A History Lesson (reposted)

I believe this is by Michael Quinion.

Weird Words: Etheromaniac
A person addicted to ether as an intoxicant.

Some have been known to inhale it, but true etheromaniacs drank it.
The imbibing of ether was a widespread practice in parts of Ireland
during the nineteenth century. Some contemporary reports point to a
temperance campaign by one Father Matthew in 1838 for starting it,
while others say it was an unintended result of a crackdown by the
authorities at that time on the illegal brewing of poteen, whiskey
made from potatoes.

The effects of ether were like those of alcohol, but the drinker
passed through the stages of intoxication to insensibility much
more quickly. He also sobered up after only a few minutes with no
hangover. One problem with drinking ether was that it turns into a
gas at body temperature. To get around this, the usual technique
was to drink a glass of cold water followed by a shot of ether. The
water cooled the mouth and throat sufficiently to get the ether
into the stomach in liquid form. A frequent side effect was violent
belching of flammable gas. Since houses were lit by naked flames,
ether drinkers sometimes set themselves and others alight.

The practice was etheromania and drinkers were sometimes described
as etherists and etheromanes as well as etheromaniacs. An article
in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1891 wrote of
local women in Ireland holding “ether bees”.

Etheromania was also recorded from Scotland, Norway, Russia, Italy,
France, parts of the USA, and Britain – an article in the Nebraska
State Journal in 1897 said, “In London the keepers of the various
squares and parks often find under the trees empty vials labelled
‘ether’ that have been thrown there by the maniacs who quit their
homes in order to indulge their favorite passion at their ease”.

The practice died out in the 1890s in Ireland after the government
reclassified ether as a poison that could be sold by registered
pharmacists only.


1 Comment »

  1. vegandiva said

    What an interesting read!

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