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The few effective remedies sold by quacks included emetics, laxatives and diuretics.
In the United States, false medicines in this era were often denoted by the slang term snake oil, a reference to sales pitches for the false medicines that claimed exotic ingredients provided the supposed benefits.However, knowledge of appropriate uses and dosages was limited.The science-based medicine community has criticized the infiltration of alternative medicine into mainstream academic medicine, education, and publications, accusing institutions of "diverting research time, money, and other resources from more fruitful lines of investigation in order to pursue a theory that has no basis in biology." R. Donnell coined the phrase "quackademic medicine" to describe this attention given to alternative medicine by academia.From the early 19th century "home-grown" American brands started to fill the gap, reaching their peak in the years after the American Civil War.British medicines never regained their previous dominance in North America, and the subsequent era of mass marketing of American patent medicines is usually considered to have been a "golden age" of quackery in the United States. A quack is a "fraudulent or ignorant pretender to medical skill" or "a person who pretends, professionally or publicly, to have skill, knowledge, qualification or credentials he or she does not possess; a charlatan or snake oil salesman".
Common elements of general quackery include questionable diagnoses using questionable diagnostic tests, as well as untested or refuted treatments, especially for serious diseases such as cancer.
With little understanding of the causes and mechanisms of illnesses, widely marketed "cures" (as opposed to locally produced and locally used remedies), often referred to as patent medicines, first came to prominence during the 17th and 18th centuries in Britain and the British colonies, including those in North America.
Daffy's Elixir and Turlington's Balsam were among the first products that used branding (e.g.
These "typical" patent or quack medicines were marketed in very different, and highly distinctive, bottles.
Each brand retained the same basic appearance for more than 100 years.
Quackery is often described as "health fraud" with the salient characteristic of aggressive promotion.