Science

Top Of The First Antarctic Explorers' Packing List: Lots And Lots Of Cocaine

Headed out to explore the frigid Arctic? Better pack some blow. Scottish author Gavin Francis details the medical supplies early 20th century expeditions took on their treks to the South Pole and they read more like the inventory list of a heavily stocked drug den than a voyage to the coldest place on the planet.

When Robert Shackleton and his men set off for Antarctica on the 1907-1909 Nimrod expedition, they brought along psychoactive drugs, chalk mixed with opium for diarrhoea, and a cannabis/chili pepper cocktail for colic. I can’t feel my toes but I am tripping my face off, is what that miserable journey must have been like.

They also had lots and lots of whiskey, for warmth and also sanity. But don’t forget the cocaine — they dropped it into their eyes to cure snowblindess, which actually sounds like something you would get from taking too much in the first place. And to cure exhaustion, they had on hand pills called Forced March — a mixture of coke and caffeine that they’d take hourly to just keep moving their legs through the punishing cold. Your heart might explode, but at least you won’t collapse from exhaustion, the leader of the expedition said with each dose.

They brought all these party drugs along, but what they didn’t bring? Antibiotics. That’s like going on vacation and remembering your halloween costume but not your underwear. The only things they had in their backpacks that we would use for actual medical purposes today were morphine and aspirin. The Artic sounds fun. And totally awful. [Granta via NPR]

Image credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images


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