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10 Bizarre Treatments Doctors Used to Think Were Legit

Tobacco Smoke Enemas
You’re going to blow tobacco smoke WHERE? © nikkytok/iStock/Thinkstock
You’re going to blow tobacco smoke WHERE? © nikkytok/iStock/Thinkstock

If you needed immediate lifesaving treatment during the 17th and 18th centuries, you might have found yourself being given a tobacco enema. That's right, literally blowing smoke up the keister. There was even a device designed for such an enema -- a "resuscitator kit" complete with rubber rectal tubes and a pair of bellows.

The idea here was the tobacco smoke would warm up an almost-dead body and kick start respiration. While it was first tried on drowning victims, tobacco enemas became a fashionable way to treat everything from colds, headaches, hernias, typhoid fever, cholera and even death itself. It's the nicotine in the tobacco that was at the heart of this so-called cure. Nicotine, the active ingredient, acts as a stimulant in your body, stimulating your adrenal glands to produce adrenaline (the hormone epinephrine). Makes sense -- except that it isn't effective (or healthy) used as an enema. By 1811, scientists discovered the toxic effects of nicotine on the human heart, and resuscitator kits were shelved.