While illicit drugs are a major concern in today’s society, many of them didn’t start off as recreational. On the contrary, many started off with medicinal and anesthetic purposes. Here’s a look at some of the forefathers of modern illicit drugs, without whom heroin, cocaine, LSD, meth, and morphine would either be less popular in our culture or not even exist.
Charles Romley Alder Wright – The Forefather of Heroin
Dr. Charles Wright, born in 1844, was a physics and chemistry researcher in London. Well respected, he helped found the Royal Institute of Chemistry of Great Britain and Ireland. With his chemist skills, he had been experimenting with morphine, combining it with various acids. He had hoped to discover a nonaddictive alternative to the medicine and soon discovered a more potent version of morphine by boiling anhydrous morphine alkaloid with acetic anhydride. Called diacetylmorphine at the time, this is the substance today known as heroin. Following Wright’s discovery, the drug was marketed as an analgesic and a cough sedative in 1888. It wasn’t until 1913 that its addictive qualities were officially discovered and it was swiftly taken off the market.
John Pemberton – The Forefather of Cocaine
Following injuries he sustained as a Colonel in the Confederate Army, John Pemberton, also a pharmacist, searched for a cure to counteract his addiction to morphine, which he had been using as a painkiller. After experimenting with coca and coca wines, he came up with what he called Pemberton’s French Wine Coca, an alcoholic blend designed to reduce nervousness; stomach, bowel, and kidney irregularities; and more. Following temperance legislation, Pemberton was under pressure to create a non-alcoholic version of his medicine and invented Coca-Cola by accident in 1886. It was the result when he mistakenly blended his base syrup with carbonated water, and he decided to market it as the fountain drink we know today. Ten years later, the Coca-Cola company ran into controversy after it was discovered cocaine was an addictive and dangerous substance. A glass used to 9 mg of its primary secret – now illegal – ingredient.
Albert Hofmann – The Forefather of LSD
Albert Hofmann is perhaps one of the greatest modern day scientists. Ranked first on The Telegraph’s list of the 100 greatest living geniuses in 2007 (although he passed away in 2008), Hofmann was recognized for being the first person ever to synthesize, ingest, and study lysergic acid diethylamide’s psychedelic effects. He was also the first to isolate and synthesize psilocybin and psilocin, the principal compounds of psychedelic mushrooms. While working in a pharmaceutical-chemical department with Scilla glycosides of the medicinal plant squill, Hofmann discovered LSD in an attempt to find a circulatory and respiratory stimulant that would not affect the uterus. The project was put to rest for five years until 1943, when Hofmann decided to re-examine it and discovered LSD’s effects upon absorbing a tiny bit through his fingertips. He described his experience as “a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination.” Shortly before his hundredth birthday and frustrated with LSD’s prohibition, he dubbed it “medicine for the soul.”
Nagai Nagayoshi – The Forefather of Methamphetamine
Nagai Nagayoshi, who became the first doctor of pharmacy in Japan, was sponsored by the Prussia government to study at the University of Berlin and went on to receive a doctorate based on his study of eugenol. Nagayoshi later became a professor of chemistry and pharmacy in 1893, and it was this year he became the first to synthesize methamphetamine, which came from ephedrine. It was Nagayoshi’s work that led pharmacologist Akira Ogata to synthesize the crystalline form of methamphetamine, which we today know as crystal meth.
Friedrich Sertürner – The Forefather of Morphine
Born in 1783, Friedrich Sertürner, achieved a number of recognized accomplishments at a young age when he worked as a pharmacist’s apprentice. He isolated morphine from opium, becoming the first person to ever extract an alkaloid from opium and thus to isolate an alkaloid from a plant. This feat made Sertürner the first person ever to isolate a medicinal plant or herb’s active ingredient. He named the alkaloid “morphium,” after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. Having morphine literally at his fingertips to examine, Sertürner investigated its effects. The drug became a widely used sedative after 1815, and Sertürner worked as a successful pharmacist until his death in 1841.