surprised, there weren't that many.

    15.2.1 - Hashish (asthmatic) CIGARETTE:

    In his book "The Great American Fraud," Samual Hopkin Adams' makes reference to an unnamed brand of German anti-asthmatic cigarettes, (which according to him contained cannabis). Extensive research has failed to turn up any such product.

    There was however a contemporary asthmatic cigarette (containing Cannabis -- see chapter on smokables), which was manufactured by the French firm, "Grimault & Sons," [Brand name - Indian Cigarettes], which was being sold in the U.S. [that's Indian from India, not an Amerindian] But, it was a legitimate medical product, even the present day United Nations has given them the seal of approval as being a legitimate product[3].

    However, Mr. Adams should not be faulted for mentioning them. After all, it would not be until the mid-20th Century that scientific studies would show just exactly how and why cannabis did indeed help asthmatic patients. In 1905 only causal evidence must have existed.

    15.2.2 - HASHESSH (Medical) CANDY:

    To our knowledge, the very first time [1866] that any reputable group accused a Cannabis medicine of quackery. According to an Editorial that ran in the "Medical and Surgical Reporter" of Mar. 12, 1866 pp256, entitled, "Advertising Quack Medicines." The newspaper the Ledger, of Philadelphia, while being touted as an ethical newspaper that did not advertised Quack Medicines, was in fact doing just that. And that among the "Quack" medicines being advertised was one for a hasheesh medical candy which was making the following medical claims:

    "Hasheesh Candy, strengthens the Lungs, and guards against all disease."

    While the museum has not been able to obtain, a copy of that ad, we have been able to locate the following ad for the product:

    Vanity Fair (magazine) Aug 16, 1862 pp74

    A most wonderful Medicinal Agent for the cure of Nervousness, Weakness, Melancholy, confusion of thoughts, etc. A pleasurable and harmless stimulant. Under its influence all classes seem to gather new inspiration and energy. Price, 25c. and 8. per box, Beware of imitations. Imported only by the Gunjah-Wallah Company 476 Broadway. On sale by druggists generally.
    Remembering that terms "cure" and "treatment" were used interchangeable at the time. Let us look (logically, not emotionally) at the claims being made:
    • "That this was a medial agent and not a simple candy" --- True
    • "A medical agent for Nervousness" -- True, Medical Marihuana long ago has been shown to be an effective anti-spasmodic agent, as well as a Sedative.
    • "A medical agent for Melancholy, confusion of thoughts, etc." --- True, Medical Marihuana has long been used by patients in insane asylums (probably because of its sedative effect.)
    • "Is a pleasurable and harmless stimulant" ---- Harmless, YES, not one human has ever been know to have died as a result of its use. BUT Pleasurable! Oral Medical Marihuana tastes terrible, but because it is in Candy form, one must also say true.
    • "Under its influence all classes seem to gather new inspiration and energy." --- Although objectionable, no one questions the right of any mfg. to state that their product is inspirational etc.
    Now lets go back to the statement found in the "Medical and Surgical Reporter" which stated the following claims made by the company:
    "Hasheesh Candy, strengthens the Lungs, and guards against all disease:
  • " Strengthens the lungs" --- True, Medical Marihuana can be used to treat Asthma.
  • "Guards against all disease" -- Here, the author at least, has a problem with the wording. However, given the truthfulness of the other statements, and not being a student of the lexicon of the English language, I would just have to let it go.

    In other words, NO false statements can be found, no attempt to harm or deceive the public is made. Thus, despite the legitimacy of the criticizing source, the product must be declared as being NON-QUACK.


    In 1910 the Federal Government published an official bulletin entitled "Habit-Forming Agents: (Their Indiscriminate Sale And Use A Menace To The Public Welfare),"[2] which listed numerous Dangerous/Quack medicines by name strongly advising the public to avoid them. To no ones surprised only four Cannabis using medicines were listed, these being:

    1. Piso's Cure for consumption [previously discussed]
    2. Kohler's One-Night-Cough Cure
    3. An un-named cure/treatment for morphine addiction
    4. Victor Infant Relief

    Obviously, Piso's (by nature of its false advertising) rightly deserves to be on the list. Kohler's One-Night-Cough Cure, whose ingredients in addition to Cannabis also included Morphine, would at least qualify it as a dangerous drug. The un-named treatment for morphine contained (among its other ingredients) 22 grains of morphine per fluid ounce. Humm, a treatment for morphine addiction that contained morphine (ok, enough said).

    But, why Victors Infant Relief was included is a mystery to many. One at first may assume that the two-formulary ingredients (Chloroform and Cannabis), were the reason for inclusion. However, the formula in use was generic, with numerous other cough syrups essentially using the same formula [see chapter on cough syrups]. Why was Victors the only one mentioned-----and not the all so many others?

    Maybe it is best to ask the two following questions:

    Q: Was fraud or false advertising involved in any way? A: No, at least none that we have seen. The label states what every ad we have seen states, that it is a children's cough syrup and no more.

    Q: Was the product effective? A: Yes.

    Q: Was the product itself or any of its ingredients habit forming or dangerous? A: Maybe, possibly, let's take a closer look at the two listed offensive ingredients:

    Cannabis Indica: At this point, I don't believe that anyone can label Cannabis as being either dangerous or non-effective. However, it should be noted that by 1910, the first newspaper articles about, Marihuana -- The Killer Weed, were beginning to come out. These were mostly stories about Mexicans, who after smoking loco-weed, would then go off and kill someone etc., and it may have been that Dr. Wiley [the author of the bulletin] actually believed them.

