11 of the Weirdest Medical Facts Ever Believed


From the Drug Topics archives, one of most popular features in our history returns.

As you may know, Drug Topics has been serving pharmacists since 1856. In that time we’ve published millions of articles on the latest news and tips to help pharmacists do their jobs better. But one of the most popular features we’ve ever put out is “It’s a Fact,” a collection of health-care beliefs from all over the world.

The column celebrated the often strange health-care beliefs people around the world and throughout time have had. From taking arsenic to cure common colds in old England to the growing list of drugs withdrawn from the market, humans have been getting medicine wrong for as long as we’ve been practicing it. “It’s a Fact” offered Drug Topics readers a whole dollar for submitting their best fact along with something proving that fact, and then those facts were turned into beautiful illustrations.

Related article: The Top 10 Wackiest Pharmacy Stories From the 70s: Part I

We make no guarantees on these facts, presenting them exactly as they were back 50 and 60 years ago-spelling mistakes and all (by the way, Nero’s second wife spelled her name Poppaea Sabina).

While these cartoons won’t necessarily help you become a better pharmacist, they’ll at least make you more interesting!


Clockwise, from the top:

“Aztec Indians chewed piule seed as a religious rite to induce colorful dreams”

“Crude petroleum from America’s first oil well in Pennsylvania was sold as medicine”

“In Ancient Egypt, the smoke from a burning sandal was inhaled as a cure for headache”

“James Lanvier of Edinburgh, Scotland sneezed 690 times is succession in 1927”

“In the seventh century, bat’s blood was rubbed into the scalp to keep hair from growing long”


Clockwise, from the top:

“Sarodis medicine men of India prescribe the burning of a house for every ailment”

“In Early 8th Century, Sour Dock root was made into an ointment for eczema”

“A North Carolina cure for Asthma-six nutmegs strung on a cord greased with hog fat, worn around the neck”

“In Ancient Days, a bag of allspice was tied around infant’s stomach to relieve colic”

“Mexican Indians place a broken egg in a dish under patient’s bed to reduce fever”



Clockwise, from the top:

“King Henry VIII took cold tablets composed of burnt pepper, burnt copper, verdigras, smelter’s dross, tincture of arsenic, crocus, opium, and extract of lamb’s tongues”

“Black powder from burned toads was used by the ancients as a cure for many illnesses”

“Some people still believe that washing hands in the first snow will prevent chapping”

“For itching hives or mosquito bites, rub with salted raw potato”

“Afghans believe that kissing an old mule will cure a cold”



Clockwise, from the top left:

“An old cure for colds: eat from a blue dish, wear a blue ribbon, drink tonic from a blue bottle, and swallow a quart of stolen milk”

“The first medical periodical published in America was the (N.Y.) Medical Repository, issued from 1797 until 1824”

“The Incas of Peru soothed inflamed eyes with the raw flesh of the llama”

“In the middle ages, European peasants tied a bag of live bees to the arm of a rheumatic believing that the stings would bring relief”

“In 17th Century Europe, insomnia victims drank tobacco-soaked water”

“Raw bacon is still used in Northern Spain for baldness”



Clockwise, from the top:

“In 15th Century Italy, fresh meat was applied to the face to prevent wrinkles and crow’s feet”

“Empress Poppea Sabina of Rome, wife of Nero, required the services of 100 slaves to attend to her beauty care”

“In the Mediterranean area, the head of a boy affected with ring-worm is rubbed with camel’s brain”

“In 1888, a ‘positive cure’ for lock-jaw was to pour a small quantity of warmed-up spirits of turpentine over the wound. Relief was said to follow in less than one minute”

“Buzzard grease mixed with wax and copperas was once applied on old sores in North Carolina”



Clockwise, from the top:

“During the 17th Century in England, women carried mutton bones in the large pockets of their dresses to ward off cramps”

“Opium, peppermint, and castor oil were remedies known in Ancient Egypt”

“Tenth Century cure for headache: A thick salve made from a mixture of leaves of green rue, mustard seed, and white of eggs, smeared on the head with a feather”

“People used to clean their teeth with strawberries”

“Pennsylvania Germans used to tie a piece of ham fat with a strip of red flannel around the neck to cure a sore throat”



Clockwise, from the top left:

“For that fashionable pallor, maidens in the 1800s carried chalk in their armpits, believing they would absorb the chalky hue”

“According to Red Cross, guns and explosives cause about 2,300 deaths annually in the U.S.”

“During the 1870’s, India ink was used for darkening eyebrows and eyelashes”

“Treatment for flu during the first World War was to keep the patient ‘stuffed to the gills’ with green cheese”

“In ancient times, spiders and their webs were prescribed for small pox”

“In Old Europe, a hot tobacco leaf was applied to the navel of a woman in labor to relieve pain”



Clockwise, from the top:

“Poppaea, the mistress of Nero, kept her hands soft and white by rubbing them with crocodile mucus”

“Leeches were a standard drug store item 100 years ago”

“An early American cure for sore throat was to smoke equal parts of ground coffee and pine sawdust”

“The Ancient Indians of New Mexico tied salted potatoes around their foreheads to cure a fever”

“Mountaineers of Kentucky cut their fingernails during the new moon to prevent or cure headaches”



Clockwise, from the top:

“A 17th Century cure for stomach ache. The doctor sat on stomach of sufferer and bounced up and down”

“In Germany, the apple is deemed potent against warts”

“In olden times, people carried an Irish potato in their pocket for rheumatism”

“Queen Schesch, 3000 B.C., used a hair tonic made of date blossoms, hair of Abyssinian greyhound, and asses’ hooves boiled in oil”



Clockwise, from the top:

“The amount of lipstick American women use each year would paint 40,000 barns a bright red”

“In 420 A.D., the Greeks used mold in open wounds”

“Anesthetizing for surgery, the Ancient Egyptians hit patients over the head with a mallet”

“In the 15th Century, Dr. Theo Mayerne was a strong advocate for balsam of bats for hypochondriacs. It contained bats, adders, whelps, earthworms, hog grease, and an ox thigh bone”

“Early Athenians used different perfumes for different parts of the body”



Clockwise, from the top left:

“Remedy for lumbgo, 100 years ago, was to drink the water in which an old shoe had been boiled”

“Half a million Americans suffer from gout, once called ‘the Rich Man’s Disease'”

“For colic, Mothers used to make a tea of scrapings from the Father’s inside had band”

“An old Pennsylvania relief for toothache was a sod of grass boiled in vinegar and applied to the aching molar”

“To cure snakebites, deep incisions were once made and filled with salt and gunpowder”

“In times gone by, cobwebs and brown sugar were pressed on wounds to staunch bleeding”

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