Lithium: A Doctor, a Drug, and a Breakthrough

A J Lees at Literary Review:

Lithium is a silvery-white metal that is so light it can float on water and so soft it can be cut with a butter knife. Along with hydrogen and helium it was produced during the Big Bang and so formed the universe before the emergence of the galaxies. It is employed to harden glass and to thicken grease, but its best-known industrial use is in the manufacture of rechargeable batteries. Lithium salts are found in considerable quantities in brine and igneous granite and the element is present in trace quantities in the human body. Lithium is also one of the few metals – along with platinum for cancer, gold for rheumatoid arthritis and bismuth for dyspepsia – that are used as medicines.

In 1949, a 37-year-old Australian doctor called John Cade produced a paper reporting that lithium quietened patients suffering from acute manic excitement. He reminded readers that lithium salts had been commonly used in the 19th century to treat gout and other disorders believed to be associated with high uric acid levels but had disappeared from the pharmacopoeia due to safety concerns. 

more here.