This section is from the book "A Treatise On Therapeutics, And Pharmacology Or Materia Medica Vol1", by George B. Wood. Also available from Amazon: Part 1 and Part 2.
Coffee and tea came into use in Western Europe about the middle of the seventeenth century. Unfortunately, their habitual use as articles of diet limits very much their therapeutic application. The system is so much accustomed to them, that their remedial influence can scarcely be felt, in ordinary doses.
There can be no doubt that, under other circumstances, they would be very serviceable in dyspepsia, the very disease of which, through their abuse, they are among the most frequent causes. Occasionally used, they would serve as agreeable tonics in these cases, in which they would also be recommended by their cheering influence upon the spirits, ordinarily so much depressed in that complaint. If, instead of using them at the morning meal, when the stomach and system are most excitable, we should restrict their employment to the close of dinner, as is done with coffee in France, they might prove serviceable by facilitating the digestion of the food, and rendering it less oppressive to the stomach, while their injurious influence on the nervous centres would be less felt.
Thus, too, to those who do not habitually abuse them, they would be found an admirable restorative in the exhaustion of excessive labour, mental or physical, and an excellent corrective of mental disquietude arising from morbid states of the system, or the vicissitudes of life.
In attacks of nervous headache, or of sick-headache, they often afford great relief to patients not insensible by habit to their effects; and even in those who have brought on habitual headache and nervous disorder by their abuse, they will often control temporarily the paroxysm of those affections if given very freely; just as ardent spirit will relieve, for a time, the horrors which have originated in its continued excess.
Their influence in producing wakefulness may sometimes be taken advantage of, in lethargic and soporose conditions of the system, with good effect. They have, with this view, been recommended in the stupor of low fevers; and a cup of tea occasionally given may prove useful in that condition; but coffee is usually too heavy upon the stomach, and might be injurious by disturbing that organ.
In narcotic poisoning, these medicines are obviously indicated. The stupor from this cause may depend either upon a direct sedative influence on the nervous centres, as from chloroform, or upon active congestion, as from opium, alcohol, belladonna, etc. In either case, coffee, as the stronger of the two medicines in its stimulant powers, may be usefully employed. In both cases, it relieves by its general diffusive stimulation of the nervous centres, causing a more equable distribution of the nervous force, thus supplying the deficiency in the one instance, and unloading the overwhelmed centres in the other. Experience has proved it to possess considerable efficacy in obviating the stupefying effect from poisonous doses of opium. Though it should never be relied on exclusively in cases of this kind, it may be used conjointly with other methods; and, after the evacuation of the poison, is among the best means not only of preventing stupor, but also generally of supporting the system in its tendency to collapse. It must, however, be given strong and freely to produce much effect. In the same way, it proves useful in dissipating slight effects from alcoholic liquors; and the habitual use of it, at the close of dinner, is sometimes advantageous in other methods than by promoting the digestion of the food.
In the paroxysm of spasmodic asthma, strong coffee often affords considerable relief. It should be given quite saturated, and in the dose of a cupful every twenty or thirty minutes.
In hooping-cough, too, it has been highly recommended, given at the close of each meal. It is only in children unaccustomed to its use that it could be expected to be beneficial; and in these it may at least be tried with the hope of advantage. The editors of the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal (-May 16, 1861, p. 333) say that they have used it in several instances, with marked advantage. In one case, that of a girl six years old, the hooping ceased entirely after she had begun with the prepared coffee, of which she took a tablespoonful and a half, made very strong, three times daily.
I have heard of a case of ordinary catarrhal or spasmodic croup, in which it relaxed the spasm, and seemed to be the cause of cure.
In attacks of nervous dyspnoea and palpitation of the heart, coffee is said to have proved highly useful; and, though it might be deemed inadequate to the cure of so serious an affection as angina pectoris, it might be employed along with other measures, given as above recommended in spasmodic asthma.
It is asserted to have proved very useful in strangulated hernia. (British Med.Journ., Nov. 1857, p. 926).
Coffee has been found effectual in many cases of intermittent fever. Its strong influence upon the nervous centres, through which each paroxysm of an intermittent disease probably makes its approach, might be expected to endow it with a certain amount of antiperiodic power. In some parts of Greece, it is said by Dr. Pouqueville to be very successfully used in connection with lemon-juice. At least an ounce of the powder must be employed, in the form of decoction or infusion, between the paroxysms.
Other complaints in which it has been recommended are cholera infantum, diarrhoea, calculous affections, and amenorrhoea.
It has also been used to cover the taste of sulphate of magnesia, castor oil, sulphate of quinia. etc., which may be administered in it as a vehicle; but it is said not to be effectual for this purpose, unless the mixture is heated for a time to the boiling point.