Science, Now + Beyond

7 creepy and bizarre medical treatments that didn’t turn out so well

Medicine has evolved so much in this century alone. However, it did have its dark period - well, multiple dark periods.

Modern medicine is sometimes a miracle in disguise that we often overlook. Science has definitely come a long way, especially in the 21st century. Though it still has a cloud of suspicion surrounding it, we cannot help but be glad that science has brought about safer and less painful treatments, as opposed to earlier years.

The struggle to find better treatments has led to an industrial competition of sorts between pharmaceuticals to produce the most effective and low cost medicine. However, the intervention of organizations, like the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), has helped in the control of illegal and harmful substances. The effectiveness of these agencies are a completely different topic altogether.

Looking to the past, here are the seven creepiest medical treatments that we sure are glad don’t exist anymore.

1. Drug-infused cough syrups for your colicky toddlers

Think about all the debates happening right now in legalizing drugs. Somehow, people in the 19th century weren’t very big on understanding drugs or their effects.

More than often cough syrups contained now-illegal drugs like morphine and cocaine. They were said to be ‘soothers’ of cough and cold. They were administered to children as young as 2 years old. That’s right, cocaine-dosed 2 year olds – just think about the toddler highs.

2. Bloodletting to treat those pesky headaches and high blood pressure

For those that are unaware of this horrific practice, let me introduce you all to your nightmare. Bloodletting was (or in some cases is) the practice of puncturing the body to let blood out for the purpose of treatment. It was said to be the ideal treatment for headaches and mental illnesses.

Scientifically (according to the old-timey geniuses), too much blood in the body caused ailments. So, obviously, the only way to fully cure them was to remove the excess blood.

The sessions of bloodletting usually ended when the patients fainted due to loss of blood, which was considered to be a success. The popularity of bloodletting might be the reason why vampires decided to emerge out of their shadows in the 17th and 18th century literature.

3. Drilling to cure all your mental illnesses

Mental illness has been classified under a number of categories throughout the years.

From being believed to be a demonic possession to a punishment from a higher power, mental illness finally got its standalone classification in the recent years.

As far back as 7,000 years ago, trepanation – or the drilling of holes into a patient’s head – was seen as a common cure for any kind of headaches, migraines or other ailments. The procedure was done under no anaesthesia.

This wasn’t to be confused with lobotomy, which was something along the lines of torture.

I am just going to let that sink in for a moment. So, doctors at the time were basically Freddie Krueger with a drill, way to go, 20th century.

4. Lobotomy to better deal with mental illness

Those who have watched criminal/forensic shows might have seen something of this sort being done to the dead bodies. However people of yesteryears commonly went to get their loved ones lobotomized if they showed any sign of mental or emotional illness.

Lobotomy is basically nailing an ice pick into your brain through your eye sockets. This was done to remove bits of the brain that were thought to be causing the illness. The most horrifying fact was that even teens with mood swings were subjected to this cruel procedure to get ‘cured.’

5. Radioactive water just to heal you

Why have harmless iodine when you can get radioactive water for healing, amirite? At least, for people in the early 1900s, that was the perfect cure.

Radioactive water were popularly distributed as a treatment for wounds. That’s right: water with some radioactive elements. Radium was used by the patients of the earlier years to heal wounds.

People kind of looked with awe at the radioactive medical supplies and medicines. More often than not, chemicals like Radon or Uranium were used to make blankets or mixed with water and sold as healing water.

6. Mercury is the cure for all

Mercury was extensively used by people to treat for almost all kinds of health issues. Like most medicines of those years, mercury served a ‘one bottle for all’ attitude.

The toxic substance was ingested and applied. A number of people died as a result of intake of mercury.

7. Female Hysteria had the perfect cure

We all experience mood swings, right? Add a little of blatant chauvinism to the mix, and you have a recipe for disaster. It doesn’t help that this ‘disease’ was prescribed to women who disobeyed their husbands. The Victorian Era treated this ‘disease’ by exposing the women to the doctors who were usually male – who then ‘cured’ the matter with the necessary orgasm.

With all this being said, it’s hard to ignore the good side of science. The scientists that worked to remove the problems through scientific research should be appreciated – but, of course, until that happened, they didn’t have the science to back everything up.

  • Suha Sabith

    A recent media graduate from Manipal Dubai, Editorial Fellow Suha Sabith is a journalist in making. Her writing is usually centers around women issues and representation, when she's not busy trying to decipher fictitious narratives. An ardent fan of comics and vampire literature, Suha loves to spend time understanding their socio-political commentary or in debates over DC vs Marvel.