14 Very Unfortunate Medical Treatments That Actually Used To Exist
Medicine wouldn't be where it is today without leeches and urine cocktails.
Bloodletting is a process that removes a large quantity of blood, often by making an incision in the forearm vein — but leeches and cupping were also used. Doctors believed that illness was caused by an imbalance of bodily fluids, and removing blood would restore that balance. Because, sure!
Bloodletting was used to treat everything from the plague and smallpox to epilepsy. The practice began with the Ancient Egyptians and remained a popular treatment well into the 19th century, despite significant scientific advances in medicine. It didn't last in the 20th century, as doctors realized that blood loss only made patients sicker...or killed them. It's also maybe the real reason George Washington died.
Trepanation involves drilling or boring a small hole in the skull to expose the brain. Evidence shows that trepanning was around as early as the neolithic era and it was performed up until the 19th century — often without anesthesia or pain meds.
It was apparently used by both Western doctors and folk or religious practitioners to treat hysteria or psychosis. Doctors eventually realized this traumatic procedure wasn't an effective psychiatric treatment, and it died out in the 1900s. Modern forms of trepanation still exist today, but neurosurgeons do it to temporarily relieve pressure in the brain from swelling or bleeding.
5. Urine therapy
Chloroform, the original roofie, was first used for anesthesia in 1831, and became the most popular anesthetic for surgeries and childbirth. Patients would sniff a chloroform-soaked rag to pass out for surgery, and doctors later designed a mask that delivered a steady dose of chloroform so patients remained unconscious throughout surgery.
In theory, this was great, because surgery before anesthesia was literally torture, but it came with many complications and a high fatality rate. Doctors stopped using chloroform in the 1950s when they discovered safer anesthetics such as nitrous oxide gas.
Leeches have been used to draw blood for thousands of years, starting with the ancient Egyptians and lasting through the 19th century. It was an alternative method of bloodletting that didn't involve any incisions or invasive cutting. Doctors believed organ inflammation caused most illnesses and removing blood was the only cure, so they would place leeches on the part of the body where the organ was located (like the eyes, mouth, ears, vulva, or penis).
Some doctors would even tie a string on the leech like a leash so it could go inside the rectum, vagina, or mouth and draw blood without escaping. At the height of leeching's popularity in 19th-century Europe, doctors had "leecheries" or ponds where they bred thousands of Hirudo medicinalis, a unique species of nonaggressive leeches that were perfect for medical use. By the 20th century, leeching declined in popularity once people realized that bloodletting didn't really work and often made things worse — plus sticking leeches all over your face and in your penis sounds fucking awful.
10. Soothing Syrups (narcotic cocktails)
In the late 1800s, pharmacists patented soothing syrups for teething and restless children that included ingredients like morphine, codeine, cannabis, chloroform, meth, and alcohol. The doses were low enough to stop pain from teething and high enough to knock kids out, so mothers often used the syrups to put their fussy babies to sleep.
Not surprisingly, many babies and toddlers ended up overdosing, going into comas, or dying. So these syrups, like the very popular Mrs. Winslow's, were removed from the market for good by the 1930s. Which is a good thing, because "sizzurp" pales in comparison to what the kids were sipping in 1900.