CLOSE
Original image
ThinkStock/Erin McCarthy

33 Unusual Majors Your College Probably Didn't Offer

Original image
ThinkStock/Erin McCarthy

As about 150 million college students make their way to campus this week—including a record number of 21.8 million in the U.S. alone—they’ll be faced with the dreaded question that haunts all coeds throughout their academic careers: “What’s your major?”

While approximately one-third of undergraduates will begin their careers as “Undeclared,” the majority of incoming freshmen have a very firm idea of where their professional futures lie. And it’s not always in a traditional occupation. From beer to bowling and pot to pop culture, here are 33 strange college majors.

1. THE BEATLES

Getty Images

The College: Liverpool Hope University

Just because you think you’ve deciphered the meaning of “I Am the Walrus” doesn’t make you an expert on the Fab Four. But earning an M.A. in The Beatles, Popular Music & Society can go a long way to upping your Liverpool street cred. Established in 2009, the program explores the role popular music has played over the past 50 years, using The Beatles as a case study. Not surprisingly, you’ll need to travel to the band’s birthplace—sometimes called “The World Capital City of Pop”—to do it. Also not surprisingly: The program is the only one of its kind in the world.

2. CANNABIS CULTIVATION

Thinkstock

The College: Oaksterdam University

Leave it to California to open the country’s first cannabis college. Then again, considering the thriving—and legal—industry that exists for medicinal marijuana in The Golden State, it really only makes sense that there would be a trade school for the cannabis industry. And one where classes in the history, politics, and legalities of herb are taught alongside seminars on growing and methods of ingestion. But don’t be surprised if your classroom time gets interrupted by a raid by the Feds; that’s exactly what happened in April of 2012, when a bevy of DEA, IRS, and U.S. Marshals Service agents showed up on the school’s doorstep.

3. COMEDY

Thinkstock

The College: Humber College

Think you’re funny? Whip out your diploma and prove it. Toronto’s Humber College takes its laughs seriously with its Comedy: Writing and Performance program, aimed at helping sort of funny people become really funny people by perfecting their comedic timing and understanding of how the funny business works, utilizing a faculty of working comedians and putting on weekly shows at the nearby Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club and an industry showcase at Second City—all in the name of making it big in stand-up, improv, sketch comedy and/or screenwriting. 

4. FERMENTATION SCIENCES

Getty Images

The College: Appalachian State University

As tempted as one might be to call this a degree in beer-making, there’s a lot more to a career in suds than cracking open a cold one. The official description of this B.S. is “an interdisciplinary degree within the College of Arts and Sciences intended to provide students with a strong background in chemistry and biology and a considerable focus in business, marketing, and entrepreneurial principles.” Hands-on experience comes courtesy of the Ivory Tower Brewery, an on-campus, nonprofit brewery and plant managed by the school’s students and faculty. We’ll drink to that! 

5. SEXUALITY

Thinkstock

The College: San Francisco State University

A career in sex doesn’t have to come with an X rating. The M.A. degree at SFSU is an academic program more than five decades in the making, where students immerse themselves in a wide range of topics surrounding human sexuality, from its representation in arts and literature to social justice for sexual minorities. It’s academia at its most titillating.

6. VITICULTURE and ENOLOGY

Getty Images

The College: Cornell University

College-age connoisseurs who know the difference between a Zinfandel (good) and a White Zinfandel (bad) might be ripe for a career in wine—an industry where demand is outgrowing the supply of qualified professionals to oversee the vineyards that produce the best vino and manage the wineries that sell them. Translation: job security, kiddos! While Cornell students will face the unique challenges of growing grapes and making wine in a northeastern U.S. climate, the schooling they get in soils, pests, grape varietals, and growing markets can be easily translated to any of the world’s wine countries (and make the job that much easier).

