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Cannabis Time Capsule, 1907: Pain pills safer than cannabis?

Here's another cannabis-related ad, this time from the Ouray Plaindealer from August 30, 1907. Though unlike past advertisements for medicines that contained cannabis, this is one touts the medical benefits of Dr. Franklin Miles' Pain Pills despite not having any cannabis in the product.

And while the pills probably did help people with pain, Dr. Miles was a liar: the pills were nowhere near as safe as cannabis.

The late 1800s were a time ripe with people selling tonics and tinctures and treatments of all kinds to the general public, and that's when Dr. Miles got his start. The quackery came with no government oversight until about 1906 when Teddy Roosevelt passed the Food and Drug act.

That puts this 1907 advertisement for Dr. Miles' Pain Pills right at the end of the golden age of snake oils and miracle potions. Only, they were trying to differentiate themselves from other snake oils and potions by claiming their product was modern medicine and not just the re-hashed use of common drugs.

No harm can come of their use (if used as directed), the package touts. That's because Dr. Miles' tablets don't have any "opium, chloral, morphine, cocaine, chloroform, heroin, alpha and beta cocaine, cannabis indica or chloral hydrate, or their derivatives" in them. (Editor's note: then how well could they reallywork?)

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But here's the thing: this stuff was way more dangerous than any amount of cannabis could ever be to the human body. According to reports from the time (notably a 1921 American Medical Association journal on quackery and nostrums), Dr. Miles' Pain Pills were nothing more than acetanilide, a chemical used as an accelerator in rubber and varnish and was for a time used to develop photographs. In the1880s, it was patented as Antifebrin. But at high doses it caused tissue near the surface of your skin to be starved of oxygen and turn blue and purple like they were choking.

Interestingly, Dr. Miles was onto something even if he was making people sick doing it: the byproduct of your body processing acetanilide is a chemical called acetaminophen- which you know as Tylenol.

Not that Tylenol is much better in terms of toxicity. It may be one of the best pharmaceutical pain relievers we have for certain levels of discomfort. But as any activist is quick to point out: if you eat too many Tylenol, that headache you've got will be the last headache you ever have. Ironically, a Tylenol overdose is excruciatingly painful as your body reacts to your liver sputtering out.

While the use of acetanilide eventually was phased out of modern medicine, Dr. Miles' company actually did eventually leave us with a lasting piece of modern healthcare in 1931: Alka-Seltzer. The company eventually became part of Bayer. More from our Colorado Cannabis Time Capsule archives: "1934: Knives, razors and a can of marijuana"; "1904: "A Bad Mexican Habit""

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