The most unusual treatments used during the times

The most unusual treatments used during the times

Throughout history, medical treatments have evolved from mystic rituals and herbal concoctions to scientifically validated practices. However, the journey has seen its fair share of unusual and sometimes bizarre treatments. These historical remedies reflect the limited understanding of diseases and the human body in their respective eras, as well as the innovative if not desperate, attempts to heal. Here are some of the most unusual treatments used throughout the ages.


One of the oldest surgical procedures known, trepanation, involved drilling or scraping a hole into the human skull. Archaeological evidence suggests that this practice dates back to prehistoric times. The rationale behind trepanation was to treat conditions such as epilepsy, migraines, and mental disorders by releasing evil spirits believed to be trapped inside the head. Despite the obvious risks, some patients survived the procedure, as evidenced by signs of bone healing around the trepanation sites.


Bloodletting was a common practice from ancient times through the 19th century, based on the belief that an imbalance of the body’s humors (blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile) caused disease. Physicians used leeches or lancets to draw blood from patients, hoping to restore balance and health. While sometimes effective due to the body’s natural healing processes, bloodletting often weakens patients and could lead to severe infections or even death.

Mercury Treatments

Mercury was a popular treatment for various ailments, particularly syphilis, from the 16th century until the early 20th century. Patients ingested mercury or applied it topically, despite its toxicity. The treatment sometimes alleviated symptoms of syphilis, likely because of its toxic effects on the causative bacteria. However, mercury poisoning often resulted in severe side effects, including kidney damage, neurological disorders, and death.

Mummy Powder

During the Renaissance, mummy powder, made from ground mummified human remains, was believed to have medicinal properties. Europeans consumed the powder to treat various ailments, including headaches and internal bleeding. This practice stemmed from the belief that the preservation of mummies conferred a life force that could be harnessed for healing. Unsurprisingly, mummy powder had no real therapeutic value and was eventually abandoned.

Animal-Derived Remedies

Various animal-derived treatments were used in historical medicine, often based on symbolic associations rather than scientific efficacy. For example, powdered unicorn horn (actually narwhal tusk) was believed to cure poisonings and fevers. Similarly, bezoar stones, found in the stomachs of certain animals, were thought to neutralize poisons. While some animal-based remedies contained beneficial compounds, their use was typically based on superstition rather than evidence.

Tobacco Smoke Enemas

In the 18th century, tobacco smoke enemas were used to resuscitate drowning victims and treat various illnesses. The procedure involved blowing smoke into the rectum using a bellows. It was believed that the nicotine would stimulate respiration and circulation. While the practice eventually fell out of favor, it highlights the lengths to which early physicians went to experiment with new treatments, often with limited understanding of their effects.

Radium Water

In the early 20th century, radium, a radioactive element, was marketed as a health tonic. Products like “Radithor” promised to cure a range of ailments, from arthritis to impotence, by harnessing the purportedly invigorating effects of radioactivity. However, the dangers of radium exposure, including radiation poisoning and cancer, quickly became apparent, leading to the discontinuation of radium-based treatments.

Malaria Therapy

In the early 20th century, before the discovery of antibiotics, malaria therapy was used to treat syphilis. Austrian physician Julius Wagner-Jauregg introduced this method, which involved deliberately infecting patients with malaria to induce high fevers, believed to kill the syphilis bacteria. Once the malarial fever ran its course, patients were treated with quinine to cure the malaria. Despite its dangers, this approach won Wagner-Jauregg the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1927.


The lobotomy, a psychosurgical procedure popularized in the mid-20th century, aimed to treat severe mental illnesses by severing connections in the brain’s prefrontal cortex. Developed by Portuguese neurologist António Egas Moniz, the procedure was later adapted into the transorbital lobotomy by American physician Walter Freeman, who performed the surgery using an ice pick-like instrument inserted through the eye socket. Although some patients showed improvement in symptoms, many suffered severe cognitive and emotional impairments, leading to the eventual abandonment of the procedure.

Tincture of Human Flesh (Corpse Medicine) 

During the Medieval and Renaissance periods, tincture of human flesh, or cadaver-based medicine, was popular in Europe. Blood, fat, and even human skulls were used in various preparations to treat epilepsy, headaches, and other ailments. In particular, the fresh blood of executed criminals was considered a panacea. 

Electric shock

In the 18th century, experimental medicine also included the use of electric shocks to treat various mental and physical ailments. The first attempts to use electricity in medicine included the application of shocks to patients with melancholia (depression) or paralysis. Although these methods were far from refined, they paved the way for modern electroconvulsive therapies. 


These historical treatments, while often shocking by today’s standards, underscore the human desire to alleviate suffering and the lengths to which people have gone in search of cures. They also highlight the importance of scientific advancement and evidence-based medicine in developing safe and effective treatments. As our understanding of the human body and diseases continues to grow, so too does our ability to treat illnesses in ways that are both humane and effective.


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