Was Quezon Given Poison for Medicine? Diary Reveals Doctor's Prescriptions

Deadly nightshade was on President Quezon's list of prescribed medicines two months before he passed.

Back in 1944, doctors and scientists lacked the proper technology and research to determine which types of substances are actually good or bad for your health. For example, colloidal silver was once used as a homeopathic medicine, but with the side effect of your skin turning blue.

President Manuel Quezon may have been one of the patients who received some of these substances that would qualify as poisonous nowadays. The Philippine Diary Project reveals seven entries in the clinical record of the statesman, describing the prescriptions of Dr. John N. Hayes a mere two months before he died of complications from tuberculosis.

A certain entry dated June 20, 1944, provides the following prescription:

Give m VI. of Tr. Belladonna 15 min. before each meal. —Dr. Hayes

When we presented the text to some doctors who studied the history of medicine, they interpreted it to mean “Six measurements of tincture of Belladonna taken 15 minutes before each meal.” However, "m.VI" could also mean "multiple vitamins injection" typically given to adults.

In those days, the International System of Units was not yet widely used in medical practice, so doctors prescribed substances in terms of grain or elixir (milliliters).

There’s a reason why Belladonna is also known as deadly nightshade, because it can kill a person especially if the dose is strong. A substance is  only considered poisonous if given in excessive doses, hence we have alcohol poisoning and even water poisoning, even if alcohol and water are not considered poisons. If the diary is accurate, President Quezon was being given deadly nightshade three or four times a day.


According to WebMD, Belladonna has chemicals that can block the functions of the body's nervous system. Encyclopedia Britannica describes it as a "highly poisonous plant". In the past, it was commonly  taken by mouth as a sedative and as a way to stop bronchial spasms. Nowadays, Belladonna is widely regarded as a poisonous substance. 

You can look at the seven other entries from President Quezon’s clinical records here.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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