Doctors have been prescribing medicine for far longer than most people realize. Early prescriptions were etched on clay tablets over 4,000 years ago. The first drugstore was in Baghdad in the eighth century. Medicine has evolved greatly in that time, and the number of prescriptions doctors prescribe has skyrocketed. Upwards of 4.69 billion were filled in America in 2021. And, as it turns out, some prescriptions are for things a little more unexpected than Lipitor or Amoxicillin
10. Rectal Dilators
The 18th and 19th centuries were not necessarily a period of enlightenment, as far as medicine was concerned. There was a lot of quackery afoot and treatments that were at best useless and at worst deadly were rolled out for all manner of ailments. This was the era that gave us heavy narcotics as a cure for just about any condition, not to mention things like tobacco enemas and white lead smears.
Not everything that doctors prescribed at this time was medicine, there were also medical devices. Or maybe “alleged” medical devices, like rectal dilators. Sold in a series of graduated sizes, patients were advised to insert the rubber dilator until their rectum had adjusted, then move on up a size. The obvious question now is why. Why would anyone do this? According to the packaging, this was a cure for piles, constipation, headache, stomach disorders, insomnia, and even weak heart action. Who knew the butt was such a pathway to health?
Obviously that was past and now we live in a more progressive time, right? Well, tell that to Sandy Springs, Georgia, which made the sale of any kind of adult-oriented devices like vibrators illegal unless buyers had a prescription from their doctors.
If you’ve ever had an extended stay in a hospital, you’ve experienced hospital food. It’s made to be fairly bland by design because the last thing a hospital wants is to make people even sicker. So generally you get mild, flavorless, textureless sustenance. But they will throw in a curveball now and then.
Some hospitals provide beer by prescription to some patients. It may be prescribed for patients going through withdrawal to help them ease their symptoms. In at least one hospital in Canada, patients are prescribed a small daily dose of vodka to help overcome their alcoholism. The concept dates back to Prohibition times when people could be exempted from the ban if their doctor signed off on it. Prescriptions were written for beer and even whiskey back then. Consider it like medical marijuana prescriptions closer to the present. Whiskey doesn’t have a whole lot of medicinal value, of course, and the prescriptions seemed to just be a way for doctors to make a few extra bucks.
We already covered how some intimate items have been the subject of prescriptions in various times and places, but it doesn’t just end there. Even things like KY Jelly have been prescription-only.
The water soluble personal lubricant is made mostly of glycerol and hydroxyethylcellulose. There are a handful of preservative and antiseptic ingredients as well, but nothing close to a narcotic or anything really dangerous at all. Despite that, it was introduced in 1917 when it was available by prescription only. It wasn’t until 1980 that you could buy the stuff over the counter.
It’s still prescribed today for some patients to deal with symptoms relating to conditions that cause excessive dryness. A doctor may prescribe it so that it can potentially be covered by drug benefit plans rather than paying out of pocket for it.
7. The ADHD Video Game
Minecraft is the top-selling video game of all time, with around 238 million copies sold. That’s a lot of blocks. For years, parents, encouraged by the media, have feared that video games were causing their children problems, including things like ADHD. There’s no evidence that’s the case, however. In fact, there’s evidence that video games may help kids with ADHD, so much so that there’s a video game that can be prescribed by doctors to help treat it called EndeavorRx.
The game is designed for kids between eight and 12 years of age. It wasn’t just slapped together, either. Clinical trials of the game lasted six years and included 600 children. After four weeks of using the game, one-third of children report improvement in their abilities to concentrate. Half of parents agreed they’d seen a noticeable difference in their child day to day.
The game works by using sensory stimuli and motor challenges to target portions of the brain related to attention and concentration according to its creators. That said, critics think it’s mostly smoke and mirrors and little more than a scam.
Once upon a time, a doctor might prescribe leeches to you if he thought your blood was giving you flatulence. Have the little guys suck out a bit of the bad stuff and you’d get better, was the thinking. More commonly it was used to treat things like fever, which were thought to be caused by an imbalance of the humors. Basically, you had too much blood, and it made you hot. They’d be placed inside your nostrils, your lips, or all sorts of places to help alleviate symptoms.
While to modern sensibilities, this seems like quackery, it’s not entirely baseless. In fact, leeches are still prescribed by some doctors to this day. They’re not used to treat anything like a fever or hemorrhoids as they once were, but they do have a place. For instance, if a person has suffered a severed digit that was sewn back on, leech therapy could be prescribed to stimulate blood flow and prevent clotting as the repaired finger heals.
Leeches have a compound in their saliva called hirudin that prevents blood from coagulating. This is an ideal and weirdly natural way to promote healing and blood flow as a result.
