At the beginning of the XX century, the shelves of American pharmacies were full of strange
medicines and devices. It's widely known that cocaine was completely legal, cheap and used
in all sorts of remedies, from cough syrups to Vin Mariani (at the time, Coca-cola actually
contained extract from the leaves of erythroxylon coca).
Pharmacists could buy and sell hot stuff. A lot hotter than, say, a bag full of cocaine.
And we are talking about a whole different kind of heat here...
Radon water: scientists had just discovered that the healing waters from many natural hot
springs are radioactive (this is due to the presence of radon, a gas produced by the decay of
thorium and uranium). Since nobody knew what was the "healing component" of those waters,
radiation was as good a guess as any, and bottles of radon-laced water started to
appear on the market.
Radon Ore Revigator: when somebody pointed out that the half-life of radon is 3.82 days,
it became clear that by the time you actually drank it, Radon Water had lost most of its
healing qualities. To counter this, a company developed and sold a watercooler lined
with carnotite, an ore of uranium and radium, whose decay produced radon gas.
Radithor: tired of drinking radium? Try the new-and-improved radium and thorium mix. The
manufacturers were so sure of the quality of their product that they put up a $1000 prize
as a guarantee that the radioactivity of their water was up to what the label claimed.
The gruesome death of Eben Byers was caused directly by his thirst for Radithor.
Radiendocrinator: those people who felt that radioactive water wasn't good enough for them
could buy this small box that contained paper infused with 250 microcuries of radium.
This gadget was powerful enough to light up a fluorescent screen placed nearby. Instead
of shutting it into a lead safe and dumping it in a salt mine at midnight, the instructions
cheerfully told you to place the box near your endocrine glands.
The market had its share of fraudulent products - plain water labeled as radioactive, for
instance - and in a curious twist the government had to prosecute some unscrupulous
sellers because their products were actually harmless.