Thalidomide is a sedative-hypnotic and multiple myeloma medication. The drug is a potent teratogen in rabbits and primates including humans: severe birth defects may result if the drug is taken during pregnancy.
Thalidomide was sold in a number of countries across the world from 1957 until 1961 when it was withdrawn from the market after being found to be a cause of birth defects in what has been called "one of the biggest medical tragedies of modern times". It is not known exactly how many worldwide victims of the drug there have been, although estimates range from 10,000 to 20,000.
Since then thalidomide has been found to be a valuable treatment for a number of medical conditions and it is being prescribed again in a number of countries, although its use remains controversial. The thalidomide tragedy led to much stricter testing being required for drugs and pesticides before they can be licensed.
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Last Updated: Feb 1, 2011