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Before Modern Medicine: Wacky Remedies from the Old Days

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It’s tough to romanticize historical periods: Most people had to live without modern necessities such as toiletry, anesthesia, and pain killers.  Before advanced medicine, doctors prescribed concoctions that would alarm any modern clinic.

In the old days, medicine was less of a science and more of an exercise in human experimentation.

Heroin as Cough Suppressant

Take for example Bayer pharmaceuticals, which originally developed heroin (it transforms into morphine when inserted into the body). In the early 1900s, the company sold heroin as a cough suppressant for kids, according to Mocavo, a genealogy firm.

As late as the 1950s, arsenic (a poisonous concoction of sulfuric metal) was used to treat malaria, chorea, and syphilis. Mercury, a highly poisonous liquid, was also used to treat syphilis.

In the 19th century, “soothing syrups” (full of narcotics) were sold to mothers of small children. Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup contained 65 mg of pure morphine.

These types of practices raise the question whether modern drug addicts acquired their substance abuse from previous generations.

Old Pain Remedies

Being wounded in war or suffering an injury through accident also meant undergoing unimaginable pain. Patients who underwent surgery were provided sleep-inducing agents such as marijuana and jimsonweed, which were often ineffective. Some surgeons used opium and alcohol to reduce pain.

Before Viagra, men used electricity to fight erectile dysfunction. In the late 19th century, that meant sleeping on electrified beds or wearing belts that sent electric shocks through that part of the body.

If you go way back in time, the treatments were even more bizarre. Take the ancient Egyptians, who placed dead mice in their mouths to cure toothache.

Here are some more wacky remedies from prior periods that would have scared anyone from visiting the doctor.

Credit: Mocavo.com (used with permission)

Credit: Mocavo.com (used with permission)

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About Marv Dumon

Marv Dumon has written over 6,000 articles for publications such as Forbes, Yahoo!, Investopedia, Technorati, Digital Journal, and Examiner.com. He worked in corporate finance and Six Sigma, and holds BA, BBA and MPA degrees from the University of Texas at Austin. Contact him at marvin.dumon@gmail.com.