Science

Scientists describe the effects of ingesting George’s Marvellous Medicine

Scientists are urging children and parents not to try recreating George’s Marvellous Medicine and other home remedies while stuck at home due to Covid-19

UK researchers investigated the effects of the famous potion from the 1981 children’s book by British author Roald Dahl, which protagonist George feeds to his grandma in an attempt to make her less ‘grouchy’.  

After ingesting the eponymous medicine, Grandma experiences sudden invigoration and grows as tall as the house, bursting through the roof. 

Researchers performed an ‘exhaustive toxicological investigation’ into the potion and all 34 of its ingredients – which include lipstick, shoe polish, ‘extra hot’ chilli sauce, brown paint, gin and animal medicines.

If ingested, it would cause vomiting, kidney injury, convulsions and other severe health problems, including ‘the most likely clinical outcome’, death, the British experts found. 

Increased time at home during the Covid-19 pandemic may inspire budding scientists to search for a cure for the disease, but the experts give a strongly-worded warning of the potential toxicity of homemade potions. 

George’s Marvellous Medicine making the potentially lethal potion, as depicted by illustrator Quentin Blake for the 1981 classic

The research was performed by Dr Graham Johnson at the University Hospital of Derby and Burton and Dr Patrick Davies Nottingham Children’s Hospital.

‘The overall outcome for grandma would be fatal catastrophic physiological collapse,’ they warn in the Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal

‘It is unlikely that children will recreate each step in the making of a marvellous-type medicine, but it is worth being cautious as some of the household ingredients used by George are considerably dangerous and commonly cause severe morbidity in children.

‘Although parents might encourage scientific exploration and experimentation in their children, it would be wise to check any medicinal ingredients for potential toxicity before use.’ 

In the 1981 book, George progresses through his home while his parents are away, using 34 household products to create a special potion for his grouchy grandma, who he also lives with.  

Once boiled up and ingested by Grandma, she shouts ‘oweeee’ and goes ‘whoosh’ into the air, shooting through the roof and causing major structural damage to the family home thanks to her suddenly elongated body. 

George and his excitable father later attempt to recreate the medicine to pinpoint George’s spontaneous preparation method to sell the medicine to farmers in the hope it would yield gigantic chickens and eggs. 

Since the 2010 edition of the book was printed, it has featured the declaration: ‘WARNING TO READERS: Do not try to make George’s Marvellous Medicine yourselves at home. It could be dangerous.’

An illustration from the book - George about to administer his medicine to his 'grousing, grouching, grumbling, griping' grandma

An illustration from the book – George about to administer his medicine to his ‘grousing, grouching, grumbling, griping’ grandma 

As most unintentional poisonings occur at home – and are a leading cause of accidental child death – researchers were concerned of a risk of attempted reproduction of the potion. 

Home schooling due to lockdown ‘produced the ideal conditions for children to be placed at increased risk of unintentional poisoning’, the experts say. 

The two researchers and their five children read George’s Marvellous Medicine and listed all ingredients in the concoction. 

These were then examined against the National Poisons Information Service (ToxBase) poisons database, in lieu of actually feeding it to someone.  

‘Toxbase is a large repository of guidelines produced by the National Poisons Information Service (NPIS) for common and not so common potential toxins,’ Dr Johnson told MailOnline.

‘All ingredients were matched with the corresponding, or as closely possible corresponding, listing on NPIS. 

A list of the 34 ingredients that make up the eponymous medicine marked with the effects that they could cause if ingested

A list of the 34 ingredients that make up the eponymous medicine marked with the effects that they could cause if ingested  

They found the most common potential symptom was nausea and vomiting, which was listed as a common effect for 16 of the 34 ingredients – 47 per cent in all. 

A total of 11 ingredients, 32 per cent of the total, were linked to diarrhoea and six (18 per cent) to heart rhythm problems. 

Potentially life-threatening effects were linked to 13 (38 per cent) ingredients, including kidney injury, convulsions, and damage to the stomach lining. 

