Guest curated by historian and educator Manon Parry, PhD (University of Amsterdam)

February 26 – April 6, 2024

The National Library of Medicine produced Pick Your Poison: Intoxicating Pleasures and Medical Prescriptions, guest curated by historian and educator Manon Parry, PhD (University of Amsterdam).

The traveling exhibition and companion website explore the factors that have shaped the changing definitions of some of our most potent drugs, from medical miracle to social menace. Throughout the history of America, people have used mind altering drugs. While some of those drugs are socially acceptable, others are outlawed because of their toxic, and intoxicating, characteristics. These classifications have shifted at different times in history and will continue
to change.

Pick Your Poison includes an education component with a K-12 lesson plan and two university modules. A digital gallery features a curated selection of fully digitized items from the historical collections of the NLM, which are also available in their entirety in NLM Digital Collections.

In the late 19th century, physicians recommended cocaine for the treatment of hay fever, asthma, melancholy, and other ailments. This advertisement for toothache drops, containing cocaine, promised instantaneous relief, which likely was due to the substance’s anesthetic properties.
Advertisement for Cocaine Toothache Drops, Lloyd Manufacturing Co., 1885
Courtesy National Library of Medicine

For generations, Native Americans have smoked pipes full of dried tobacco leaves for spiritual and social purposes and used the plant in medicinal remedies. Tobacco became known among English settlers as “God’s remedy” for its many uses.
“Nicotiana Tabacum,” American Medical Botany, Jacob Bigelow, 1817-1820
Courtesy National Library of Medicine

The National Library of Medicine produced this exhibition and companion website.