Top 10 Shocking Historical Beliefs and Practices

Tobacco Smoke Enema

Tobacco Enema

The tobacco smoke enema was a medical procedure that was widely used in western medicine, during the turn of the 19th century. The treatment included an insufflation of tobacco smoke into the patient’s rectum by enema. The agricultural product of tobacco was recognized as a medicine soon after it was first imported from the New World. During this time, tobacco smoke was widely used by western medical practitioners as a tool against many ailments, including headaches, respiratory failure, stomach cramps, colds and drowsiness. The idea to apply tobacco smoke with an enema was a technique appropriated from the North American Indians.

It was believed that the procedure could treat gut pain, and attempts were often made to resuscitate victims of near drowning. Many medical journals from this time noted that the human body can undergo a stimulation of respiration through the introduction of tobacco smoke by a rectal tube. In fact, by the turn of the 19th century, tobacco smoke enemas had become an established practice in western medicine. The treatment was considered by Humane Societies to be as important as artificial respiration. Meaning, if you stopped breathing, the doctor’s first action was to shove a tube up your rectum and to begin pumping tobacco smoke in your body. Tobacco enemas were used to treat hernias and the smoke was often supplemented with other substances, including chicken broth.

According to a report from 1835, tobacco enemas were used successfully to treat cholera during the “stage of collapse”. Attacks on the theories surrounding the ability of tobacco to cure diseases began early in the 17th century, with King James I publically denouncing the treatment. In 1811, English scientist Benjamin Brodie demonstrated that nicotine, the principal active agent in tobacco smoke, is a cardiac poison that can stop the circulation of blood in animals. This ground breaking report directly led to a quick decline in the use of tobacco smoke enemas in the medical community. By the middle of the 19th century, only a small, select group of medical professional offered the treatment.

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