10 Of The Most Bizarre Medical Practices And Theories

Urine therapy

Urine Therapy.

Exactly what it says on the tin, this is therapy that involves urine and quite often your own. Mmm…Delicious urine. Urine has been used as a curative in both the medical and cosmetic world and in many cultures and eras, which have included the Romans, the Renaissance period, China, India and France and is still a predominant theory in Western culture to this day. Its uses number in the many: teeth-whitening, skin protection, acne cure, strep throat and broken bones to name a few. Sometimes the urine is ingested directly, whilst other times the urine is made into a poultice or directly placed on the skin. Hilariously, a lot of “insane” medical theories and/or practices have since been discontinued or debunked, yet we still have people that believe in the positive and healing benefits bestowed upon them by drinking their own piss.


Children’s soothing syrups

Soothing Syrup.

Do you have a particularly annoying and rambunctious child, or perhaps your child is experiencing problems during the teething stage? Never fear, Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup is here! Designed to calm and relax whoever – or whatever – it was given to, it left the parent free to carry on with their daily lives, uninterrupted by the incessant bawling of an upset child. You’re damn right it had better relax them, what you would have just given your child was a deadly cocktail that included morphine, cannabis, heroin, powdered opium and a mixture of other crazy substances. Not only would it totally mellow out a child, but quite often said child would wind up dead. Still, I guess dead = calm, so you couldn’t sue for false advertising.




“I don’t feel well…Better ingest some mercury. Mmm…Mercury”. Sound like a particularly good advert for a cure-all? It might not now, but it certainly would have appealed in the past. Mercury has even been found in Egyptian tombs dating as far back as 1500BC. Mercury was believed to cure ailments, heal wounds, prolong life and a whole bunch of other things. One Chinese emperor - Qin Shi Huang - was so obsessed with seeking an elixir for eternal life, that he ingested a mercury compound that was given to him by his doctors and scientists. Ironically, the very mixture that was designed to give him eternal life ended up killing him.


Heroin for coughs


Most of us understand that the drug heroin is indeed not very good for us, and for some of us (not me) it provides a decent income. However, I’m sure all of us will balk at the prospect of it being marketed as something to take for simple coughs and wheezes, whilst at the same time being said to be “non-addictive”. But this is exactly what the German pharmaceutical company Bayer (to this day, a very successful company) did at the end of the 19 th century and for some of the 20 th century. Got a cough? Here, indulge in some heroin, my dear. Heroin was also marketed as something that could treat morphine addiction, but shortly afterwards the company faced slight embarrassment when it was found that heroin is metabolized into morphine in the human body, thus making their product a faster-acting form of morphine.


Electrical impotence cures

Virility Belt.

Back in the late 19 th century, inventors and medical practitioners alike simply loved to peddle their “miracle cures” and strange devices that would heal a whole host of commonplace problems; male impotence being one of them. Being great believers in the fact that electricity could bring a certain “energy” into the human body, they presumed it could work wonders for the impotence-afflicted man. Designed to “shock” weak parts of the body back into life via the gentle application of electrical currents, I can imagine it now: “Step right up, step right up, come and try the Magnificent Virility Belt! You there, don’t be shy! I’m even wearing one myself now, just watch as I turn it on and prepare to be amaz-OH MY GOD THE PAIN, MAKE IT STOP!”




Similar to trepanation, lobotomies involved the insertion of objects into the head, namely 10 inch “ice picks”. From the Greek lobos and tomos, meaning “lobe” and “slice/cut” respectively, you get an idea of what it involved…Brain slicing! Essentially, it involved the insertion of the “ice pick” tool through the eye socket and into the prefrontal cortex of the brain. When the pick was in the right place, the protruding end was struck with a hammer. So basically, you stick a long piece of metal into your brain and hit it with a hammer. Practitioners at the time just couldn’t believe that such a method resulted in mental problems far worse than those that the lobotomy was supposed to cure. That’s correct, brain scrambling was supposed to help with many mental illnesses, yet has been declared as being “one of the most barbaric mistakes ever perpetrated by mainstream medicine”. An interesting point to note is that John F. Kennedy’s sister Rosemary underwent a lobotomy after their father complained of her moodiness. Unfortunately, the procedure reduced her mind to that of an infant and she was never the same again.



Blood Letting.

Much as it sounds, this was the process of letting/withdrawing vast quantities of blood from the body, specifically in order to cure…Well…Just about anything. Syphilis? Let some blood. Headache? Let some blood? Kids giving you hell? Let some blood. Believed to be one of the older medical practices around, spanning some 2,000 years until the late 19 th century. In retrospect, practically bleeding oneself to death doesn’t seem like the greatest of pastimes, but in those days, the belief was the blood could be used up; it didn’t circulate as we know it does today, but rather it would stagnate in certain parts of the body, causing illness. The other key belief was that the body contained four substances (called humours), which consisted of such tasty-sounding things as blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm. An excess or shortage of any of these substances would result in illness. So naturally, the best cure was to let some out if there was too much of any one humour.




Really just a fancy word for taking a drill to your head and seeing what happens, trepanation was de rigueur for head-related illnesses both mental and physical for an incredibly long time, as evidence suggests that such surgery has been performed for as long as there have been head/brain-related illness and injuries to treat. Nowadays it would (hopefully) sound ludicrous to believe that literally drilling a hole in someone’s head would think that it would “let bad spirits out” and thus cure the patient of their particular ailment.


Ear candles

Ear Candles.

Unfortunately, not the practice of turning someone’s ears into candles for your own personal health benefits or amusement, but more the practice of sticking a long candle in your ear to clear it of wax, debris and crustaceans. Apparently, the candle causes negative pressure and draws the wax, etc. out from the ear canal, thus making it a cleaner place. Unsurprisingly, in actuality the candle does little to nothing and can even result in – surprise, surprise – wax from the candle entering the ear canal, doing more harm than good, as is what happened to the poor person that burnt to death when the candle set their house on fire. Putting it bluntly, sticking candles in your ear and expecting it to do great things is something akin to a 2 year old finding a crayon on the floor and jamming it in their nose because it seemed like a good idea at the time.


Psychic surgery

Psychic Surgery.

Like most things relating to “psychic” or “paranormal” happenings, this practice has since been found to be utter rubbish and a ”total hoax”. Psychic surgery was first noticed in the Philippines and Brazil in the 1940s and 50s and garnering many US tabloid headlines when comedian Andy Kaufman underwent a six-week course of psychic surgery in March 1984 to help treat his lung cancer. Shortly after, Kaufman died of lung cancer. The idea behind the surgery was that the “surgeon” (a man with no medical training) would cut open the patient using his bare hands, merely tracing a line with a finger or hand and a wound would appear, painlessly. The surgeon would then remove tumors and other assorted gore, claiming to have removed “the illness”, “bad spirits” or some other foolishness. Don’t get me wrong, but the idea of a man cutting me open WITH HIS HANDS and then removing stuff seemingly at random, doesn’t put me at ease. It was then discovered that psychic surgeons were basically magicians playing a confidence game with their patients, using sleight of hand to make people believe they were removing “bad stuff” when really they were just pretending to. Kind of like dentists today…Maybe.