If there’s anything that can be said in favor of this idiotic procedure, it’s that at least it usually tends to be self-inflicted by those who actively seek it and is not normally something that quacks convince people, who would otherwise not do such an act, to do. However, this is not always the case. In 2000, at least two men were arrested in Utah for practicing medicine without a license after preforming trepanations on several individuals. The practitioners claimed that they could provide relief for a variety of conditions ranging from depression to addictions. There is, of course, no scientific evidence of this being the case.
Warning: The following video contains some slightly graphic scenes of an actual medical trepanation. It’s only brief and relatively clinical, but if you’re really squeamish you may not want to watch. However, the second of the two videos is not graphic at all.
There are a number of individuals and organizations that push the procedure and advocate the benefits of trepanation. One of the most vocal is Bart Hughes, who, despite often being called one, is not a doctor at all. As recently as this year, Hughes has been publishing various articles and press releases claiming that the procedure has numerous benefits and can enhance human consciousness. There is even an international trepanation advocacy group.
It is true that trepanation has a long history in both Western culture and other places in the world. That said, “Well doctors in the middle ages did it,” is generally not recognized as a means of validating as good medicine. Whether or not it ever had any therapeutic value is, at best, questionable, although few medical procedures of centuries past did. Skulls with apparently intentionally created holes have been found in Asia, Europe and the Americas. A few show signs of healing, indicating that not only was the hole created on purpose, but that the individual survived the procedure.
It is a fallacy to presume that there must be some special significance to a custom that was independently developed in multiple cultures. In the case of trepanation there are examples of the practice from around the world, and some have used this as evidence that various societies must have discovered the effectiveness of the procedure. There is, however, a simpler explanation. Headaches are a common complaint in humans and have a number of causes. They can range from irritating to nearly debilitating. An individual suffering from persistent or severe headaches may feel as if there is pressure inside their head that must be relieved or that there was some need to release bad energy or spirits from their head. Lacking an understanding of medicine and the human body, it’s easy to see how putting a hole in the skull might seem like the logical thing to do.
In modern times, trepanation does continue to be used as a valid medical procedure, though not because it is therapeutic in and of itself. The act of cutting or drilling a hole into the skull is used as a means of gaining access to the brain for surgery or to repair severe skull fractures, where damaged portions of bone need to be removed. It may also be necessary when treating Epidural hematoma, as a means of alleviating blood pooling.
In most cases the bone is replaced. If it cannot be, because the bone is damaged or because the area need to be operated on further, measures are taken to provide protection. Bone is replaced when possible and occasionally replace with a prosthetic. Restoration of the removed area is known as a cranioplasty.
It should be stressed that while it is occasionally necessary to open the skull, modern medicine does not recognize any benefit from an otherwise healthy person walking around with a gaping hole in their cranium. Operations which would lead to such a condition are only employed when absolutely necessary.
The purported benefits from this procedure are based on a complete lack of understanding of anatomy and the function of the brain. Putting a hole into ones skull does not in any way shape or form increase blood flow to the brain or the volume of blood in the brain. The human brain does not receive its blood supply from the scalp. It has its own dedicated blood vessels. The amount of blood which flows through the small capillaries in the scalp tissue is comparatively small, and making a hole in the skull is not going to cause any new blood vessels to form.
Increasing the “volume of blood in the brain” is not necessarily a good thing. Having blood pool in one area can be very dangerous. The blood vessels of the brain do a good job in keeping blood constantly flowing both into and out of the brain, constantly keeping it nourished and oxygenated. There’s no reason to fool with this unless there is a major problem to begin with.
While the brain sure as hell is not going to be sucking any oxygen in through a hole in the head, the hole and the act of making it can have extremely severe and potentially fatal complications. A few of these include: going in too far and causing a debilitating or deadly brain injury, causing a blood clot or other damage that could lead to a stroke or other severe or fatal complications and infection of the brain or the lining of the brain (brain infections can be very serious), bleeding and leaving fragments of bone in the brain.
Even if the procedure goes off without a hitch, simply having the hole puts a person in grave danger of a brain injury from a simple bump on the head or other trauma that would otherwise be very minor to anyone with an intact skull.
Finally, I think it’s quite funny to hear proponents of this ridiculous procedure state that it brings you to a higher state of consciousness in the same way that smoking hash or using LSD does (although apparently not as effectively.) Hashish (which is just a concentrated form of marijuana) does not increase a person’s awareness, cognitive function, perception of their environment or any other mental faculties. It actually impairs them, often significantly. The experience may be pleasurable, but if you think you’re smarter when you’re high, then it’s just because, well, you’re high, and thus can’t judge your own intelligence very well.
LSD also doesn’t actually “expand” the mind. What it does is cause regions of the brain to communicate in a manner that causes confusion between internal and external stimuli of various types. The response varies widely from person to person, but it often includes a cognitive shift with dream-like states of hallucination and apparent sensory confusion. The condition can be similar to severe psychosis. It may help with writing really trippy songs, but it does not actually make you smarter or understand things better. Again, it only seems like that.
(Seriously, if you don’t believe me, try being the only person who is stone cold sober in a group of people using the above substances. It does not improve their mental capacity, no matter how much they insist it does.)
This entry was posted on Thursday, April 22nd, 2010 at 4:15 pm and is filed under Bad Science, Culture, History, Just LAME, Not Even Wrong, Quackery, media. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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