It was not unusual for Victorian women to be administered orgasms by their doctors – in a bid to cure them of their ‘hysteria’, a common problem said to affect three in four.
Cocaine was also once used to soothe tooth pain – and was famously an ingredient in Coca Cola – and tobacco enemas were a form of first aid given to revive drowning victims in the 18th century.
These and many more weird and wacky medical remedies from the past that were once considered the norm have been revealed in a new book, Quackery: A Brief History Of The Worst Ways To Cure Everything.
The tome also reveals how strychnine – used in rat poison – was the Victorian’s answer to Viagra to treat impotence and in Medieval times, women believed carrying weasel testicles in their bosom worked as a contraceptive.
The tapeworm diet was all the rage in the 1800s while executioners made a pretty penny off the skin and fat of deceased criminals in the grim medicinal trade for human parts during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Here below MailOnline reveals what our poor ancestors endured before science-based medicine came along.
Cocaine’s pain-relieving skills led to a host of medicinal products in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries
A ‘snake oil salesman’ has become a phrase for someone who is a fraud or charlatan. Texas cowboy Clark Stanley, born in 1854, was the self-styled ‘Rattlesnake King,’ who marketed snake oil as a patent medicine
A doctor declared that 75 percent of women in the US suffered from hysteria, which was ‘cured’ through orgasmic massage
Pelvic massage prescriptions
During the Victorian era, female hysteria was a common medical diagnosis for a wide array of generic symptoms, including fatigue, anxiety, and mild depression.
The ‘epidemic’ reached such levels during the second half of the 19th century that Dr Russell Trall made the bold declaration that 75 percent of women in the US suffered from hysteria.
The cure? A ‘pelvic massage’ of enough vigor to eventually induce a ‘hysterical paroxysm.’
However, laboriously massaging the genitals of their female patients was tiresome, and an important invention was about to come to their rescue: the electromechanical vibrator.
Weighing in at forty pounds, it was powered by a wet cell battery and came with an assortment of little add-ons called ‘vibratodes.’
Invented by Dr Joseph Mortimer Granville in the late 19th century, the vibrators were a hit with doctors because they reduced the time needed to obtain an orgasm from an hour to about five minutes.
Cocaine the anesthetic
Sigmund Freud was an advocate for the use of cocaine as a local anesthetic
In 1884 neurologist Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, championed the use of cocaine not only as a stimulant, but also as a local anesthetic – something it’s actually quite good at.
He passed on his knowledge to the ophthalmologist Karl Koller, who used it as a topical anesthetic during eye surgery, with his results published in the British medical journal The Lancet.
American doctor William Stewart Halsted (noted for pioneering the radical mastectomy) read about this and began using cocaine to numb the pain of dental surgery.
Naturally, cocaine’s pain-relieving skills led to a host of medicinal products in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
These include Roger’s Cocaine Pile Remedy and Lloyd’s Cocaine Toothache Drops. Roger’s Cocaine Pile Remedy was intended to shrink large and painful hemorrhoids. Lloyd’s Cocaine Toothache Drops at the cost of $0.15 a package were quite affordable. They were also proudly marketed for use with children.
Then famously, Coca Cola when first launched in 1886 had two key ingredients – cocaine and caffeine. It was invented by Dr John Pemberton, a pharmacist – himself a morphine addict –who wanted to create an elixir to ‘make the world happier’.
Coca Cola once contained an estimated nine milligrams of cocaine per glass, and the drug was eventually removed in 1903.
The tape worm diet
Forget cutting back calories: The tapeworm diet was all the rage in the 1800s
The tapeworm diet fad started in the 1800s. The idea is you eat tapeworm eggs, and the parasite eats your food for you. Often, the mail-order eggs were dead (or weren’t there at all). A good thing, too, because an actual tapeworm infection might cause headaches, brain inflammation, seizures, and dementia.
Tapeworms grow to thirty feet long, live for decades, and are hermaphrodites, which means they’re making more tapeworms inside you.
Even with the promise that you will be able to ‘eat, eat, eat and always stay thin’, it’s hard to see how it could ever seem an appealing way to lose weight.
17th or 18th century apothecary vessels for human fat
Oil of human fat – great for lame limbs
During the 17th and 18th centuries, human fat was a medicinal uses.
Executioners made a pretty penny off the skin and fat of dispatched criminals. Apothecaries were particularly fond of ‘oil of human fat,’ also called man’s grease, poor sinner’s fat, and hangman’s salve.
It was used for wound healing, pain relief, cancers, love potions, gout, and rheumatism.
An old German rhyme stated, ‘Melted human fat is good for lame limbs. If one rubs them with it, they become right again.’
Fat was also touted as a cure for hydrophobia (fear of drinking water), often synonymous with rabies.
‘Man’s grease’ could even be used in cosmetics, particularly if you had smallpox scars, and it was considered a great anti-inflammatory salve.
Radium – the perfect detox drink
Today, we explicitly try to remove radon from our drinking water. But in the early 20th century, a lively trade sprang up in devices built to do the exact opposite.
In addition to soaking in radon-laced pools, many people believed drinking radioactive water was generally a good idea, sort of the equivalent of downing a green drink today.
