Listed in Squires Companion to the British Pharmacopoeia, 19th Edn.

Dr. Theodore Dalrymple in his article When Arsenic was a wonder Drug, in the Daily Telegraph, 2000, wrote:

(In 1900) if the doctor decided on what he thought was an active drug rather than a mere placebo, he had a positive witches brew of a pharmacopoeia to choose from. Not many years before, Oliver Wendell Holmes, a pioneer anaesthetist (and author of The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table) had written that he firmly believed "that if the whole materia medica, as now used, could be sunk to the bottom of the sea, it would be all the better for mankind and all the worse for the fishes."

Roy Porter in Disease, medicine and society in England, 1550-1860, Cambridge University Press, 1995, states:

There is scant evidence that medicine could do much throughout this entire period to counter the most lethal diseases. The plague was not conquered; it disappeared from Britain after 1666, but this had nothing to do with medicine, something to do with quarantine as imposed on a European scale, and perhaps most to do with the mysteries of epidemiology and the biohistory of rats and fleas. The same applies to cholera in the nineteenth century. It came; it conquered; it receded. Cleaner towns and water supplies had some impact, medicine none. Epidemics of typhus and dysentery caused mortality crises in the 1720s and 1730s: fevers seem to have proved less lethal in subsequent decades, possibly because immunity had been acquired or susceptibility reduced, but not because of any medical breakthroughs in the strict sense. Not until the coming of the sulpha drugs in the 1930s and antibiotics like penicillin in the 1940s did medicine possess pharmaceutical means that would reliably save the lives of victims of infectious diseases.

During most of the 18th and 19th centuries the main treatments were bleeding, purgatives and emetics. By 1900 there were some rather more fanciful categories. They were never subject to serious scientific or clinical testing and have not stood the test of time. The classes of drug shown below in italics are either rarely used today or not at all. Few of the drugs listed in 1915 have survived into modern usage as they are either unnecessary, ineffective or dangerous.

Alteratives To make abnormal conditions normal.
Anaesthetics To cause loss of consciousness. General by inhalation and local by injection.
Analgesics To reduce pain. Also known as anodynes.
Anaphrodisiacs The opposite of aphrodisiacs, e.g. potassium bromide.
Anhidrotics To reduce perspiration.
Antacids To reduce the acidity of the stomach.
Anthelmintics To kill or expel intestinal worms. Other terms are vermicides, for drugs which kill worms and vermifuges for agents that expel worms.
Antilithics To counteract stones in the kidney or bladder.
Antiperiodics To counter periodic fevers, e.g. quinine for malaria.
Antipyretics To reduce temperature in a fever. Also called febrifuges.
Antiseptics To inhibit growth of micro-organisms.
Antispasmodics To relax spasms of the bronchial tubes.
Aperients Laxatives, see also cathartics.
Aphrodisiacs To promote libido.
Aromatics To reduce flatulence. See also carminatives.
Astringents To constrict peripheral blood vessels to prevent bleeding.
Bitters To stimulate appetite.
Cathartics To promote intestinal evacuation. See also purgatives and laxatives.
Caustics To kill the tissue to which they are applied.
Cholagogues To promote the secretion of bile.
Counter Irritants To cause inflammation. Rubifacients cause heat and redness of the skin, vessicants produce blisters.
Demulcents To treat irriation of mucous membranes e.g. slippery elm for sore throat.
Diaphoretics To promote perspiration. Powerful ones were called sudorifics.
Disinfectants To destroy microbes.
Diuretics To promote urine flow.
Ecbolics To promote contraction of the pregnant womb. (The modern way of inducing labour is to use the natural hormone known as oxytocin.)
Emetics To produce vomiting. Used now only in cases of non-caustic poisoning
Emmenagogues To promote menstruation and included both iron tonics and agents to cause contraction of the womb. Some drugs of this class were used to procure abortions.
Emollients To make the skin softer for cosmetic reasons or to allow penetration of a topically applied drug.
Expectorants To loosen mucous in a cough.
Galactogogues To stimulate production of breast milk. (Oxytocin is the natural hormone involved.)
Haematinics Iron tonics for anaemia.
Haematostatics To staunch bleeding. Also known as styptics. Still used for cuts encountered during shaving.
Hypnotics To promote sleep. Also known as narcotics and soporifics although the former term now has a public perception of illicit drugs.
Laxatives See cathartics.
Mydriatics To dilate the pupil of the eye, for example during eye examination.
Myotics To contract the pupil of the eye.
Nutritives To aid assimilation of food.
Parasiticides To destroy parasites.
Purgatives See cathartics.
Refridgerants To reduce thirst in fever and impart a feeling of coolness.
Sedatives To exert a soothing influence.
Sialogogues To promote the flow of saliva.
Sternutatories To cause sneezing and increase nasal mucous flow, e.g. snuff.
Stimulants Five types were described:- brain, nerves, stomach, circulation, & local.Local stimulants were the same as counter irritants.
Stomachics To improve appetite and promote digestion.
Tonics To promote strength to the functions of the body or its parts. Haematinics for anaemia, nervous tonics, stomach and intestinal tonics, heart tonics e.g. digitalis.
Vasodilators To dilate blood vessels.
Modern Classes of Drugs

Most drugs in current use date from the last half of the 20th century. Among these are :

Antihypertensives To lower blood pressure
Hypocholesterolaemics To lower the blood level of cholesterol
Anti-inflammatories To treat inflammations including conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis
Antibiotics To treat bacterial infections.
Antifungals To treat fungal infections
Antivirals To treat viral infections
Amoebicides To treat amoebic infections
Antiasthmatics To treat asthma by reducing sensitivity to allergens or to dilate the airways.
Antidiarrhoeals To reduce diarrhoea
Antineoplastics A range of drugs to treat different types of cancer including hormone antagonists and chemotherapeutic agents designed to kill selectively the tumour cells.
Anticonvulsants To control epileptic seizures
Anxiolytics To control anxiety
Antidepressants To control depression
Antipsychotics To control schizophrenia
Antimigraines To treat episodes of migraine
Antisecretories To reduce production of gastric acid in the treatment of stomach and duodenal ulcers.
Antidiabetics To control levels of blood sugar
Contraceptive To control fertility
Diuretics To increase excretion of water and sodium salts. Used in hypertension and congestive heart disease.
Vaccines To give immunity to a range of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria.


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