13 Bizarre Historical Medical Treatments

by Unbelievable Facts5 years ago

8 Crocodile dung as birth control

In ancient Egypt, crocodile dung was the contraceptive of choice. Dried dung was inserted into the vagina, the idea being that it would soften as it reached body temperature to form an impenetrable barrier.

Crocodile dung as birth control
Image credit: Steve Fernie, Flickr/Creative Commons via

One of the earliest documented methods of birth control was the use of crocodile dung. Ancient Egyptian women (circa 1800 BCE) used this unusual ingredient as a form of contraceptive. They used to mix the crocodile dung with fermented dough.

Then they used to put the preparation inside their vaginas to block sperm from reaching their uteri. Even in ancient India and the Middle East, people used elephant feces for a similar form of birth control.

Putting aside the unsanitary nature of inserting animal feces into one’s body, it’s unknown how effective this method would have been.

Some researchers believe that the alkaline nature of the dung could have killed the sperm, while others say that by increasing the naturally acidic vagina’s pH, it was actually making pregnancy more likely as greater alkalinity is beneficial for sperm.(1,2)


9 Trepanning to treat head injuries

More than 1,000 years ago, a surgical procedure that involved removing a section of the cranial vault using a hand drill or a scraping tool was used to treat a variety of ailments, from head injuries to heartsickness.

Image source: wikimedia, Image credit: Hieronymus Bosch/wikimedia

“Trepanning” is a surgical procedure in which holes are drilled into the skull of a person to treat health problems associated with intracranial diseases or release pressured blood buildup from an injury.

In ancient times, holes were drilled into a person who was behaving in somewhat an abnormal manner. People believed that this would help to let out the evil spirits from the body of the person. Evidence of trepanation has been found in prehistoric human remains since Neolithic times.

Cave paintings indicate that this practice was used to cure epileptic seizures, migraines, and mental disorders. Evidence of healing and bony scar tissue around the holes show that this treatment actually worked.

In modern medical practices, trepanation is a treatment used for epidural and subdural hematomas. Modern surgeons generally use the term “craniotomy” for this procedure.(1,2,3)


10 Snake oil for arthritis

For centuries, snake oil has been a folk remedy in Chinese medicine, used primarily to treat joint pain such as arthritis and bursitis. In the 1980s, research revealed that snake oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids that help to reduce inflammation.

Snake Oil, Arthritis patient
Image credits: Clark Stanley/wikimedia, handarmdoc/flickr

Throughout the 19th-century, snake oil was used to treat arthritis, heart disease, and even depression. In China, oil made from the fat of the Chinese water snake (Enhydris chinensis) is a traditional medicine used for treating joint pain.

This particular oil contains 20 percent eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which has strong anti-inflammatory properties.

Chinese laborers were the first to give snake oil to treat joint pain such as arthritis and bursitis to their fellow American workers. When rubbed on the skin at the painful site, this particular medicine was claimed to bring relief.

However, this was ridiculed by rival medicine salesmen, and in time, snake oil became a generic name for any fraudulent product whose ingredients were not known or analyzed.

But in the 1980s, Richard Kunin, a California psychiatrist with a background in neurophysiology research, found in his research that snake oil is a potential source of omega-3 fatty acids.

These acids not only reduce inflammation such as arthritis pain, but also improve cognitive function and reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, and even depression. Snake oil may have been quite effective after all.(source)


11 Farts in a jar to cure plague

When the Great Plague hit in the 1660s, doctors suggested patients store foul bodily vapors, like farts, in a jar and smell them to get better.

Farts in Jar, Great Plague of London
Image credit: Tarcher Books via aolnews.com, wikimedia

The Great Plague of London devastated the city between 1665 and 1666. Doctors at that time apparently believed that the plague was caused by deadly air vapors spreading throughout the atmosphere.

Hence, they felt that if a patient could somehow dilute the polluted air with something equally potent, like a fart, then it might reduce the chances of contracting the illness. So they advised their patients to store farts in a jar and smell them to cure the illness.

David Haviland, author of the medical trivia book Why You Should Store Your Farts in a Jar & Other Oddball or Gross Maladies, Afflictions, Remedies and ‘Cures’, points out that: “This way, when the plague appeared in their neighborhood, they could open the jar and inhale the fumes to ward off the bad vapors that came with the disease. It made sense to them.”(source)


12 Heroin as a cough syrup

The German drug company Bayer started their professional medical career by selling heroin in a syrup form in 1898. Heroin syrup was prescribed to treat coughs, even for small children, and for other things such as insomnia and back pain.

Bayer Heroin cough syrup and marketing material
Image credit: Mpv_51/wikimedia, Image source: weedist.com

Bayer, the German drug company, made their first fortunes when they commercialized both aspirin and heroin as cough, cold, and pain remedies in the 1890s. Moreover, there have been ads where Bayer promoted heroin for use in children suffering from coughs, colds, and “irritation” as late as 1912. Have a look at the ad below:

La tos desaparece
Image source: bebesymas.com

The ad ran in Spanish newspapers and showed a mom spoon-feeding it to her sick little girl. “La tos desaparece,” the ad said, which means “the cough disappears.” There was another ad that showed two unattended children reaching for a bottle of the opiate across a kitchen table.

Heroin was restricted to prescription-only use in the US in 1914. Eventually, it was banned by the FDA altogether in 1924, except to be used under very strict medical conditions.(source)


13 Snail syrup for coughs and other ailments

In the 18th century, snail syrup was believed to cool, thicken, consolidate, and strengthen the nerves, and cure coughs, asthmas, spitting of blood and consumptions.

Snail syrup
Image credit: vauclusedreamer.com

Formulations prepared from snail have been used as medicine for ages. Hippocrates also proposed the use of snail mucus. Snails were considered a sovereign remedy to treat pain related to burns, abscesses, and other wounds.

In the 18th century, snail preparations were recommended for external use with dermatological disorders. They were also recommended for use internally in case of symptoms associated with tuberculosis and nephritis. This trend continued well into the 19th century. The 1945 edition of Dorvault devoted an entire paragraph to snails indicating that snails still had therapeutic usage.

Recently, the FDA has also shown an interest in snails. Ziconotide (SNXIII), a synthetic peptide coming from snail venom, has been under FDA review since 1999. In 2004, the FDA approved ziconotide when delivered as an infusion directly into the spinal fluid. This drug has shown promising results in alleviating severe and chronic pain.(source)

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