Weird History
10.8k voters

The Craziest Medical Practices Doctors Thought Made Sense

Updated September 11, 2019 76.4k votes 10.8k voters 541.5k views24 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.
  • 5


    The discovery of radium led to a whole industry of radium-infused glowing products, as well as numerous quack medicines. One advertisement touted the benefits of preparing radioactive drinking water at home to cure various ailments.

    The risk wasn’t well understood until much later, when workers making radium products started dying horribly.
    Is this crazy?
  • 6

    Paraffin Wax Injections

    An early version of Botox, 19th century doctors used injections of paraffin wax to smooth out wrinkles and in breast augmentation procedures. But wax hardens, and in this case it hardened into thick, painful lumps known as paraffinomas. Once this became widely known, paraffin injections quickly stopped.
    Is this crazy?
  • 7

    A Hot Poker in the You Know Where

    Photo: Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY

    Virtually everything has a patron saint – even painful hemorrhoids. It was once believed that if a person did not pray to the canonized Irish monk St. Fiacre, who was said to protect one from such maladies, that they would suffer from hemorrhoids. If you chose not to pray to St. Fiacre and came down with them, you were sent off to the monks - who would put a red-hot iron up your anus (presumably while chanting). Alternatively, you could sit on St. Fiacre’s famous rock, the spot where the seventh-century monk was miraculously cured of his own hemorrhoids.

    Later treatments were far less painful and more effective – soaking in a hot bath.
    Is this crazy?
  • 8


    Photo: FiachraByrne / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    Early 20th century doctors were totally unprepared for the onslaught of patients with mental illness that flooded hospitals at the time. One treatment that became popular in the 1930s was lobotomy, the removal of parts of the brain in order to curb depressive symptoms.

    Even at the time, it was acknowledged that this was a dangerous procedure that often left patients with permanent disability - not to mention the destruction of their ability to function in society, their memories, and their personalities. Still, over 40,000 people were lobotomized in the US, often without consent. The procedure declined as ECT and medication became more popular.
    Is this crazy?