7. DECISION SCIENCES

Thinkstock

The College: Indiana University

A Ph.D in Decision Sciences is really the antithesis of being “undecided,” with doctoral candidates at IU amassing expertise in a range of quantitative methods in order to make business decisions at the highest level. These aren’t yes or no questions we’re dealing with; graduates emerge with the skills to apply research, data and analysis to solve problems in a range of precise disciplines, from finance to information technology.

8. POPULAR CULTURE

The College: Bowling Green State University

And you thought all those hours spent binge-watching Arrested Development had no professional merit! The official pitch for BGSU’s B.A. is that “By examining television programs, movies, cars, houses, music, museums, celebratory events, holidays, magazines and many other manifestations of culture, insights can be used to examine society presently and historically.” On a more practical level, students can parlay their studies into a career in journalism, mass media, advertising, or public relations. 

9. FLORAL MANAGEMENT

Getty Images

The College: Mississippi State University

Running a flower shop isn’t as easy as Janet made it look on Three’s Company, what with all the sourcing, purchasing, marketing, merchandising and selling that’s required. Floral Management students at MSU get an up-close look at what a career in floral retail, wholesale, design, styling or display gardening feels and smells like, courtesy of The University Florist, an on-campus flower shop owned and operated by the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

10. AUCTIONEERING

Thinkstock

The College: Harrisburg Area Community College

Do I hear 20 credits? A first step toward becoming a licensed auctioneer in the state of Pennsylvania is completing the Auctioneering program at HACC, where students develop an eye for procuring the best merchandise for auction, utilizing the best appraisal sources and techniques, and developing that all-important auction “chant.” Going once, going twice…

11. POULTRY SCIENCE

Getty Images

The College: Texas A&M

As Jim Perdue would tell you, it takes a tough man (or woman) to make a tender chicken. Hence the need for an education in the science of poultry, where academics, research, and service play equally important parts in a career in this major agricultural commodity. The program’s wide-ranging curriculum includes courses in biology, chemistry, and zoology and such service-oriented topics as mathematics, public speaking, and technical writing. Bonus points for determining once and for all which came first, the chicken or the egg?

12. ENTERTAINMENT ENGINEERING & DESIGN

Getty Images

The College: University of Nevada, Las Vegas

A keen understanding of casino game design and engineering is as essential to the people who design the games in Vegas as it is to the pros who try to beat them. Which makes it all the more appropriate that Sin City is the setting for this B.S. degree, which educates students on both the art and business of the entertainment industry, from venue design and rigging to biomechanics and animatronics. Plus, students are never too far from a casino in which to ply their trade.

13. TURF AND GOLF COURSE MANAGEMENT

Thinkstock

The College: University of Maryland

Golf courses require a lot of upkeep, so UMD offers a plant science degree in Turf and Golf Course Management to help train the greenskeepers of the future. The B.S. program requires a bit of biology and chemistry, but there are also more enticing classes like “Weed Science” and “Pest Management Strategies for Turfgrass.” One can only hope that the latter class includes a screening of Caddyshack

14. TURFGRASS SCIENCE

Thinkstock

The College: Penn State University

For opportunities beyond the local country club, the more generalized B.S. in Turfgrass Science prepares students for careers in professional lawn care, sod production, athletic field maintenance, and beyond. Though the degree may sound like a walk in the park, courses lean toward the science side of the equation (biology, chemistry, and meteorology are required courses).

15. FAMILY ENTERPRISE

Thinkstock

The College: Stetson University

Countless entrepreneurs have been warned about the dangers of doing business with friends—but family? That’s another story. Some of today’s biggest corporate success stories—including The Gap, Walmart, Ford, and Motorola—are technically “family businesses.” In DeLand, Florida, Stetson’s Family Enterprise Center has been teaching students the right (and wrong!) ways to mix business with relatives since 1998. Topics of interest include personal, professional and leadership development and legal, estate and asset protection.

