History Of Smoking For Asthma

For most of history, asthmatics inhaled smoke. Do you believe it? It’s true. This was the only means of inhaling asthma medicines. It was the only way of obtaining breathing relief. It was the only way of ending asthma attacks.1 Here is a pithy history of smoking for asthma.

  1. Fumigation. Belladonna is often referred to as deadly nightshade. This is because its berries are deadly. Egyptian women used it to make their pupils huge. It made them pretty. This is where the term “belladonna” comes from. It means “pretty woman.” Ancient Egyptian physicians described laying roots, leaves, and stems of the plant in the sun. Once dried, they were crushed and tossed on hot bricks. The smoke was inhaled. This offered mild breathing relief.
  2. Inhaling Pipes. Stramonium is another plant similar to Belladonna. They both come from the Solanaceae family of plants. Similar herbs are black henbane, Indian Hemp, and cannabis. Inhaling the smoke affected the mind. It eased pain and suffering. It was probably initially used by medicine men to communicate with spirits. Over time, physicians discovered it offered mild breathing relief. It made breathing easier. Dried and crushed stramonium was stuffed into hollow pipes. The smoke was inhaled. This was the prescription by ancient Indian physicians around 100 A.D. If you complained of breathing trouble, you’d smoke a pipe.
  3. Asthma Cigars and Pipes. In 1802, a Scottish born physician named James Anderson had business interests in India. He discovered that they inhaled smoke as a treatment for asthma. This began a craze that rushed through Europe and the U.S. Stramonium and/or belladonna was purchased from stores. It was then rolled into cigars or stuffed into pipes. Inhaling the smoke offered some asthma relief.
  4. Asthma Cigarettes. Atropine is a white alkaloid. It was discovered in 1833 and isolated in 1867. This was learned to be the active ingredient in belladonna, stramonium, black henbane, and lobelia. This was the ingredient that made these plants potent. It’s what opened airways. By 1879, an asthma cigarette craze struck Europe and the U.S. You could buy a box of factory-rolled cigarettes. Common ones sold were Schiffmanns, Asthmador, Potters, Marshalls, and Kingsmans. They contained any combination of belladonna, stramonium, and Atropine. After the inhaler was invented in 1957, asthma cigarettes were phased out as a top-line asthma remedy. They remained on the market until the 1980s.
  5. Nitre/ Ozone Paper. This was another inexpensive option for inhaling asthma medicine. It was paper that contained potassium nitrate and either stramonium or belladonna. The paper was lit with a match and the smoke inhaled. Some asthmatics may have used a funnel made of paper to direct the smoke to their airway.
  6. Asthma powders. Every once in a while, I get a patient who remembers a green can. Or a yellow can. Or some powder that was inhaled. The powder was placed on paper. It was then ignited. Sometimes funnels were used to direct the smoke to your airway. These were methods of inhaling belladonna, stramonium, and Atropine. They were common asthma remedies from about the 1870s to 1950s.

Today, smoking is considered an asthma trigger. We asthmatics are instructed to avoid it if possible. But, there was a time when it was recommended.

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