Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Aspirin and Heroin

Delicious as a main course or as a side dish, good for the heart, and a crackerjack pain reliever, aspirin was first synthesized by Felix Hoffman in 1899:

Hoffmann, who was said to be seeking an effective pain reliever for his father's rheumatism, successfully synthesized acetylsalicylic acid in August 1897. It would later be marketed as aspirin — "a" for "acetyl" and "spirin" for Spirea, the genus name of the source plant for salicylic acid, the pain-relieving agent.

That August, incidentally, was an especially fertile period for Hoffmann: The month also saw him synthesize heroin, which he accomplished accidentally while attempting to acetylate morphine to produce codeine. Obviously, that discovery didn't pan out like aspirin.
Well, sure, heroin didn't pan out like aspirin in a few obvious ways. For starters, heroin, unlike aspirin, took Felix Hoffman completely out of the chemistry game and converted him into a drooling addict of little use to Bayer or anyone else. The article doesn't say that, but I say it's a fair guess given all the "research" Hoffman was conducting with the likes of codeine and morphine. Lo and behold, wikipedia all but confirms my defamatory inference:
Following the synthesis of aspirin, Hoffmann changed to the pharmaceutical marketing department, where he stayed until his retirement in 1928.
Notice the immediate switch from synthesizing aspirin and heroin to joining the marketing department. Marketing departments are and ever have been pits from which much drooling delusion and empty euphoria proceed -- and little more.

Still, Hoffman had a good run acting on William Blake's aphorism, "the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom" by playing around with the likes of morphine and codeine. It is no small thing to give the world aspirin.

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