16. CANADIAN STUDIES

Getty Images

The Colleges: Duke University; Johns Hopkins University; SUNY Plattsburgh; University of Vermont

Canada looms large and expansive just north of the United States, but most of us are pretty uneducated about what the heck goes on there. Students who want to learn more about our neighbors to the north can absorb the culture, politics, and history of Canada through a Canadian Studies major at one of several universities. This sounds like possibly the only major in which there’s a slight chance you’ll have to watch Strange Brew as part of your coursework, unless you design your own Rick Moranis Studies major. 

17. EGYPTOLOGY

Getty Images

The College: Brown University

We’re pretty sure that all of the great pyramids have been discovered, but on the off chance that there’s still a sphinx or two waiting to be stumbled upon, would-be Indiana Joneses would do well to have a degree in Egyptology. Established in 2005, Brown’s Department of Egyptology and Ancient Western Asian Studies—which offers B.A. and Ph.D degrees—brings students back to the birthplace of Western civilization as we know it with “Introduction to Classical Hieroglyphic Egyptian Writing and Language” and “Archaeology and the Ancient World” among their required courses.

18. JAZZ STUDIES

Thinkstock

The Colleges: University of North Texas, East Carolina University & University of Louisville

For whatever reason, jazz seems to inspire college music departments to start majors more than its fellow musical genres. A number of colleges around the country offer degree programs in jazz studies. These programs usually include both playing jazz and studying its history, cultural significance, and major figures. 

19. BASSOON

Thinkstock

The College: The University of Arizona

After completing the basic requirements for a bachelor’s degree in instrumental studies, students at UA’s School of Music choose their melodic weapon of choice. And for some would-be musicians, that means a bassoon—that 19th-century woodwind that mimics the sound of a male baritone so well and plays prominently in a number of orchestral and chamber music ensembles.

20. PIANO PEDAGOGY

Thinkstock

The College: Belmont University

It may seem odd, since so many folks took their childhood piano lessons from someone who didn’t have collegiate training, but the B.Mus degree at Nashville’s Belmont University doesn’t sound like a bad career move from a stability standpoint; moms forcing their kids to take piano lessons is an economy-resistant tradition. Want to take that education one step further? The University of Oregon in Eugene offers advanced graduate degrees in the discipline. 

21. BOWLING INDUSTRY MANAGEMENT AND TECHNOLOGY

Getty Images

The College: Vincennes University

Being a pin monkey may be Homer Simpson’s unreachable dream, but you can make it your reality at Indiana’s first college, which offers the country’s only program in Bowling Industry Management and Technology. Required classes for this A.S. degree include “Lane and Pinsetter Maintenance,” “Pro Shop Operations and Essentials” and “Responsible Alcohol Service.” The program’s site proudly touts its facilities, including an 18-lane bowling center that acts as a laboratory for students to gain hands-on experience.

22. COSTUME TECHNOLOGY

Thinkstock

The College: DePaul University

Much like film editors are to the movies, costume designers are the unsung heroes of the theater—the people upon whom the audience (unknowingly) relies to take them into a fantasy world. Needless to say, there’s a science to this talent that goes far beyond a flair for fashion. Costume Technology majors within DePaul’s Theatre School will explore the world of costuming from a variety of disciplines, from art and architecture to ethics and business management. Draping, cutting and designing are, of course, part of the package, too. 

23. DIVING BUSINESS & TECHNOLOGY

Thinkstock

The College: Florida Keys Community College

It’s the dream of many a beach bum to spend their days carting tourists around and showing off the undiscovered corners of their waterfront worlds. James E. Lockwood Jr. School of Diving in Key West can get you one knot closer to this goal with an A.A.S. curriculum that merges diving science with instruction, leading the way to a thriving—and oh-so-freeing—career as a dive master, scuba instructor, commercial diver, water-based medical technician, research diver or underwater photojournalist. 

