Somewhere between the 1860s and 1910s was the golden age of medical quackery. You’ve probably seen examples of those crazy ‘tonic’ posters at your local flea market or online, listing vague ailments and equally vague remedies. These non-prescription products were ruthlessly marketed in magazines and papers, making unproven and often deceitful claims.

‘Miracle drugs’ we manufactured to cure a vast number of ailments, including those to wake the body up or put the body to sleep. Yes, your predecessors got tired. Some of them even had insomnia. And they wanted a cure as badly as you do.

The difference between now and then is that we don’t have ‘quacks and opportunistic entrepreneurs’ filling our pharmacies with placebos – or worse – with harmful substances. Or do we?

Whatever your opinion, here’s an entertaining list of remedies you should never – ever – try at home.



Dr. Miles Nervine (if that really was his name) patented ‘effervescent tablets’ to soothe restlessness, sleeplessness, and nervousness. The tagline “Since I have been taking Nervine, nothing bothers me,” makes us pretty curious what the ingredients might have been.

Full-On Quaaludes

quaalude 300

This was once the brand name for the now-illegal drug methaqualone. It was patented in 1962 and widely used as a treatment for insomnia, as a sedative, or as a muscle relaxant. Not long after, it gained popularity as a dangerous recreational drug. Legal manufacture of the drug ended in the United States in 1982. Nope, don’t try this.

Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup

mrs winslows

Good old Mrs. Winslow thought it was a fantastic idea to soothe teething or unruly children with morphine. Yes, m-o-r-p-h-i-n-e. The formula was made with 65mg of morphine per fluid ounce, sodium carbonate, spirits foeniculi, and aqua ammonia. It was claimed to effectively quiet restless infants and small children. While it probably did the job, it unfortunately did so in a very life-threatening way. Thankfully, this patent tonic is now history.



Terrifyingly, this was the brand name for methamphetamine. It was said to dispel mild depression and reduce drowsiness back in the day. The ad makes no mention of the resulting dependency and countless alarming physiological effects methamphetamine has on the human body. We suggest getting a good night’s sleep if you feel tired during the day instead. We suggest not taking meth. Ever.

Liebig’s Liquid Extract of Beef



This sounds more like some unappetizing type of bouillon, but we assure you Liebig’s Liquid Extract of Beef and Tonic Invigorator used to be an over-the-counter patent ‘medicine’. Tonics were believed to revitalize many parts of the body and mind, and promote wakefulness. Liebig’s beef syrup touted cures for a wide range of vague conditions. We don’t want to know what it tasted like.

The list of crazy patent medicines, also known as nostrums, goes on and on. Thankfully, there have been advancements in modern science, and medical professionals know a thing or two about what’s good and bad for your body.

The moral of the story is this: if you’re tired, get some rest. If you can’t sleep, assess your situation – light, pillows, mattress, snoring, etc.

Just be thankful nobody is trying to sell you beef extract for your nerves.

Primary Source:

BrandSource Canada

BrandSource is a national network of over 130 locally owned, appliance, electronics, mattress, and home furnishing stores all across the country.

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