5 shocking medical treatments used in history

Lobotomies were highly invasive and ineffective surgeries meant to cure mental disorders. (Pinterest pic)

New medicines come out every now and then claiming to be more effective than previous remedies, but some medical treatments were actually more likely to harm than heal.

Here are some treatments that were previously used by medical professionals that were more dangerous than helpful:

1. Lobotomy

One of the worst medical treatments used on people with special needs, lobotomies were first introduced by Dr Walter Freeman in 1936.

Lobotomies involved drilling holes through patients’ skulls and then hammering a sharp object into the brain.

This was done to cut the nerves connecting the frontal lobe of the brain with the thalamus, which Freeman believed to be responsible for human emotion.

While he claimed his surgeries were a success, more often than not, he caused his patients to go into a vegetative state.

This was to the benefit of asylums which found these lobotomised patients easier to deal with.

Horrifyingly, lobotomies were performed on people of all ages, including a four year-old at one point.

Infamously, Rosemary Kennedy, sister of future President John F Kennedy, was lobotomised to stop her mood swings and she was left permanently disabled.

During his surgeries, Freeman did not wear a mask or gloves and during a photo-shoot, he accidentally drilled a little too deep, killing his patient.

As mental conditions are better understood now, lobotomies today remain one of the worst instances of a patient’s rights being violated.

2. Trepanning

A medieval painting depicting a man undergoing trepanning surgery. (Wikipedia pic)

Possibly the oldest surgery ever performed by mankind, trepanning involved drilling or cutting a hole in the scalp.

Remains of ancient humans have been found with holes in their skulls. Scientists remain unsure of how or why the holes were made.

A prevalent theory suggests that the holes were made to allow what was then believed to be “bad spirits” out of a person’s head.

Another theory suggests that the holes were to relieve pressure on the brain, especially if the patient had a headache or a blood clot.

Interestingly enough, evidence shows that trepanning was not a particularly fatal surgery and many patients survived long enough for the holes to start healing by themselves.

3. Heroin

An old advertisement marketing heroin as a cough medicine. (Wikipedia pic)

What is considered to be a dangerously addictive and harmful drug was once used as a children’s medicine.

It was originally introduced to replace morphine, another addictive drug, and was used in medicines marketed to children in the late 19th century.

Advertising from back then carried cheerful pictures of children happily drinking heroin in spoons and gulping down cough mixture.

It did not take long for doctors to realise that the claim that heroin was non-addictive was not true as patients kept coming back for more prescriptions.

Pharmaceutical companies continued to sell heroin as over-the-counter medicine until sales were finally restricted due to mounting reports of side effects.

4. Cocaine

Cocaine was marketed as a treatment for toothache in children. (Wikipedia pic)

Once cocaine was extracted from the leaf of the coca plant, scientists soon found that the drug could be used as a fast-acting anaesthetic during surgeries.

Not too long after, medicine laced with cocaine started to fill shelves as pharmaceutical companies rushed to make a profit off this new wonder drug.

Ironically, it was marketed as a treatment for morphine addiction as well as a remedy for a variety of illnesses, including toothache, lethargy, impotence and depression.

The sale of cocaine was so widespread that for a long time, it was even a key ingredient in the popular drink, Coca-Cola.

Cocaine was also sold in cigarette form and was supposed to cure sleeplessness and headaches.

In reality, the cocaine itself was more likely to cause these health issues than to solve them.

As the number of cocaine addicts began to pile up in the 1910s, the American government finally put a stop to commercial cocaine sales.

Cocaine remains the second most illegally used drug in the world behind cannabis.

5. Bloodletting

US President George Washington died after undergoing a bloodletting surgery to treat a throat inflammation. (Wikipedia pic)

A traditional medical practice for thousands of years, doctors used to deliberately bleed patients to extract what they called “bad blood”.

It was practised throughout the ancient world and continued up to the 19th century.

At the time, physicians believed that the human body was filled with four “humours”; namely yellow bile, black bile, phlegm and blood.

Many diseases were attributed to excess blood, so they would cut open patients’ veins to let the “excess” blood out.

In some cases, leeches were used to draw a patient’s blood.

While there are a few rare diseases that do benefit from bloodletting, doctors frequently made the mistake of using it for every conceivable illness.

Bloodletting more often than not weakened a patient even further and in some unfortunate cases, excessive blood loss lead to death.