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20 Common Drugs That Were Originally Invented for a Very Different Purpose


Also known as lithium salts, these are currently used to treat manic episodes most commonly associated with bipolar disorder. However, this little compound was first used as a treatment for gout and bladder stones.


Cortisone is used for skin inflammation, skin conditions, and breathing disorders. This drug’s surprising origin is in the U.S. military. Cortisone was first isolated by the Mayo Clinic, but the military quickly adapted it for use in the field to help keep stress levels down. Today, it isn’t military-specific or used for relieving stress. 

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You’d recognize this medicine from the commercials. It’s a popular hair growth prescription and works pretty well. It was originally invented to treat high blood pressure, but scientists quickly noticed it’s potential for treating baldness. 


This is one of the most commonly prescribed drugs to treat erectile dysfunction. Funny enough, this drug was created to treat high blood pressure and angina, which is characterized by bad chest pain from poor blood flow. 


This handy drug is used to prevent and treat breast cancer, which is one of the deadliest forms of cancer. It was first used as an anti-fertility drug, strangely enough, but was quickly adapted to treat cancer.


Also known as Zidovudine or Retrovir, AZT is an antiviral used to treat HIV. This life-saving medicine was invented to treat leukemia. Unfortunately, most leukemia treatments today consist of chemotherapy and transplant surgeries, which can also take a toll on your health. 


This is commonly used to treat anxiety and seizures and is known for its dangerous side effects and interactions. It was discovered on accident when scientists were working on a class of dyes. The group then turned it into medicine when they found out about the calming effects. 


What do depression and tuberculosis have in common? The same medicine, Iproniazid, was used to treat both of them. It was first used to treat tuberculosis, a bacterial infection of the lungs. Today, it’s an effective treatment for depression.


Everyone is familiar with Botox, although, you probably know it for being used in cosmetic surgery. It was indeed originally meant for filling in wrinkles and fixing eyelid twitches but is now used for so much more. People with Parkinson’s, internal spasms, and chronic migraines are turning to Botox for relief. 


It’s weird to think that something originally used for killing is now ingested regularly by a lot of people. Warfarin, a commonly prescribed blood thinner, was first used as an ingredient in rat poison. Luckily, it isn’t meant to be a poison anymore. 

Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous oxide was actually first used as a treatment for tuberculosis. If you’ve ever had a tooth filling at the dentist, then you know that nitrous oxide is now used in oral surgery. 


Thalidomide is an effective treatment for bone marrow cancer and leprosy, which is an infectious disease that causes skin lesions and nerve damage. Now, this medicine is used as a sedative. 


Osteoporosis is a condition where your bones become weak and brittle, and this can cause pain. Raloxifene is a drug that’s used to ease the symptoms of this disease, but it wasn’t always mean for weak bones. It was originally created to reduce the risk of breast cancer. 


Rapamycin is a nifty little medicine used for treating a rare but serious lung disease and for coating coronary stents. This nifty little drug helps by stopping T and B cells from activating and reducing those cells’ sensitivity. However, it was originally used for treating organ transplant failure.


While Lomitapide was first used to lower cholesterol, it was also used as an addition to a low-fat diet. Now, this cholesterol wonder drug treats a rare genetic disorder which causes abnormally high cholesterol. 


Pentostatin has helped save many lives, considering its a chemotherapeutic drug. It was first used to treat hairy cell leukemia but is now also used in leukemia patients who have relapsed. This wonder drug has even been prescribed for graft skin graft surgery rejection.

Sodium Nitrate

Here’s a drug that went on to treat very different conditions. Other than being used as a food additive, it was first used to cure cyanide poisoning. Today, sodium nitrate treats leg ulcers. 


This is a case of unexpected side effects leading to an entirely different medicine. Disulfiram was originally used as an antiparasitic but is now a treatment for those with a drinking problem. The drug works by making users violently sick if they drink alcohol while the medicine is in their body. 


If you've ever had food poisoning, you know how bad it feels. Cisplatin was first used to treat E. coli., the leading cause of food poisoning. Now, this drug is a chemotherapy treatment used for testicular and bladder cancer. 


Just like with Rogaine, Propecia is a hair-growth drug that was discovered on accident. First used to treat enlargement of the prostate, this medicine is now approved to treat hair loss in men, excessive hair growth in women, and as hormone therapy for transgender women.