CELERINA: Quackery with Cocaine

January 19, 2018

“Celerina” was a medicine dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, originally of secret formulation, sold as a nerve tonic and cure-all.

I find it mentioned as early as January 1883 in The Medical Brief, a monthly journal from St. Louis. Indeed, it was manufactured by the Rio Chemical Co. of that city, as shown by the dark-amber bottle pictured here (about 23/8’’ diameter by 51/2’’tall, dating from about the turn of the last century), which is one of my recent acquisitions.

As to Celerinia’s composition, a 1901 ad stated: “The active principles of celery, coca, kola, and viburnum, with aromatics, should convince the most skeptical physician of its value in All Languid or Debilitated Conditions of the system, such as Loss of Nerve Power, Nervous Headache, Neuralgia, Paralysis, Impotency, Hysteria, Opium Habit, Inebriety, Dysmenorrhea, Prostatitis, Dyspepsia, etc.” The ad contained testimonials from physicians and promised a free sample bottle to any physician wishing to test it.

One notes the audacity of selling such a potentially addictive product as a cure for “Opium Habit.” The “coca” signaled cocaine (an extract of the coca leaf); though not an opioid, it is nevertheless addictive. As well, the “kola” referred to kola nut containing caffeine, another stimulant). Celery and virburnum are herbal remedies touted for various benefits.

Some similar products (as best we can infer from their names) were Chelf’s Celery-Caffeine Compound, Celery Tonic Bitters (later Celery Nervine), Celro-Kola, Celery Vesce, Baldwin’s Celery Pepsin and Dandelion Tonic, Gladstone’s Celery and Pepsin Compound, and others. Such products were generally sold to treat conditions like headache, neuralgia, and depression.

Some may have provided relief while doing little harm. However, products like Celerina, Celery-Cola, and Kola-Ade contained cocaine and were dangerous and potentially addictive. The most famous such product, Coca-Cola, was originally a patent medicine billed as “The Ideal Nerve and Brain Tonic.”