Radium cigarettes, anyone? The dangers of radioactivity were not clearly understood
One of the most successful devices to add radon to water was the Revigator, invented by R. W. Thomas and patented in 1912.
Consumers were instructed to fill the jar every night and ‘drink freely,’ averaging between six and seven glasses each day.
The Revigator became your very own home radioactive spring, guaranteed to produce a ‘health-giving drink.’
US President Abraham Lincoln took little blue pills – containing toxic mercury – to treat depression
Mercury – ideal for teething problems
For hundreds of years, mercury-containing products claimed to heal a varied and strangely unrelated host of ailments. Melancholy, constipation, syphilis, influenza, parasites – you name it.
The Blue Mass pills taken as antidepressants by Abraham Lincoln, who was US President from 1861-1865, contained dangerously high levels of mercury likely to have caused his notoriously wild temper.
It stayed in favour as treatment for syphilis until the early 1900s. Ironically, it is so toxic that sometimes the symptoms of its toxicity were confused with those of the syphilis it was believed to treat.
Even as recently as the 1950’s calomel – also known as mercurous chloride – was a constituent of children’s teething powders.
Arsenic – a cure for cancer
Deadly arsenic products continued to be used freely throughout much of the 19th century. The diseases it was claimed to heal were endless, including syphilis, a parasitic infection known as sleeping sickness, and fevers due to remitting ague, a term for malaria.
Since doctors knew it could burn away some skin disorders – it was used for psoriasis, ulcers or eczema – they applied it to cancerous tumors in the hope of dissolving them.
DID ARSENIC KILL NAPOLEON?
Arsenic could have contributed to Napoleon’s death
The death of Napoleon in 1821 has been blamed on many things, including mercury, but high levels of arsenic were found in his hair.
Could arsenic have killed him? It might have contributed, but was unlikely the sole cause of death, says Dr Kang.
One theory is that arsenic in his wallpaper could have played a role.
Arsenic dyes, used to color artificial flowers, fabrics, and wallpaper were very popular by the mid-1800s.
Unfortunately, these products poisoned many of their users by releasing flakes of poisonous paper into the environment or infusing the air with arsenic over time.
One favorite way to consume it was by adding it to bread and making ‘bread pills,’ or with pepper. It was also injected and inhaled in vapor form and even used in enemas.
One pharmacology textbook touted arsenic as being safe to give to nursing mothers, who could treat their babies via arsenic-laden breastmilk. Others used it for morning sickness.
A dab here or there might not do too much harm, but excessive or extended use can cause chronic arsenic toxicity.
‘Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyance to the mind, regulates the stomach and the bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health,’ read one advert
Heroin – the non-addictive painkiller
Bayer, the German drug company, made its fortunes in the late 1890s when it commercialized both aspirin and heroin as pain remedies.
Heroin was named so because it made users feel mighty, or heroisch (heroic in German). It was said to be nonaddictive and Bayer touted it as a cure for morphine addiction.
By 1899, the company was synthesizing it in the form of pills, powders, elixirs, and sweetened lozenges that were sold internationally. Bayer claimed it could treat tuberculosis, asthma, colds, and coughs from all causes.
Ads featured effervescent claims: ‘Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyance to the mind, regulates the stomach and the bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health.’
The Boston Medical Journal wrote in 1900: ‘It possesses many advantages over morphine. . . . It is not a hypnotic,’ and luckily, there was ;an absence of danger of acquiring the habit. But reality reared its ugly head, and early in the 20th century, more and more medical journals reported on heroin’s dark, addictive side.
To the rescue with a tobacco enemas
Blowing smoke up someone’s behind was actually a sanctioned resuscitation method in the 18th century.
The practice was so popular that tobacco smoke enema kits were manufactured and available for sale to concerned households.
These were the days when drowning in the River Thames was such a frequent occurrence that a society was actually formed and funded with the sole purpose of promoting the resuscitation of drowned people.
Elaborately dubbed The Institution for Affording Immediate Relief to Persons Apparently Dead from Drowning, its members prowled the dangerous banks of the Thames, their tobacco smoke enema kits at the ready should any poor soul stumble into the river and need to be revived.
If that happened, the society members would leap to the rescue , sticking an enema tube up his or her bottom.
Insane in the membrane? Try ox brain
The brain of an ox was actually a prescription for insanity in the Renaissance era. All you had to do was bake a loaf of bread, remove the inner part and replace it with an ox brain.
You then bind this ox-brain-filled bread to the patient’s head. And voila, insanity cured.
The book reveals an important and disturbing side of the ever-evolving field of medicine
If only it would work. People could find themselves labelled insane and locked up in madhouses for a range of conditions – from postnatal depression to alcoholism or senile dementia.
In 1888 Swiss doctor Gottlieb Burckhardt, who no surgical experience, ‘operated’ on patients with schizophrenia and psychotic hallucinations. He used a bone saw to drill holes near the temples then scooped out parts of the cerebral cortex with, in some cases, a sharp spoon.
Though some of thepatients became ‘quieter’ and no longer hallucinated, many were left with lingering neurological problems, died from ensuing complications, or even committed suicide.
Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Dr Lydia Kang and Nate Pedersen is published by Workman and is available for $22.95.