top of page
  • Writer's pictureNotes From The Frontier

Cocaine Candy

Updated: May 8, 2023

Cocaine Candy & Heroin Cough Syrup in the Old West

The 1800s, especially on the frontier, were hard and relief in a bottle was common. In the 1800s, opium was very popular, introduced first by Chinese immigrants working on the railroads. Opium dens were common across the west. Wild Bill Hickok and Kit Carson spent more time in opium dens than in saloons!

Alcohol was still the drug of choice and alcoholism was rampant across the West. It became such a common cause of violence and death that in 1810, drug companies came up with a cure: morphine! In 1853, the invention of the hypodermic needle made it easier to control the dosage so it wasn't deadly. During the Civil War, morphine was the most used pain killer and so many soldiers came home addicts, the U.S. had a massive morphine epidemic after the War.

In answer to the problem, medical professionals again came up with a miracle cure: Heroin! Developed in Germany, this wonder elixir was introduced to the U.S. in 1874 as a "safe, nonaddictive antidote" for morphine. Reputable drug companies like Bayer mass marketed the drug and it was given to adults, children and babies as commonly as aspirin is today. By 1925, there were more than 200,000 morphine addicts in the nation.

Germany also developed modern cocaine in the 1860s. It came to the U.S. as a panacea for everything from hemorrhoids to hepatitis and became so popular the country had a new epidemic on its hands. Freud was a cokehead in the 1880s. So was Thomas Edison. So was the famous writer Robert Louis Stevenson who, according to his wife, Fanny, wrote "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" during a six-day coke binge. Even Pope Leo XIII was an addict, and carried a flask of Mariani wine, made with cocaine, under his robe. So fond was he of the tonic, he appeared in a poster for the wine and gave the company a medal!

Traveling "snake oil salesmen" roved the frontier with portable pharmaceutical wagons clinking with bottles of cocaine, opium tinctures, heroin, and morphine, and found eager markets wherever they went. Was it any wonder the West was wild?!

"Cocaine Candy" was originally posted May 15, 2019 on Facebook and 79,856 reached / 1,548 likes


1,727 views1 comment

1 Comment

lekor adams
lekor adams
3 days ago

Cocaine candy and heroin cough syrup were shockingly common in the Old West, reflecting a time when the dangers of such substances were poorly understood. Today, we know better, and the reasons to quit alcohol and other addictive substances are clear—health, relationships, and overall quality of life improve significantly. The Canadian Centre for Addictions is dedicated to helping those struggling with addiction. As a residential treatment facility, they specialize in providing the skills needed to live an alcohol and drug-free lifestyle. Their comprehensive programs support individuals on their journey to recovery, transforming lives for a healthier future.


Deborah Hufford

Author, Notes from the Frontier

Deborah Hufford is an award-winning author and magazine editor with a passion for history. Her popular blog with 100,000+ readers has led to an upcoming novel! Growing up as an Iowa farmgirl, rodeo queen and voracious reader, her love of land, lore and literature fired her writing muse. With a Bachelor's in English and Master's in Journalism from the University of Iowa, she taught students of Iowa's Writer's Workshop, then at Northwestern University, Marquette and Mount Mary. Her extensive publishing career began at Better Homes & Gardens, includes credits in New York Times Magazine, New York Times, Connoisseur, many other titles, and serving as publisher of The Writer's Handbook


Deeply devoted to social justice, especially for veterans, women, and Native Americans, she has served on boards and donated her fundraising skills to Chief Joseph Foundation, Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), Homeless Veterans Initiative, Humane Society, and other nonprofits.  


Deborah's soon-to-be released historical novel, BLOOD TO RUBIES weaves indigenous and pioneer history, strong women and clashing worlds into a sweeping saga praised by NYT bestselling authors as "crushing," "rhapsodic," "gritty," and "sensuous." Purchase BLOOD TO RUBIES online beginning June 9. Connect with Deborah on, Facebook, and Instagram.

  • Deborah Hufford on Facebook
  • Deborah Hufford on Instagram
  • Deborah Hufford's Official Website
deborah hufford.webp
bottom of page