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Collections Spotlight – 1950’s Pharmaceutical Drug, Octyl Nitrite

Every week we shine a light on a different object from our collections that you may not have seen before.  This week we have selected one drug that forms part of a larger collection of pharmaceutical drugs from the 1950’s, for our Collections Spotlight.  This collection was kindly donated by Merlin Park Hospital. The drug is called Octyl Nitrite and it came in individually wrapped glass capsules for inhalation. The glass capsule would have been held under the nose and broken open with your fingers to release the vapour which would then be inhaled.  The volume of this drug in the capsules was measured in minims. Minims and grains were the old units of measurement used by apothecaries (chemists) to determine the volume and weight, respectively, of miniscule amounts of Octyl Nitrite and other such medications.  One minim (intended as a standardised measure of a drop) is equal to 0.06ml, approximately and there are roughly 9,600 minims in 1 pint.

Above images: tin box containing Octyl Nitrite donated by Merlin Park Hospital.  This forms part of the reserve collection which is kept in the museum stores. 

Octyl Nitrite, appears as a clear light-coloured liquid. It may be toxic by ingestion if not prescribed and may severely irritate skin upon contact. It is a muscle relaxant and is used in the same way as Amyl Nitrite but has a longer duration and is less toxic. It is used mainly in the treatment of Angina, where there is pain in the chest due to an insufficient supply of oxygen to the heart muscle.  Octyl Nitrite can also be used as a muscle relaxant during the course of labour and in the treatment of epilepsy, asthmatic conditions and seasickness.

Octyl Nitrite was made by The British Drug Houses Ltd. London which was established in 1904 but has ceased trading since 1973.

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