Stress has been around since Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden and attempts to reduce stress date back to antiquity. Alcohol in some form is probably the oldest stress remedy and fermented ales were particular favorites in medieval Europe. Around the same time, tobacco and coca were popular in the Americas as was kava kava in the South Pacific. In other parts of the world, local herbs like chamomile, valerian, and St. John’s wort in teas and other concoctions have long been used and are now widely available as supplements. In the U.S., drugs for various stress-related complaints included bromide salts for nervousness, paraldehyde for insomnia and even opiates. The first synthetic sedative was a barbiturate developed by Bayer in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. Long and short-acting barbiturates subsequently became available and were used for various stress-related complaints, including difficulty sleeping, hysteria, shell shock in soldiers, as well as epileptic seizures. However, barbiturates often had undesirable sedative side effects, and dependency and overdosage were frequent problems.
In the 1950s, a tranquilizer made by Warner Lambert without these complications became available. Miltown, named after the New Jersey city where it was developed, reduced anxiety without causing significant sedation. It quickly became so popular that by 1957, a prescription was written every second in the U.S., the Miltini cocktail was named after it (a Miltown instead of an olive in a martini) and Miltown “peace pills” parties were common in the suburbs. Other drug companies were anxious to cash in on this bonanza, and in 1960, Hoffman La-Roche in Switzerland came out with Librium, which was just as calming and caused less drowsiness. A few years later, they introduced Valium, which quickly supplanted everything because it was even better than Librium, did not have its bitter taste, and was almost impossible to overdose on. By the 1970s, Valium was the most widely prescribed drug of any kind and the Rolling Stones composed an ode, calling it “mother’s little helper”. Critics were concerned about increased dependency, which came to a head with the journalist Barbara Gordon’s 1979 autobiography explaining her addiction to Valium and nervous breakdown and institutionalization when she tried to stop it. Her story was the basis for the movie “I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can” in 1982; the year Valium’s top-selling position was replaced by the anti-ulcer drug Tagamet. Valium is still prescribed for anxiety and muscle spasm but newer anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax and Ativan are now more commonly used, as are certain antidepressants. These may also be replaced by safer and more effective electromagnetic therapies for depression, anxiety, insomnia, headache, and other stress-related disorders, as described in many of the 50 chapters in Bioelectromagnetic Medicine.
Rosch PJ, Marko MS. (eds) Bioelectromagnetic Medicine 2004; Marcel Dekker, New York