    Chloroform: Is chloroform dangerous, yes, and thankfully, it is not the authors place to defend the un-defendable. However, as historians we would be negligent in our duties were we no to look at all the pertinent facts. All drugs has some dangers associated with them, so the question really becomes; Were their any "safer" alternatives? In the mid-19th Century, when this (essentially a generic) formula first came on the market, the answer would be, "probably not." However, by the mid-20th Century, the answer would be, most assuredly. Thus what could be label, quackery in one time period, would be labeled, Standard Medicine, another. In 1910, [the year the allegations were made], chloroform was already on its way out, but still in common use.

    It is for these reasons that (at least this author) cannot in all good conscience, label the product as Quack, and must instead (in the year 1910) label it as Non-Quack.

    [An Aside -- Not that it really matters, but of possible interest to read is the fact that Dr Harvey W. Wiley, the author of the above bulletin, was only one year later, either fired or forced to resign under pressure from his government post -----something about misappropriating government funds, and inappropriate lobbying activities etc. --- Humm!]

    As for the chemical formulas of cough syrups: Due to pressure from governmental sources, both Chloroform and Cannabis were taken out. Alcohol was used as a substitute for Chloroform (I guess that's good) and Codine, which sounds like cocaine, but is actually a close cousin to Heroin, would replaced Cannabis. No comment on that one, however, I do remember (when I was a lot younger), that a lot of (how shall I put it) challenged individuals, used to buy a lot of cough syrup. At that time, I couldn't figure out why. I guess now I know: What is it that Solomon once said, "There is nothing new under the sun"


    As can be seen from this exhibit of items (mostly leaflets/handouts for an upcoming show). Traveling medicine shows, (either Legitimate or Quack) were still common well into the 20th Century.

    As Dennis Worthen of the American Pharmaceutical Association, once wrote:
    "Physicians were few and far between, and their fees were frequently much higher than patients wished to pay. Moreover, the cures physicians offered-bloodletting, violent purging, and use of calomel-often were worse than the disease. Patent medicines, on the other hand, were easy to come by. They were available in every type of mercantile establishment, and they were sold almost at the patient's door by all kinds of traveling shows. Not only did consumers get their medications, they were also entertained in the bargain."
    The following, taken almost word for word, from an auctioneers (offering these items for sale) write-up. One can only imagine what such a show would have looked like before the passage of the Pure Food & Drug Act, put an end to false claims.

    This is a most unusual story! I have been able to track the history of a TRAVELING MEDICINE SHOW! It all began with Paul L. Ballard, who served in the Navy during World War I (see his Navy photo below). He was discharged in 1918, and joined the United States Department Of Agriculture's Bureau of Animal Industry in October 1918. By 1919, he was on the road with his very own MEDICINE SHOW! He was the MEDICINE MAN!

      [For Sale]
    1. Two original product labels-these are beautiful, and were never applied. Notice that one is for CANNABIS!
    2. A packet of DA-KA-TA Nasal Wash, unopened!
    3. A RARE, Original HANDBILL used to drum up business when the show arrived in town!
    4. Two ORIGINAL coupons to handout to the good people of the small towns, directing them to the corner drugstore for some of the products. (Although he did sell the medicine himself, he probably 'saw the writing on the wall' about the future.)
    5. A high-quality copy of Mr. Ballard's Navy photo (which he refers to on the back as, 'A Bum Picture of Myself!'
    6. We even have his license to operate his medicine show in West Liberty, Ohio for one week in 1932! -- Yes, a high-quality copy of P. L. Ballard's license.
    And, at no extra charge (I'm starting to sound like the MEDICINE MAN!), I'll throw in - etc. . .


    Many readers of this book are naturally supportive of medical Cannabis' re-legalization, and as such there is a natural tendency to look favorable upon old pharmaceutical companies that once made use of it. But blind acceptance can sometimes be dangerous.

    In 1937 the S.E. Massengill Co., (which made extensive use of Cannabis) introduced a new (children's liquid form) of the drug, "Sulfanilamide," which was used to treat streptococcal infections. And while this individual product did not contain Cannabis, for reasons unknown to me, the company decided to add antifreeze (Diethylene Glycol) to the formula, and with predictable results. Over a hundred people (mostly children) died and many more suffered weeks of excruciating pain, vomiting, convulsions etc., ---- and it didn't do the company’s’ repeat business any good either.

    Moral --- Just because a company made use of Cannabis does not necessarily make it immune to either error or quackery, nor does it make the manufacturer a legitimate one.

    But than again, one should not be blinded in the other direction by the actions of a few bad eggs either. The museum has documented well over one thousand, pre-1937 medical cannabis products on a brand or trade name basis. And out of all of these, we have only come up against a total of eight allegations of quackery. And, as has hopefully been shown, many of these allegations were unjustified. Medical Cannabis has a great and extremely ethical history, one which we should all be proud of.

    [1] -- The figure originates with the author and comes about by taking numerous old pharmaceutical product catalogs, counting the number of cannabis medications and dividing it by the number of total medicines.

    [2] -- U.S. Department of agriculture -- Farmers Bulletin 393. "Habit-Forming Agents: Their Indiscriminate Sale And Use A Menace To The Public Welfare," by H.W. Wiley.

    [3] --- See United Nations, Bulletin on Narcotics - 1962 Issue 4, Also 1951 Issue 4, "Preparations exempted from the control measures of the Narcotics Conventions"

    [4] Because this product was (essentially) a home remedy and not a branded product, thus making it all but impossible to track down. Plus the circumstances under which the author of the bulletin left his governmental post, brings some doubt into play.

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