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Jake leg

Posted by ESC on November 11, 2003

JAKE LEG - Paralysis brought on by drinking jake, Jamaican ginger extract, a patent medicine. It is believed that the malady was first discovered in Oklahoma City by Dr. Ephraim Goldfain in February 1930. "The first person to record a connection between jake and the paralysis may have been Ishmon Bracey, the black blues singer who cut 'Jake Liquor Blues' in Grafton, Wisconsin, in March of 1930." Jake leg "afflicted enough souls to instigate an entire subject of folk music. Blacks and whites were affected. It rendered men impotent. And it was no longer inspiring musicians by 1934, which meant it was a cataclysmic but discrete event." What had turned the harmless patent medicine into a crippler was the addition of tri-ortho-cresyl-phosphate, TOCP, a "plasticizer" used to keep synthetic materials from becoming brittle. This was during Prohibition and the Treasury Department tackled "the problem of people getting too much pleasure from patent-medicine tippling by ordering that the solids in fluid extracts be doubled." TOCP was believed to be harmless and was used to "boost the solids." Dr. John Morgan, a professor at the City University of New York Medical, has been researching the issue "off and on" for 27 years and has put together a CD collection of 17 tunes mentioning "jack leg," including one by Gene Autry. From "Annals of Epidemiology: Jake Leg: How the blues diagnose a medical mystery" by Dan Baum. The New Yorker, Sept. 15, 2003. Page 50.