By Jim Buchanan
America has never been short on medical quacks. Jackson County native son Dr. John Brinkley was one of the more notorious quacks in history, and for a time one of the wealthiest.
Brinkley and his ilk were known for miraculous medical treatments and “patent medicines,” many of which were laced with things like cocaine, cannabis and plain old alcohol.
Of course, quacks are still around today, and a number have shown up offering miracle cures for coronavirus. Jim Bakker, the disgraced evangelist who was sentenced to 1989 to 45 years in prison after being found guilty on 24 counts of mail fraud and wire fraud, managed to get himself sprung after serving a few years, partly due to a statement by sentencing Judge Robert Daniel Potter that said, “those of us who do have a religion are sick of being saps for money-grubbing preachers and priests.” The argument was that Potter was injecting his religious beliefs into the sentencing.
Bakker is back in the news, facing a suit from the Missouri Attorney General’s Office for hawking his “Silver Solution” cure for coronavirus at $80 a pop. The AG said in a statement that “Anyone who has bought ‘Silver Solution’ from ‘The Jim Bakker Show’ should know that it cannot cure or treat coronavirus.” The statement described the product as “fake.”
From the early years of the last century up through the 1940s, a lot of quack medicines were heavily advertised in the pages of the Jackson County Journal and Sylva Herald. One of the most pervasive was Dr. Miles Restorative Nervine, which promised to treat everything from jangled nerves to headaches, epilepsy, backaches and even “St. Vitus’ dance,” a condition associated with involuntary movement of the hands or feet that sometimes made it appear the victim was dancing.
Nervine ads were generally targeted at women, housewives who were frayed from taking care of the kids all day or lying awake nights with only their worries to keep them company. There were times men were featured as well, such as one ad campaign featuring the testimonial of one Jack L. Baker, who said “During four months in the hospital, I became so nervous and irritable that I often threw dishes at the nurse. A friend urged me to try Dr. Miles Nervine. After taking it a short time, I did not have those outbursts of temper and was entirely free of nervous indigestion.”
In short, if you were a dish-chucking maniac, Nervine would clear you right up.
The term “nervine” in general is for tonics and compounds that positively effect the nervous system, and there are natural nervines still marketed today. But what made Dr. Miles Nervine stand out was that whereas many medical offerings of years past were thrown together using who-knew-what ingredients by amateur conmen, Dr. Franklin Lawrence Miles used actual science in his works (he’s credited with a compound most of us have sitting on the medicine shelf today, Alka-Seltzer).
Thus, his Nervine wasn’t some witches’ concoction. It was based on bromine, a naturally-occurring substance. Today bromine is usually associated with fire retardants, a gasoline additive, a swimming pool cleaner and used in agriculture.
Dr. Miles Nervine was, to put it bluntly, a straight-up tranquilizer. It undoubtedly did therefore calm some nerves. In high doses, side effects ranged from psychiatric to gastrointestinal disorders.
Nervine was still on the market into the late 1960s. In 1976 the Food and Drug Administration removed bromine from over-the-counter sedatives. It is currently not approved for any disease treatment.
Interestingly, bromine and bromides were popular enough to enter the language. A bromide was long known as an uninformed toss-off remark intended to placate a listener, to “create the illusion of problem solving.”
Dr. Miles Nervine is no longer with us.
Bromides most certainly are. Buyer beware.