Exploring the history of Phoenix, Arizona, just for fun. Advertising-free, supported by my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

Drug use in old-time, and modern Phoenix, Arizona


I was enjoying a cup of coffee with a friend of mine recently and we started talking about caffeine. He always drinks decaffeinated coffee, and I prefer regular coffee. I usually limit myself to two cups, because there really is a drug in coffee, called caffeine. Of course most people just think of illegal drugs when the word "drug" is used, but really, there's a lot more to drug use than whether you're gonna get busted using it. Let's time-travel back to old-time Phoenix. To 1908, in fact.

We're beginning our journey at A.L. Boehmer's Drug Store. Nowadays, of course, stores like this are called pharmacies, and when I tell people that I'm picking up my pills for cholesterol, etc., I use the term "meds". It's just polite, and the words that we use can often blur what is, and isn't a drug.

One of the wonder drugs that A.L. Boehmer would have definitely carried was acetylsalicylic acid. We call it aspirin, but at the time it wasn't a generic name, it specifically was the acetylsalicylic acid produced by the Bayer Company. Yes, they lost their trademark name - those things happen! Presumably there were other companies that sold acetylsalicylic acid, and probably at a lower price, and since I'm a believer in generic drugs, I would have probably bought a different, and cheaper, brand of acetylsalicylic acid.

Another drug that was widely used in old-time Phoenix, and is still in use today, is nicotine. Now calm down here, remember I'm including all drugs, legal or otherwise. Nicotine was legal to buy for anyone in old-time Phoenix, and nowadays you're supposed to be of legal age. Nicotine is the drug that gives people the "buzz" from cigarettes.

And let's not forget a very popular drug in old-time Phoenix, alcohol. It's funny how many people really don't consider alcohol a drug, but if you've ever had one two many shots of tequila, you know that it packs a punch! In 1908 alcohol was legal in Phoenix, but became illegal from 1918 until 1933.

What am I forgetting? Oh yeah, heroin, and opium, and cocaine, all of which were illegal in Phoenix in 1908, but were widely used anyway. In 1908 Coca Cola still had a tiny amount of cocaine in it, which didn't completely go away from their formula until 1929. They replaced it with caffeine, which is why I don't ever drink a Coke after three PM, the caffeine stays with me.

But it's only 10:30 in the morning, and I'm already feeling a bit sluggish. Excuse me, I'm going to go make myself another cup of coffee. The people in old-time Phoenix would have agreed, mostly!

Image at the top of this post: B.L. Boehemers Drug Store in 1908, northeast corner of Central Avenue and Washington, Phoenix, Arizona.

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