Here are six such medical cures that were common in America not so long ago, and we'll cover six more in part two of this blog.
In 1884, Sigmund Freud published his 70-page report, “Über Coca,” detailing the medical uses of cocaine. The drug was then popularized around the world for treating everything from depression to indigestion to toothaches. In particular, cocaine was commonly used during eye surgeries because it restricted bleeding by tightening the blood vessels. While this may seem shocking to us now, remember that Coca Cola and other popular “French wines” contained traces of cocaine through the late 1800s. Coca Cola removed cocaine from its soda in 1903 and the stimulant became an illegal narcotic in 1914.
As we know mercury, although safe in very small quantities, is toxic and can cause severe illness if administered poorly or consumed in a large enough quantity. This was the case with a number of “cures” using mercury in nineteenth century America. Most notably, mercury was used to treat syphilis, administered either orally, topically, or by fumigation, in which the mercury would be vaporized over a fire and subsequently inhaled by the patient.
Lobotomies have been used to treat mental illness in the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s in the US. By creating an incision into the prefrontal lobe of the brain, the idea was to intentionally damage brain tissue in order to cure illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia, and panic disorder. An estimated 50,000 lobotomies were performed in the US alone. The prevalence of the treatment can be attributed to mental institutions, which commonly used the practice on their patients.
4. Rest Cure
In the late 19th century, Silas Weir Mitchel invented the rest cure, a “medical” treatment for mental illnesses such as hysteria, anorexia, and neurasthenia. Rest cure involves confining a patient to bed rest, usually in isolation, for six to eight weeks. Patients were not able to leave bed, and were restricted to a specific diet high in fat and dairy content. The practice was popular in the US and the UK, most often used on women. The practice became so synonymous with female oppression, (based on the belief that women were constantly suffering from nerves,) and was eventually denounced by leading feminists and artists.
Oddly enough, one of the most ancient medical practices in human history, dating all the way back to ancient Egypt, is still in use in many countries around the world, including the US. These slimy little creatures can eat six to eight times their body weight in blood, attaching themselves to the skin by suckers at each end of its body. They produce a natural blood-thinner that can increase blood flow in clotted areas when released into the body. Leeches are used by doctors during the healing process of skin grafts by removing the blood that accumulates under the graft, restoring blood flow to clotted veins.
Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup hit the market in 1849, straight from Charlotte Winslow in Maine, and soothed children across the US and UK for decades. This homemade remedy consisted of morphine sulfate (a derivative of opium,) sodium carbonate, sprits foeniculi (alcohol,) and ammonium hydroxide. The elixir was marketed to parents of restless children, particularly those who teethed excessively.
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