Early Treatments

Melchior Adam Weikard, in 1775, was the first person to reference something similar to the modern definition of ADHD. He was a German physician and was interested in “attention deficits.” Weikard wrote about these attentional problems in his published medical textbook (Barkley & Peters, 2012). He made several claims insisting that behavior and attention problems in children are a result of child rearing. Furthermore, he posed the first set of treatments that would be beneficial to children suffering from attention deficits.

Melchior Adam Weikard’s medical textbook, published in 1776, in which he references attention deficits. Image from eosbooks.ch.

Some treatments he suggested were exercise, horseback riding, sour milk, and in certain cases extreme isolation (Barkley & Peters, 2012).


Dr. Charles Bradley’s Benzedrine trials

Before ADHD was officially made into a diagnosis, there were a wide range of opinions regarding the reason for this seemingly lack of behavioral control and inattention seen in children. Many people thought that ADHD was just a behavioral problem that does not need a medical definition. Up until the early 1900’s, there was no treatment for children with ADHD as it had not been diagnosed as a disorder at that point.

In 1937 at Emma Pendleton Bradley Home in Providence, Rhode Island, Dr. Charles Bradley made the first interesting finding in drug research, which would later have a huge impact on the development of drugs to treat ADHD (Strohl, 2011). Dr. Charles administered Benzedrine to a group of “problem” children in order to treat headaches but found something more fascinating (Strohl, 2011). The children who had taken the drug showed increased academic performance, social skills, and emotional responses (Strohl, 2011). Bradley’s intriguing discovery went relatively unnoticed for 25 years until they later proved to be an a precursor to amphetamines that were used to treat ADHD.

An early promotional advertisement for the drug Benzedrine, as studied by Dr. Charles Bradley. Image from thefix.com.


Thorazine as a treatment for emotional problems

Years passed since Dr. Charles Bradley’s work with setting up a model for prescribing and observing the behavioral effects of Benzedrine. By the 1950’s, more classifications about behavior resulted in new standards for diagnosis and treatment (Strohl, 2011). In 1956, Thorazine was found to have a calming effect by reducing hyperactivity and improving mood and behavior. It was advertised as being able to treat “hyperkinetic emotionally disturbed children (Freed & Peifer, 1956).”

Additionally, Thorazine is also an antipsychotic and used as a sedative for individuals suffering from psychosis. This is quite interesting considering how hyperactive children (ADHD) were thought of at the time and such drastic measures would be taken to make sure the child was completely under control and manageable. This drug quickly fell out of a favor due to its intense side effects, so naturally this lead to alternative methods for treating these hyperactive children (Freed & Peifer, 1956).

1956 advertisement states that Thorazine treats hyperactivity, mood, and poor behaviors. This ad promotes the use of Thorazine to treat children with emotional and behavioral problems. Image from http://www.whale.to/a/chlorpromazine_ads.html.

Leave a Reply