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10 Pain Relievers That People Actually Used In Ancient Times

Our ancestors were really creative in terms of medication.


In the past, people had to endure medical procedures in great pain. Although a glass (or more!) of wine or whiskey would usually do the trick, it wasn’t enough to relieve pain. Apparently, though, this wasn’t the case with everyone. Some were actually able to find relief in the most possible ways.

Archeology researchers suggest that people from the archaic times were creative in terms of medication. In fact, the knowledge they had was so fascinating that they made use of natural substances to relieve and/or block pain with ease.

Below are 10 pain relievers used by our ancient ancestors when advanced medical technology was yet to be their ally.

#10. Opium

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Opium poppies became a thing in lower Mesopotamia in 3400 BC and were coined poppy Hul Gil (or Joy Plant) by the Sumerians. It’s known for its euphoric and anesthetic properties, and this knowledge was then passed to the Assyrians to the Babylonians to the Egyptians. 1300 BC came, the latter cultivated their own opium and they used it for all sorts of medical ventures. In 330 BC, Alexander the Great was responsible for introducing it to the Indians and the Persians. Although opium provides anesthetic solutions, its properties make it a favorite for drug smugglers. It’s both dubbed as a “benefit and malice” in the modern society.

#9. Henbane

Source: Pixabay

Henbane – or usually known as Hyoscyamus niger – is capable of providing psychotropic effects. Regardless, ancient people heavily used it to relieve pain. This is actually thanks to its atropine and scopolamine elements. The former is a poison that can be used, ironically, as a muscle relaxant; whereas the latter is a poisonous alkaloid used in calming patients, inducing sleep, and preventing people from vomiting. Commonly, henbane was used to remedy toothaches.

#8. Acupuncture

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Acupuncture, according to the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine in 100 BC, is “an organized system of diagnosis and treatment.” This one here involves the use of needles, which are inserted on multiple areas in the body. These areas, in particular, are called life force channels. The insertion is meant to balance the body’s flow of yin and yang and is done by making use of a person’s so-called body meridians. While some people would agree to the wonderful effects of acupuncture, most medical experts believe otherwise. For them, the idea of treating medical conditions using acupuncture is nothing but a placebo effect.

#7. Mandragora

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Contrary to popular belief, Mandragora was actually the first anesthetics used by ancient people to render an individual unconscious. In fact, it was the great Greek physician Dioscorides (AD 40-90) who superbly promoted the effects of the Mandragora. He reportedly created a wine made from a mandrake plant to be used as a powerful sleeping agent for surgical patients. Dioscorides described the slumber state as “anesthesia.”

#6. Datura

Source: Pixabay

Interestingly, Datura (aka jimsonweed or thorn apple) was first derived from a very poisonous plant. Even so, it became a popular sleep inducer and/or pain reliever. The drug, however, had multiple serious side effects.

First, it may cause hallucinations even if only a single drachma (around 3.411 grams) is used. Second, two drachmas are enough to cause madness for three or more days. According to Listverse, greater quantities are capable of causing severe to permanent insanity – and death, too!

#5. Ethylene

The power of ethylene actually came from a very popular myth involving the Pythian priestess of Apollo. She mentioned about inhaling gasses from certain fault lines located in the Sun god’s temple. Apparently, among these gasses is ethylene, an anesthetic that can be acquired through inhalation. Come 1930, it became the new general anesthetic in the field of medical technology, replacing the ever-common chloroform. Experts say that ethylene is capable of rendering a patient unconscious for around three to eight minutes. And believe it or not, this is without any feeling of excitement and suffocation.

#4. Cannabis

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It was the Chinese emperor Fu who first noticed that cannabis (commonly called “weed”) was a pain reliever itself. China became the first country to utilize cannabis as an all-around pain reliever. It quickly became a popular product around the world. In AD 800, it was mainly used for relieving migraine and other sorts of headaches.

#3. Corydalis Plant

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Chinese in the past used corydalis plants to alleviate headaches and backaches, among many other things. Modern scientists later on proved that this plant offers an effective analgesic, as it contains the natural painkilling element called dehydrocorybulbine (DHCB).

A pharmacologist at UC Irvine named Olivier Civelli was quoted saying:

This medicine goes back thousands of years, and it is still around because it works.”

It’s believed that the Corydalis Plant can improve a person’s life force chi flow and thus can remedy pain. In reality, though, this is actually thanks to DHCB.

#2. Carotid Compression

In ancient times, doctors believed that for pain to be alleviated, the patient must be rendered unconscious. And how exactly did they achieve this? Well, believe it or not, it was through the squeezing of the carotid arteries found in the neck. This is similar to the ones you see in movies where a person chokes another person to death. But for the method to be successful, the doctors would make sure that the squeeze was only enough to temporarily shut off the said arteries. This would then interfere the blood flow from the heart all the way to the brain.

#1. Willow Bark

Source: Pelle Dolce

Centuries after centuries, people have used the willow tree to remedy pain. These trees grew in the Nile’s riverbanks and were described by various ancient medical texts as a painkiller. Both the ancient Greeks and Chinese utilized said bark for the same purpose. Dioscorides, in particular, said that it can significantly reduce inflammation in the body. But according to modern science, the willow bark actually contains salicin. This is a chemical quite similar to aspiring, though the latter is not as capable as salicin. It’s being used to relieve backache, headache, and osteoarthritis, to name a few.


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