Weird History

The Craziest Medical Practices Doctors Thought Made Sense  

Mike Rothschild
56.4k votes 8.6k voters 449k views 24 items

Modern medicine has seen more development in the past fifty years than in all of human history combined. Many long practiced medical treatments now seem completely insane in retrospect - things like putting animal dung on a wound, drinking urine, carving holes in your skull, or drinking potions made of morphine or mercury. What are the craziest medical practices from all of human history? What was once used as medicine but was later found to be, well, actually super dangerous?

There were lots of weird things used as medicine before the advent of modern science. However, some of these practices continue in one form or another - no matter how crazy they are, if something works, doctors are going to keep doing it.

Here are some of the dangerous medical practices from yonder days, a few of which survive in some form, and some others which almost certainly killed those who partook in them. Upvote the medical treatments that you think are the most nuts and are glad that went by the wayside, thanks to scientific advancements and modern medicine.
1
Intentional Malaria Infection
Intentional Malaria Infection is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Craziest Medical Practices Doctors Thought Made Sense
Photo: CDC/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
An early version of “chicken pox parties” involved intentionally infecting syphilis patients with malaria. The theory was that the fever produced by the malaria would kill off the syphilis, and that the malaria would then be cleared up through some other terrible treatment. In reality, the malaria usually just killed the person who had the syphilis.
Is this crazy?
2
Sex with a Virgin
Sex with a Virgin is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Craziest Medical Practices Doctors Thought Made Sense
Photo: National Gallery of Art/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
The troubling myth that someone infected with a “social disease” can transfer it to a virgin through sex dates back to at least the 16th Century, when the practice was first documented in relation to powerful men trying to rid themselves of syphilis and gonorrhea. Sadly, this ridiculous superstition continues in some parts of the developing world, especially Africa, leading to many cases of reported child rape.
Is this crazy?
3
Dead Mouse Cures
Dead Mouse Cures is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Craziest Medical Practices Doctors Thought Made Sense
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.5
Dead mice were used for medicinal purposes all the way back in Ancient Egypt, where they’d be blended with other compounds to ease toothache pain. Later, the English in the time of Elizabeth I cured their warts by cutting a mouse in half and applying it to the spots. Bits of dead mice were also used to treat whooping cough, measles, smallpox, and bed-wetting – all to varying degrees of success.
Is this crazy?
4
Liquid Mercury
Liquid Mercury is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Craziest Medical Practices Doctors Thought Made Sense
Photo: Bionerd/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

The silver liquid was an extremely popular medical treatment from ancient times until fairly recently. The ancient Persians and Greeks used it as an ointment, and second century Chinese alchemists prized liquid mercury for its supposed ability to increase lifespan and vitality. Some healers even promised that by consuming mercury, sulfur, and arsenic, one could gain eternal life and the ability to walk on water.

Needless to say, this did not work, delivering not eternal life, but an extremely painful death. Even later, mercury was used to treat sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis – again often killing those it was used on.
Is this crazy?