Smoking to treat asthma? No. But yes, there was a time…

Smoking for asthma relief? It’s not something we would countenance these days but in the 19th and early 20th centuries products like in the picture here were regarded as the most efficacious treatment around.  

We must understand that asthma was considered in the early days to be simply a build up of this mucus in the lungs and treatments were built around this assumption.

This all started to change when in 1802 Dr James Anderson the physician-general in Madras noticed a local treatment for asthma where people would inhale the smoke of Datura ferox. He got word of this back to Britain where a physician by the name of Dr Sims started to prescribe it and was so impressed by the results that he published it in the medical press. Soon, the doctors of the day figured out that Datura stramonium (Jimsonweed) provided the same effect and was much easier to come by.

So why is this important? Well, this was the first time in history that the treatment du jour for asthma in Europe was the inhalation of an ‘anti spasmodic’, contributing to the general understanding that asthma was more than just mucus and that inhaled anti spasmodics were effective treatments.

One can’t help wondering though if the side effects had something to do with it… In 1835 Francis Ramadge, physician to the Infirmary for Asthma, Consumption and other Diseases of the Chest in London noted that it also produced “a grateful forgetfulness and a balmy oblivion like opiates”. There are also contemporary reports however that explain if only the stalks and roots were used the ‘torpor’ was not a factor.

PS. Don’t try this… we know a bit more now. Smoking is really bad for your lungs!

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