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Saturday, August 23, 2014

30,000 B.C.: Fumigations were the first inhalers

It is probably true that the first inhalers were fumigations. This initially might have involved something as simple as sitting around a smoky fire caused by burning herbs. Later on this evolved into sitting in a smoke filled room.

There's really no idea of knowing when the first fumigations occurred.  It probably first happened by accident; someone tossing poisonous herbs into a fire, accidentally inhaling them, and realizing the enjoyable side effects.

After a while fumigations were probably done on purpose with the intentions of relaxing and listening to visions sent during hallucinations from the gods or spirits.  Medicine men may have experimented with small fires, and then large fires were made at night with the clan surrounding the fire.  This may have occurred as far back as 30,000 B.C.

Dioscorides (40-90 A.D.) was a Roman physician
pharmacist and botanist who lived in Greece.
We will delve into his influence on medicine
later on in our history.
Later on, perhaps by bathing in cold weather, men and women learned that water, when heated on a fire, created steam, which had a medicinal effect on the body.  Fumigations using steam would create methods allowing poisonous materials exit the body, resulting in a pleasurable feeling created after leaving a steamy room.

Egyptian scribes made the first recordings of fumigations with cyphiac.  Cyphiac was described by James Prosser in his 1884 book "Therapeutics of the Respiratory Passages:
"According to Dioscorides (40-90 A.D.), a mixture of various drugs, and as the Egyptians had made great advances in the use of spices, balms, and other odorous medicines, it is probable that these entered largely into their cyphi. As soon as men began to use warm baths, indeed, as soon as they made water hot, they would become acquainted with its vapor, and probably notice the soothing effect of breathing steam, and endeavor to turn it to useful account."  (1, page 276)
So early on in human history mankind had access to fumigations of smoke and steam.

While this may have originally been part of religious ceremonies, there came a time in the course of history, perhaps at some point in ancient Egypt, where it was realized that smoke was more useful for medicinal purposes when the herbs were placed on stones or heated bricks and inhaled this way.

Sometime around the time of Jesus people in some nations learned how to control smoke by making crude pipes and incense for inhaling herbs. So now people had access to several methods of inhaling medicines: fumigation, incense, crude pipes, and even crude cigarettes.

Homer played a significant role in our history.
We will delve into his life in a later post. 
The Ancient Greeks used fumigations, as Homer (800 B.C.) mentions them.  And, much like the Egyptians learned to master smoke for medicinal purposes, the Greeks learned to master steam for medicinal purposes.  Around 400 years after Homer, Hippocrates mentions an inhaler-like device which was similar to a tea pot.

When Greek wisdom made it's way to Rome, this wisdom traveled with it.  When Roman knowledge made it's way to the Arabs, this wisdom traveled with it them. (1, page 276)

So, fumigations were the first inhalers.  Steam fumigations would later be used to treat diseases like croup and asthma.  In fact, spending time in a hot, steamy bathroom continues to be a recommended treatment for croup.

  1. Prosser, James, "The Therapeutics of Respiratory Passages," 1884, New York, pages 281-282
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