When Doctors Were Their Own Guinea Pigs

Screen Shot

Alicia Puglionesi revisits the 19th-century homeopathic movement, which expected physicians to “prove” the safety of their remedies by trying them first. Some treatments were more fun to test than others:

[T]he Provers’ Union [in 1859] was testing cannabis indica, a variety of pot known today for producing an even-keel “mellow” sensation rather than a hallucinatory or ecstatic high. Provers reported “disinclination to physical labor,” “excessive sleepiness,” “sound sleep with melancholy dreams.” Hashish being widely recognized for its dubious moral effects, moral symptoms received special consideration, and included “great anguish and despair,” “tendency to blaspheme,” and “laugh[ing] immoderately.” As always, there were some bad trips: “[he] fancies, upon opening his bedroom door, that he sees numberless diabolical imps…he thinks he will suffocate…suddenly, one of the imps begins playing on a hand-organ…” Other hazards: “Constantly theorizing”; bloodshot eyes; “ravenous hunger, which is not decreased by eating enormously,” “excessive venereal appetite with frequent erections during the day.”

(Image: Excerpt from the American Provers’ Union’s 1859 Provings of Cannabis Indica, courtesy of the U.S. National Library of Medicine)