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The 10 Most Insane Medical Practices in History

#5.
Urine Therapy

You can tell just by the title of the entry that we're not heading anywhere good with this one. Yup, throughout history there are those who believed the key to good health (and terrible body odor) was wallowing in one's own excretions. It was said to cure an endless list of ailments and promote good health if drank, was applied to the skin and yes some even used it to give themselves (turn away now weak-of-heart) a nice bracing urine enema.

Perhaps the best part of this is that while most of the practices listed in this article have long since been dismissed as lunacy, urine therapy lives on to today (for your own sanity don't do a Google search for it). That's right, of all the crackpot theories listed here the one that endured is the one where people drink and bathe in piss.

There's absolutely no evidence that urine therapy can cure a damn thing (and it comes with the added bonus of you getting to smell like the underside of a bridge or a downtown subway car). No, even the thing with peeing on jellyfish stings isn't true. On the bright side, armed with the new knowledge we've provided you, you can now try to pass those DVDs your girlfriend found in your closet off as medical instruction videos.

#4.
Bloodletting

Bloodletting was one of the most enduring and popular medical practices in history, originated by the Greeks and used up until the 19th century for, well, basically everything. If you were feeling under the weather back in the day there's a good chance it was because you just had too much damn blood.

Now, a person having too much blood may sound about as absurd as a person breathing too much air or you coming home to find too many naked supermodels in your bed. But, that's just because you don't know about the four humours. Don't worry, we won't hold your ignorance against you. Basically the theory was that the body was filled with four fluids (blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile) called humours and that any imbalance in the four was the root of all illness. Apparently blood can be a bit of a space hog and thus often some had to be bled out to make room for more fun stuff like phlegm and black bile (a.k.a. diarrhea), or so the theory went.

If you're wondering whether or not it works, the next time you're on your death bed with the flu, drag yourself out of bed and go downtown and give anywhere up to 4 quarts of blood; that's bloodletting for you, except you usually didn't get orange juice and a cookie after. Now, there is a chance you'll feel a bit better as you take a delirious blood loss inspired trip through the clouds on a golden unicorn, but we can assure you your flu probably won't be cured.

#3.
Hard Core Diet Remedies

While fuller figures have been popular for most of history, during the 20th century thin was in for women (which explains why it's known today as the "no fat chicks" century. Well, at least by us). This need to be slim led to the creation of countless "diet pills" that promised to help you melt away those pounds and inches.

While a lot of the pills actually did help with weight loss, they also often caused fevers, heart troubles, blindness, death and birth defects. They couldn't have been all bad though, as in the 1950s and '60s women who took diet pills liked them so darn much they just couldn't seem to stop taking them. Of course, it might have had something to do with the fact that the diet pills of the '50s and '60s were in actuality bottles of pure crank. But hey, what's getting addicted to amphetamines when being ready for bathing suit season hangs in the balance?

Oh, and since we just can't resist grossing you fine readers out, there have long existed stories that in the 1920s and '30s capsules filled with dehydrated tapeworms or tapeworm eggs were sold as diet pills.


Photo courtesy of The Museum of Quackery.

There's some debate over whether these actually existed, but it seems like it could be true as various advertisements for the wormy pills have survived. Besides, if there was a market for the nut shock belt ...

#2.
Trepanation

Trepanation is a fancy word for drilling holes in your head. This is actually the oldest surgical procedure known to man as humans have been intentionally knocking holes in their skulls dating back to the time of cavemen, giving hope to anyone who's had to watch the sitcom starring the Geico cavemen that all of them might die in a trepanation experiment horribly gone wrong in an upcoming episode.

Historically trepanation was most commonly used as treatment for seizures and migraines. Surprise, surprise. Having a gaping hole drilled in your skull (usually without anesthesia) did very little to help people's headaches or brain issues. Trepanation was also used as an extreme form of cosmetic/experimental body modification amongst several societies such as the Incans and Mayans. These societies also got largely wiped out, then a few hundred years later suffered the indignity of having an insulting Mel Gibson movie made about them, so it didn't really work out that well.

Oh, and yes, a few brilliant individuals still practice trepanation to this day. To give you an idea of the oh-so-solid ground today's trepanation supporters' beliefs are built on, the biggest modern proponent of trepanation is a "Doctor" Bart Hughes. We put doctor in quotations marks because he never actually finished medical school. That's right kids, you, too, can be a college dropout and yet still go onto a career convincing people around the world to do incredibly retarded things, so reach for those stars.

#1.
Female Hysteria Cures

Women and their mood swings, right guys? Right? You know what we're saying. Now, if you happen to be female don't be offended, there's no shame in admitting to the occasional bit of moodiness as according to 19th century doctors it's a symptom of a deadly serious medical condition (along with other symptoms such as nervousness, irritability and the dreaded "tendency to cause trouble"). That's right ladies, you may be a victim of female hysteria and not even know it.

So, how exactly do you cure a so-called "condition" that coincidentally was diagnosed almost entirely to women who dared disobey their Victorian husbands? Glad you asked. The prescription for female hysteria was usually a good spot of doctor administered vaginal massage until the woman achieved "hysterical paroxysm."

Yes that's right, the cure for female hysteria was a doctor's hand down your bloomers until you weren't only thinking of England but screaming its name. Is it any wonder the list of symptoms for female hysteria was so long, literally any ailment could fit the diagnosis? In those sexually repressed times visiting the doctor's office must have been like a trip to Disneyland for most women.

Doctors of the day on the other hand were apparently, I don't know, gay or something since they actually objected to women's frequent desire to be "cured" by their magic fingers. Their solution to alleviate hand strain? They invented the vibrator, and thus this article comes to a happy ending.

For more, go buy You Might Be a Zombie anywhere books are sold online or in person.

Nathan Birch also writes the sickeningly cute comic strip Zoology. He also wrote The 5 Creepiest urban Legends (That Happen to be True) for Cracked.

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