Strange and Bizarre Historical Medical Treatments


Whenever we get sick or acquire injuries, we immediately go to the hospital or find a doctor that will treat us. We trust doctors to provide the diagnosis and recommend the remedy. But did you know that history is filled with stories about curious formulations, outlandish remedies, and strange cures?

If you’re scared of going to the doctor because you don’t like taking medicine or another type of treatments, you might change your mind when you find out how illnesses were being cured in the past before modern science. Here are some of the strange and bizarre historical medical treatments.

1. Children’s Soothing Syrups

During the 19th century, if your child wouldn’t go to sleep because they had teething problems or they just wanted to be comforted, a Soothing Syrup was the answer. Also known as “Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup” which was formulated with– yes, you guessed — morphine and alcohol.

This soothing syrup contained 65 mg of pure morphine. Nevertheless, it was sold over the counter and apparently sold quite well. In 1910, the New York Times released an article about this narcotic babysitter stating that it has bad effects when used for a long time. The article also said that this soothing syrup also contained– wait for it– heroin, powdered opium, cannabis indica, sulphate, chloroform, morphine hydrochloride, and codeine. Now that’s a soothing syrup that will definitely keep your child quiet and feeling well for a very, very long time.

2. Curative Powers of Mercury

China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang is said to be buried in a tomb that is surrounded by rivers of liquid mercury. It is quite ironic because it is believed he died after ingesting toxic amounts of the said element. He believed that mercury could make him immortal. But obviously, his plan didn’t work out because he didn’t live to see 40.

Mercury has been used for treating skin diseases and it is in our everyday products such as cosmetics and saline solutions. If you caught Syphilis before penicillin was ever invented, your doctor might cure your STD by prescribing you a mercurial pill or ointment. But unfortunately, this STD curing substance is quite toxic. Mercury poisoning can cause you to have psychotic reactions, delirium, hallucinations, suicidal tendencies, chest pains, heart and lung problems, coughing, tremors, and restless spleen syndrome.

3. Lobotomies

During the first half of the 20th century, if you had a mental illness such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder, you have been given a lobotomy. A lobotomy is performed by inserting a 10-inch-long ice pick through your eye socket until it reaches your brain, then your doctor will wiggle it around so that it will “Shred parts of your brain” therefore curing your depression and anxiety.

Doctors even claimed that the procedure was as quick and easy just like a trip to your dentist. In 1949, the inventor of the Lobotomy even received a Nobel Prize for it. About 70,000 people were lobotomized before the practice was discontinued because somebody figured out that sticking a 10-inch ice pick through your brain cannot entirely cure your mental illness.

4. Urine Therapy

The title speaks for itself. Urine therapy is still being used today.  It is believed that if you have athlete’s foot, you just have to pee on your feet then voila your sweaty and stinky feet problem will be gone in a heartbeat. It is also said that drinking urine promotes good health and can cure different kinds of ailments. However, there is no known evidence that urine can cure anything. It will just make you smell like a stinky porta-potty that has not been cleaned for weeks.

5. Trepanation

Just when you think it can’t get worse than a lobotomy, not to mention weird, here comes Trepanation. Basically, Trepanation is just another term for drilling holes on your head without anesthesia (Yes, you read that right.) It is said that this procedure is used to treat seizures and migraines. Trepanation was a popular procedure in the Incan and Mayan cultures and they also used this method as a cosmetic body modification.

6. Female Hysteria Cures

If you happen to be a woman who’s having PMS and mood swings during the 1900s, then you might have been diagnosed with a serious medical condition called “female hysteria.” Your friendly doctor might cure you by a vaginal massage until you achieve “hysterical paroxysm.” Given the obvious issues of performing this “massage” by the doctor, the vibrator was invented.

7. Calm Your Cough with Heroin

During the 19th century, people were very serious about suppressing the common cough. Maybe that was because Victorians were very strict when comes to social etiquette that’s an extensive coughing was considered rude. Therefore, heroin was invented as a pharmaceutical product for treating coughs. It was invented by the guys from Bayer who also make the world-famous aspirin. We don’t have to tell you how addictive and destructive heroin can be, but it really does suppress coughs.

8. Bloodletting


Ancient people believed that illnesses lived in the blood. That’s why if you had an illness, you will just have to let some of your blood out so that your illnesses will go out with it. But this procedure was discontinued in the late 1850’s.

9. Tobacco Smoke Enemas

If you lived during the 17th and 18th century and you are having difficulty in breathing and needed an urgent life-saving treatment there weren’t modern medicines to help, clear your lungs. Instead, they will blow smoke up your rear might be prescribed. This is because they believed that tobacco smoke can warm up a body and will aid in respiration.

Tobacco enemas were also used for treating colds, hernias, cholera, and headaches. They believed that nicotine can act as a stimulant to trigger your adrenal glands to produce adrenaline that will help to give strength to your body. But by 1811, scientist discovered that Nicotine has toxic effects on the human heart thus, discontinuing the procedure.

10. Radioactive Water

During the beginning of the 21st century, radioactive water was considered as a medical treatment to cure mental illness and prevent aging by stimulating cell activity. It became popular in the US that even doctors accepted it as a treatment of diarrhea and malaria.  Radium was not only infused in water, but they also mixed it in chocolates, toothpaste, suppositories, and even contraceptives.

Today radium exposure is considered deadly although our body can filter about eighty percent of radium we ingest, radium still increases the chances of cancer and other health problems.

These historical medical treatments are indeed bizarre. And who knows, the medical treatments that are prevalent today might also become strange to people after a hundred years.

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