Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Abraham Lincoln's Little Blue Pills

Some historians suspect that Abraham Lincoln's use of blue mass to treat melancholy (probably clinical depression) may have altered his behavior, and may explain the erratic behavior and violent rages to which he was subject over a period of years prior to the Civil War. Lincoln stopped taking it soon after his inauguration as President because it made him “cross,” according to a letter he wrote to a friend. Some historians believe that this explains the contrast between his earlier behavior (while he was perhaps suffering from mercury poisoning from his use of Blue Mass) and his later behavior during the war (after he had stopped taking blue mass), given that most of the effects of mercury poisoning are reversible.
Unfortunately, since no hair samples from Lincoln during this period are available, it is impossible to determine whether or not he was truly suffering from mercury poisoning while he was taking the blue mass. Detractors point out that he remained violent and erratic up until his assassination.
Blue mass was recommended as a remedy for such widely varied complaints. The ingredients of blue mass varied, but they all included mercury (Lincoln took tablets.) One recipe of the period included (for blue mass syrup):
• 33 parts mercury
• 5 parts licorice
• 25 parts Althaea
• 3 parts glycerol
• 34 parts rose honey
Mercury is known today to be toxic, and ingestion of mercury by mercury poisoning (q.v.), a form of heavy-metal poisoning. While mercury is still used in compound form in some types of medicines and for other purposes, blue mass contained excessive amounts of the metal: a typical daily dose of two or three blue mass pills represented ingestion of more than one hundred times the daily limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. today. Click on the blue title above to read more.

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