According to Brian Clegg, writing about “bromide” in Chemistry World this week. Bromide salts had an early role in reducing the impact of epilepsy and seizures, which were at the time thought to be caused by an over-active libido and more specifically masturbation.
“Potassium bromide was linked to the reduction of sexual passions,” writes Clegg. “It doesn’t seem unreasonable, then, that potassium bromide might be used in an attempt to reduce sexual tension in circumstances where men were isolated for long periods, hence the story of bromide in the tea [given to soldiers during the Great War]“.
Personally, I recall some time in the 1990s during the time I was contributing chemistry news and features to New Scientist magazin, I had a call from a researcher at one of the big UK soap operas at the time (no longer on our screens, oh alright it was Brookside).
The scriptwriters had a character (Sinbad) who was being overlibidinous and the researcher wanted to know if there were anything they might have his girlfriend add to his tea to temper his desires. They’d heard about “bromide”, but that does seem still to be considered something of a myth, as Brian explains.
I don’t remember what I actually told the researcher they might use, but suggested whatever it was would complicate the “humourous” plotline by introducing an element of pharmaceutical fraud, whereby the girlfriend would have to get hold of something prescription only (an antidepressant/sedative with libido-reducing side-effects, for instance).
I think in the end the scriptwriters were told to find another way that Sinbad’s girlfriend might quell his desires…given that he was the soap’s windowcleaner maybe they had her slap about the place with a wet squeegee…