Treatments for this multi-level poisoning are complex and would need immediate high-level care, say the authors.

Ingredients such as sheep dip (used to protect sheep from infestation against parasites), dark tan shoe polish and floor polish would cause erosion of the mucosa – membrane that lines cavities in the body – and would likely cause severe indigestion.

One of the less dangerous ingredients, gin, was only associated with central nervous system depression, when the body’s normal neurological functions slow down. 

After ingesting one spoonful of George’s Marvellous Medicine, Grandma initially  ‘shot up whoosh into the air’ and when she landed she shouted suddenly ‘My stomach’s on fire!’

2016 edition of the book published by Puffin

2016 edition of the book published by Puffin

Researchers admitted these first two effects of ingesting the medicine as depicted in the book ‘was extremely accurate’. 

Grandma then levitates in the air with black smoke coming out of her nostrils. 

George’s treatment of a half a jug of water for Grandma at this point in the story is ‘unlikely to have been helpful’ and might have increased the risk of later aspiration (inhaling substances into the lungs) as well as of later cardiogenic shock.  

Shortly after, Grandma no longer feels any ill effects of the mixture and grows to the size of a house, breaking through the roof – and the effect of the medicine ‘diverges from reality’, the experts report.  

‘None of the 34 ingredients are documented as having any individual effect on growth, they say. 

The authors point to several limitations of their study, including the fact they did not combine the medicine as described so are ‘unable to comment on the chemical interactions’ which may occur between the ingredients.

Also, the precise dose of the medicine taken by Grandma is not documented, leading to some assumptions on their behalf regarding the exact physical effects.

And they did not assess the effects of heat on the medicine, which would have replicated George putting the medicine on the hob in the book. 

‘Although this process is usually used to catalyse chemical reactions, it most likely would have only made the mixture more concentrated,’ they say. 

The effects of chanting and dancing (‘And suddenly, George found himself dancing around the steaming pot, chanting strange words’), also unlikely affected ‘the physical properties and physiological effects of the medicine’. 

Most importantly, with the extra time being spent at home by children, and their natural desire to experiment and explore, ‘it is vital that parents are well informed to ensure their children’s safety’, they conclude. 

THE 34 INGREDIENTS IN GEORGE’S MARVELLOUS MEDICINE 

In the 1981 book, George progresses through his home while his parents are away, using various household products to create a special potion for his grouchy grandma.

George combines 33 ingredients taken from the bathroom, the bedroom, the laundry room, the kitchen, the shed and the garage, before boiling it up in a big pot.

He then adds a final ingredient – dark brown gloss paint – so the marvellous medicine resembles Grandma’s real medicine. 

Once ingested, Grandma shouts ‘oweeee’ and goes ‘whoosh’ into the air, shooting through the roof and causing major structural damage to the family home. 

George and his excitable father later attempt to recreate the medicine to pinpoint George’s spontaneous preparation method. 

The original ingredients, which experts ADVISE AGAINST ingesting in combination for risk of death, are as follows:  

 Toothpaste

 Golden gloss hair shampoo

 Superfoam shaving soap

 Vitamin enriched face cream

Scarlet nail varnish 

Hair remover 

Dishworth’s dandruff cure 

Brillident false teeth cleaner 

Nevermore ponking deodorant 

Liquid paraffin 

Helga’s hairset 

Perfume: ‘Flower’s of turnips’ 

Pink plaster powder 

Lipsticks 

Superwhite washing powder 

Waxwell floor polish 

Flea powder for dogs 

 Canary seed

Dark tan shoe polish

Curry powder

Mustard powder

‘Extra hot’ chilli sauce

Black peppercorns

Horseradish sauce

Fowl pest powder to mix with feed

Purple pills for hoarse horses

Thick yellowish liquid for cows

Sheep dip

Pig pills for swine sickness

Engine oil

Antifreeze

Grease

Dark brown gloss paint

And, Grandma’s favourite, gin 


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