Before technology evolved to what it is today and efficient medical equipment was acquired, doctors treated patients using certain procedures that, from hindsight, were peculiar. Interestingly, some of these weird medical practices were exceptionally effective. Here are 12 outrageous medical practices that you’ll have never thought existed.

1. Blood and Mummy Powder

While blood and organ donation is an accepted practice in modern medicine, the Buin Ancient Egypt took the idea to a whole new level that’s not far from cannibalism. A gladiator’s blood was considered a cure for epilepsy and made one stronger, so they were constantly hunted down. Mummy powder also had various medicinal uses like treating migraines. Ancient Egyptians would also keep body parts and bones as magical ornaments.

2. Bee Venom

Ancient Greeks believed bee venom was a cure for arthritis and joint pain. Centuries later, a study showed that bee venom contains melittin, which has anti-inflammatory properties. However, at the time, no studies supported the above claims, so people would willingly accept being stung by bees.

3. Milk Transfusions

In the late 1800s, doctors used to practice milk transfusions; they believed milk’s oily qualities made it the perfect substitute for blood. Even substituting blood with an incompatible one can cause severe reactions, so you can imagine what replacing blood with milk can do to a patient. Those who were injected with milk died, and the practice was eventually halted.

4. Whirling Chairs

Over time, mental health patients have received their fair share of unconventional treatments. However, as psychiatrists were embracing more humane treatments for mental health, they invented whirling chairs. Their objective was to “shuffle” contents in the patient’s brain, hoping to alleviate symptoms of schizophrenia. Unfortunately, this practice was equally ineffective.

5. Trepanation

This entails drilling a hole in a patient’s skull without anesthetic. Trepanation has existed for centuries and wasn’t always used for medical purposes. It was often a spiritual practice to remove evil spirits from a patient’s mind. Trepanation was also used to treat migraines and seizures. As dangerous as this practice may sound, a lot of patients survived it.

6. Prefrontal Lobotomy

Still on drilling holes in a person’s skull, as the medical industry was advancing, trepanation turned into prefrontal lobotomy. This outrageous medical practice was introduced by Walter Freeman and entailed hammering the area between the eye sockets with a sharp instrument. The goal of prefrontal lobotomy was to separate nerve fibers in the brain that are responsible for thinking and communication with other parts.

According to Walter Freeman, prefrontal lobotomies were the cure for mental conditions – he conducted the first live experiment in 1936. He traveled around the US, showing off his new treatment for mental illness.

Prefrontal lobotomies were a massive failure because 15% of the patients died, whereas others were left fully incapacitated, like Rosemary Kennedy, sister to former President JF Kennedy. Freeman stopped performing lobotomies in 1967 when he caused brain hemorrhage in one of his former patients in California.

7. Mercury

Mercury has been used for centuries as an antiseptic to alleviate many diseases. For instance, before the invention of penicillin in 1928, doctors would prescribe mercury to treat syphilis and other infections. However, mercury is a highly hazardous ingredient that can cause organ failure. It can also irritate the skin, eyes, and throat. As such, it is rarely used in that sense in modern medicine.

8. Radioactive Water

It’s common sense that people should stay as far away from radioactive elements as possible. However, in the early 1900s, radioactive water was advertised as a cure for mental illness, aging, malaria, and diarrhea. Strangely enough, medical experts approved radioactive water for the above conditions.

Radioactive water was so popular that manufacturers started infusing radium into toothpaste, chocolates, and contraceptives. After a few years, this medical practice was discontinued because of the rising cancer cases among users.

9. Vibrators to Treat “Hysteria”

Before the 21st century, it was a standard belief that women didn’t have intimate climaxes; therefore, a condition called hysteria was coined. Hysteria led to the popularization of pelvic massages to achieve hysterical paroxysms, something we today know as intimate satisfaction.

In the quest to find a more efficient method of attaining hysterical paroxysm, an electric vibrator was invented in the late 1800s. Unlike the pelvic massages that would last hours, these tools worked in less than 10 minutes. In the early 1900s, adult film stars started using them for pleasure. Today, they have widespread use, but none include medicinal purposes.

10. Morphine in OTC Medication

Even though morphine is legal, it is heavily regulated because it’s highly addictive. However, when it was introduced 200 years ago, morphine was loosely available. During both World Wars, it was heavily used for pain management. The drug was so available that it could be used as an at-home remedy. During the early 1900s, it was sold in OTC medications for insomnia, colds, and menstrual cramps. There was even a baby morphine soother known as Mrs. Winslow’s soothing syrup. Injection kits were also available at the time.

11. Chloroform

Chloroform is commonly used to sedate victims by criminals. However, at some point, it was also used by some doctors to treat asthma. Yes, there are asthma patients who noticed some improvement after using it, but the majority succumbed majorly due to overdose.

12. Tobacco Smoke Enemas

In the 1700s, doctors would shoot tobacco smoke up a patient’s behinds in life-or-death scenarios. There were specially made tobacco enema resuscitation kits fitted with rubber rectal tubes. The reasoning behind this medical practice was that tobacco smoke warms up the body, and that can help kick start respiration and other vital organ activities. This perhaps made small sense, considering the nicotine in tobacco is a stimulant.

Besides being used for resuscitation, tobacco smoke enemas also came in handy in the treatment of cholera, typhoid, and colds. However, in the early 1800s, doctors discovered that tobacco was harmful to heart health, and the use of tobacco enemas was discontinued.

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Last Update: June 5, 2024