They’re not the only creepy-crawly that might be prescribed these days, either. Maggot therapy is still being used in some cases as well. The larvae of flies have a knack for devouring rotten tissue while ignoring healthy stuff, so they can be used to clean wounds that are having trouble healing.
5. Passes for National Parks
Have you ever heard someone recommend you go outside and get some fresh under because it’ll do you good? Turns out there’s something to that idea, and doctors are getting on board with it in Canada. You can get a prescription for visiting a national park there.
Canada has numerous national parks from coast to coast and typically these require the payment of an entrance fee. Those who make use of parks, especially for things like camping or fishing, find a Parks Canada Discovery Pass to be a worthwhile investment as it gives you access to all parks across the country for a whole year. That’s over 80 parks and 450,000 square kilometers of space. They cost $72.25 Canadian for an adult.
Doctors and some nurses are able to prescribe these passes in several provinces. Patients suffering from both mental and physical conditions are being given them based on evidence that indicates being immersed in nature can reduce anxiety and improve a person’s mental and physical wellbeing.
4. Cooking Classes
Medicine has to always be evolving. We can’t rest on our laurels because people are always getting sick with something and there are always better ways to deal with it. Modern doctors, some of them anyway, have taken to thinking outside the box to try to treat the patient as a whole rather than focusing on a single symptom or condition. That’s how you end up getting prescription cooking classes.
Loneliness causes health problems. It’s been recognized by numerous health organizations for some time now. Social isolation is not good for people and can lead to increased risk for all manner of illness, both mental and physical. So rather than giving patients medication for the effects of conditions brought on by isolation and loneliness, doctors are getting ahead of the problem. Cooking classes and even walking groups are being prescribed to help people get out and be in the world with others. This was happening even before Covid, so it will probably ramp up once the pandemic has passed considering how much damage it’s done with increased isolation.
3. Fruits and Veggies
Everyone knows that they should be eating fruits and vegetables, but in a lot of cases that’s more of a nice idea than a reality. Some people just have unhealthy habits and don’t eat properly, while others have fewer opportunities to do so. For some people in food deserts where access to fresh fruits and vegetables is difficult, eating healthy can be a real chore. For others, it can be cost prohibitive to maintain a healthy diet for themselves and their family as prices go up.
New York City started a program where doctors could prescribe fruits and vegetables to those with conditions like high blood pressure and poor access to healthy food. The prescriptions are essentially just vouchers for healthy food and for many people, it’s a real benefit. They get to eat better and get healthier while the food is actually covered, so they’re getting some relief on their food bills.
The program began at two hospitals back in 2013 but has continued for years. Patients receive coupons worth $2 a piece that can be used at hundreds of markets across New York. The Pharmacy to Farm Program was adopted in 2017 and gives patients $30 from participating pharmacies to spend on fruits and vegetables.
With doctors prescribing things like nature and healthy foods, it’s not a stretch to imagine how a prescription bicycle might fit into the mix as well. In 2014, doctors in Boston began writing prescriptions as part of the “Prescribe-a-Bike” program which allowed low-income patients to subscribe to Hubway for $5 a year. Memberships are typically $11 per month. Hubway was the precursor to Blue Bikes, a bicycle sharing program based in Boston that started in 2011. By 2021, they had over 23,000 members.
1. Radon Healing Mines
Most people never run afoul of radon gas but if you do, it may be thanks to it leaking into your house. Some homes have radon detectors in the basement because radon, a radioactive gas that can cause lung cancer, is present in soil. In certain places, it can seep into homes and build to toxic levels in the basement. And if it does that, why would you ever want to be exposed to it?
Turns out radon also has therapeutic properties. Radon has been used for over a century to treat chronic pain and inflammation. In Montana, patients can even get a prescription to go sit in abandoned uranium mines full of it.
Uranium decays into radon so old mines tend to be saturated in it. Because it’s been used as a treatment for pain and inflammation as well as various muscular disorders, patients with severe arthritis and other conditions find it beneficial. Clinics have been set up at old uranium minds to allow patients to simply sit in the old mines and soak it in. Radon levels in the mines are about 400 times what the EPA cites as safe.
In other countries, radon hot springs are prescribed for therapeutic reasons and recognized by the healthcare community, but it’s less well regarded in America. The people sent to the Montana mines are the people who are in so much pain they’re debating between choosing radon or suicide, so it’s a serious issue even if it sounds bizarre on the surface.
The reason for the beneficial effects has never been seriously studied, so what is known is limited. The exposure may be promoting cell repair while eliminating free radicals and activating proteins that limit inflammation. Whatever the mechanism, it seems to work for some people