Crazy Medical Practices You'll Be Glad Are Well And Truly In The Past

Portrait of a Doctor with surprise expression.
Zoonar RF via Getty Images
Portrait of a Doctor with surprise expression.

Medicine has come a looooong way over the years. Gone are the days where a medical practitioner would happily lop off half of your tongue to cure you of a stutter. (Seriously -- this was a thing in the 18th and 19th centuries).

Now we can safely look back and shake our heads from a distance, The Huffingon Post Australia thought we'd round up some of the craziest medical practices ever employed. Warning: some of these are not for the faint of heart.

Heroin cough syrup -- for children

Nothing quite like some heroin to soothe little Jimmy's cough. While German drug company Bayer can be credited for commercialising aspirin (and honestly -- where would we be without it today?) they also sold heroin as as cure for the common cough and cold.

The opiate was available to purchase from the late 1890s and was marketed towards children in a number of advertisments, with Business Insider reporting the drug was marketed to children up to as late as 1912.

Ironically, one of the reasons heroin was developed in the first place was as a non-addictive substitute to morphine.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be even worse than its predecessor. Bayer ceased making heroin in 1913.


Who knew this humble little rodent was once thought to have medicinal properties?

Ancient Egyptians thought a toothache could be cured by making a kind of 'dead mouse paste' with herbs and other ingredients, while in Elizabethan England, half a dead mouse was used to treat warts.

Ice pick to the brain

Lobotomies were once wildly popular in America, with an estimated 40,000 - 50,000 performed during the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Originally performed by drilling into the brain, psychiatrist Water Freeman came up with a ten-minute method widely referred to as the 'ice pick' lobotomy, which saw a pick go into the patients brain via the eye.

Lobotomies were usually performed on the mentally ill, with the idea that by removing 'extra emotions' by cutting certain nerves in the brain, they could be cured.

Patients were rendered unconscious by electric shock before Freeman performed the procedure. Results varied from successful to tragic, and the practice declined in popularity as anti-psychotic drugs became available.

The female orgasm

Did you know the vibrator was actually developed as a medicinal tool? Back in the 19th century, it was widely believed women did not possess a sex drive and should pretty much just have sex to please their partners and bear children.

Surprise, surprise -- this meant there were plenty of sexually frustrated women going around -- but doctors referred to this condition as 'hysteria'.

The cure? Head to your local midwife or medical practitioner for a genital massage that would ultimately result in an orgasm and, hey presto, the 'hysteria' symptoms would dissipate. (Fun side fact -- physicians called the female orgasm 'paroxysms' because there was no such thing as a woman climaxing.)

Vibrators were invented to give the poor doctors a break from all the massages they were having to perform. Hysteria, indeed.

Bloodletting and leeches

Bloodletting has been around since the time of the Egyptians, but reached its peak of popularity in Europe in the 19th century.

Basically, the practice evolved because it was believed the human body contained elements of air, water, earth and fire in the form of liquids (blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile.)

According to this theory, one reason a patient displayed signs of illness was due to the elements being out of balance.

A remedy to cure this was bloodletting -- the practice of relieving a patient of 'extra' blood.

This could be done by cutting a vein and draining the patient of a certain amount of blood (known as "breathing a vein") or by using leeches.

The use of leeches in Europe peaked between 1830 and 1850, then fell into decline, though they are still sometimes used in Western medicine today in surgery to help heal skin grafts and restore blood circulation, or to remove congested blood from a wound.

Cocaine in the eye

Cocaine is typically more associated with the nose these days, but originally it was used to assist with eye surgery.

In 1884 Austrian ophthalmologist Karl Koller discovered the tissue-numbing properties of the drug and would use a few drops of cocaine as a local anesthetic before surgery. It was deemed so effective, other physicians started using it as an anesthetic for procedures on the throat and nose as well.

Later, the use of cocaine spread to medicinal tonics, "cocoa wine", toothache drops and, of course, Coca Cola.

Goat testicles

We can attribute the use of goat testicles in medicine thanks to an individual called John R. Brinkley who wasn't even a doctor -- he bought his diploma from a diploma mill for the sum of $500.

In the early 1900s, Brinkley became one of the wealthiest doctors in America, after claiming he could cure impotence, infertility, and other sexual problems by surgically implanting goat testicles into a man's scrotum.

He appropriately earned the nickname of the 'Goat Gland Doctor', and while he captured the imaginations of rich aging men across the country, his medical colleagues were less than impressed. His procedures were extremely dangerous -- rotting goats' testicles and gangrenous incisions brought death to several hundred patients.

Suggest a correction