We now live in a time where medicine has advanced to a level where we are lucky. Not only can more diseases than ever be treated now but all in the safest, most ethical way. Sadly, this has not always been the case and our ancestors sometimes fell foul of the very thing that was meant to cure them. The problem was that a lot of new advances were simply brought into play without being fully tested first. This meant that deadly issues only came to light when people started dying!
Here are ten of the most dangerous medical treatments from our past.

10 – Radioactive Water

Radioactive Water

Radioactive Water – [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

We start off with a classic example of the above. We all now know that radiation is very harmful to us as humans and to be avoided at all costs. Sadly, when radioactive materials first came out, this wasn’t the case. It was actually thought to be good for your health and people would use uranium lined blankets and radon infused water. This water was most famously used by famous golfer Eben Byers who drank it on his doctor’s advice. By the time he died, it had given him holes in his skull and numerous cancers!

09 – Lobotomy

Lobotomy drill

Lobotomy drill – By Bjoertvedt [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

Developed by doctor Antonio Egas Moniz, this brutal procedure was thought be a cure for mental illness such as depression or schizophrenia. It involved inserting two ice picks into the frontal lobes of the brain via the patient’s eyes to amend the tissue there. Moniz thought that this would get rid of the mental illness and behaviour associated with it. Sadly, all it did was turn the people who underwent it into withdrawn, child-like vegetables who could not function in society at all.

08 – Heroin



We all now associate this illegal drug with crime, poverty and illness. However, at one time it was actually a common medication prescribed for a number of illnesses. From 1900 to about 1950, Heroin was prescribed as a treatment for colds, coughs and general pain relief! Makers Bayer even made a children’s version at one point! In some ways it was like the Calpol or Ibuprofen of its day. Authorities soon realised its very addictive properties however and made it illegal.

07 – Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup

Soothing Syrup

Soothing Syrup – By Miami U. Libraries – Digital Collections [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This was a popular medication for babies in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. On the face of it, it looked great with its effective treatment for coughs or colds in babies. The problem was that it was simply pure morphine dissolved in pure alcohol. Not something you really want to be giving to babies. The use of this syrup soon led to deaths from overdoes and drug-addicted children. With this in mind, it was soon banned and with good reason.

06 – Smoking


Smoking – By Stellapark025 [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

This is probably the one bad thing that we all know used to be advertised as a good thing for us. Back in the early 20th Century, smoking was sold to the public as being good for your health and certainly not something to harm you. Cigarette fumes were even said to be a cure for asthma at one point! This carried on until serious scientific research showed that smoking could cause cancer and people realised how dangerous it was.

05 – Ecstasy


Ecstasy – By DEA (DEA, US) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Now known as the ultimate illegal party drug, we all think of packed clubs and young people dancing all night when it comes to Ecstasy. However, when it was first made in the 1970’s, it was a widely used drug by psychiatrists. They found it very effective in helping their patients to open up and communicate about the problems that they were having. Of course, it soon made its move into popular culture where it was abused for different purposes. This lead to it being banned and made illegal.

04 – Methamphetamine Pills


Methamphetamine – By Jan Wellen [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons

Dieting has always been a big industry and is still popular today. Where your doctor may now talk about healthy eating, in the past it was a different story. Back then, they would probably prescribe diet pills like Obetrol to help out. The problem was that the main ingredient of these pills was crystal meth! As we know now this is a very harmful and addictive substance that is not good for you at all. The authorities realised this come the end of the 1960’s and diet pills were made to have less harmful ingredients in them.

03 – Plombage


Plombage – By Hellerhoff [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons

One of the most widespread and dangerous diseases of ancient times was Tuberculosis. It caused many deaths and there was no medication that doctors could give to cure it. This lead to a medical procedure called Plombage being developed. This involved random material such as animal fat and gauze being packed into the patient’s pleural cavity in the chest. The theory was that it would make the diseased lung collapse and prolong patient life. Thankfully, proper medication was developed soon after and made this procedure redundant.

02 – Shark Cartlidge Supplements

Shark Cartlidge Supplements

Shark Cartlidge Supplements

This on the face of it had a quite logical genesis. Sharks don’t get cancer, so people thought that taking shark supplements would help them avoid it too. Scientists in the 1970’s and 1980’s found that the shark cartilage had a substance in that stopped cancer forming so everyone started taking it. This led to many types of shark cartilage supplements coming onto the market. However, later tests showed that it had no effect whatsoever on cancer production in humans.

01 – Mercury


Mercury – Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In much the same way as radioactive water was once thought to be good for you, Mercury was once used in ancient times as a health cure. Strangely enough Roman, Greek and Chinese doctors all thought Mercury was great for vitality and energy. Even going into the early 20th Century, it was used in cures for certain diseases of a sexual nature. As we know now, this was not a good idea as heavy metals of this nature are bad for your livers and kidneys.

With all of our knowledge we now have, it seems crazy that any of the above were once seen as good for you. The main issue lay in there not being enough of an understanding of what new substances or properties could do to the human body when taken over a long period. We have hopefully now learned the lesson and fully test any new treatments before they are approved to be used.