24. FAMILY and CONSUMER SCIENCE

Getty Images

The College: Liberty University

This bachelor’s degree path at the Lynchburg, Virginia school that was founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell in 1971 sounds an awful lot like home economics. According to the school’s website, “The Department of Family and Consumer Sciences teaches students the values, knowledge and skills necessary to be proactive in strengthening the contemporary family. The goal of Family and Consumer Sciences is to enable individuals and families to function as healthy units in the larger society.” Classes like “Balancing Work and Family” and “Family Economic Decisions” sound like helpful bits of life advice but aren’t quite what we’re used to thinking about in the classroom. 

25. ECOGASTRONOMY

Getty Images

The College: University of New Hampshire

In 2008, UNH launched a dual major in EcoGastronomy, a program that educates students on how food gets from farms to their plates. With an eye toward sustainability, pupils study food at a number of steps along the road to their mouth to gauge the ecological impact of what they eat. EcoGastronomy students will also pick up knowledge about the hospitality industry, nutrition and agriculture in this major. And will undoubtedly get to sample a ton of tasty fresh foods.

26. PACKAGING

Getty Images

The College: Michigan State University

MSU’s School of Packaging offers B.S., M.S. and Ph.D programs. What does the School of Packaging study? Exactly what it sounds like: all sorts of packaging in an effort to improve functionality and environmental impact. Since we’re unlikely to revert to a system in which goods are sold loose without packages any time soon, this major might lead to a steady career.

27. EQUINE STUDIES

Getty Images

The College: Becker College

If you like horses, why not major in them? Several colleges offer degree programs in studying horses, each with its own focus. Some programs, like this one at Becker College in Worcester, MA, offer students the choice of concentrating in riding instruction so that they can eventually teach lessons. Other programs, like the one at the University of Maryland, forgo saddling up in favor of preparing students for scientific horse study or working on the business side of the equine industry. 

28. BAKERY SCIENCE

Getty Images

The Colleges: Kansas State University & Hesston College

Smelling like a loaf of fresh-baked bread might just be the most brilliant way to make new friends. Modern commercial baking relies pretty heavily on science to achieve consistency and efficiency, and this major teaches prospective bakers and managers the cereal science, microbiology and milling expertise they’ll need to run a successful bakery.

29. THEME PARK ENGINEERING

Getty Images

The College: California State University Long Beach

California State University offers a fun twist on electrical engineering with its B.S. in Theme Park Engineering, which readies students for careers in the theme park and amusement industries, where they’ll meld elements of electrical, civil and mechanical engineering to learn the critical specifics of electrical power, hydraulics and pneumatic controls. 

30. NANNYING

Getty Images

The College: Sullivan University

Ready to take that part-time gig watching your younger siblings to the professional stage? The Professional Nanny Program at Sullivan University in Louisville, Kentucky has been turning babysitters into early childhood education professionals for nearly 25 years now with a 12-month diploma program that teaches essentials like CPR, First Aid and Water Safety plus the fun stuff, like etiquette and manners, effective communication (with parents and children) and party planning.

31. COMIC ART

Thinkstock

The College: Minneapolis College of Art and Design

Master the serious art of storytelling, while studying the use of line, color, and composition, as well as character development, storyboarding and plot. In other words: become the next Stan Lee with this BFA program from the world-renowned Minneapolis College of Art and Design, with a dual emphasis on the history of comic art and individual, experimental expression.

32. GUNSMITHING

Getty Images

The College: Lassen Community College

An unsurprising fact about the Gunsmithing school at LCC in Susanville, California is that it was founded in 1945. A surprising fact about the Gunsmithing school at LCC in Susanville, California is that it is still a thriving academic endeavor. But its specialties aren’t as archaic as they sound. The NRA-affiliated program—the oldest in the U.S.—offers A.S. degrees in Firearms Repair and General Gunsmithing, with “Basic Machine Shop,” “Barreling” and “Engraving” among the course offerings.

33. PUPPETRY

Thinkstock

The College: University of Connecticut

Like something out of a Spike Jonze movie, puppetry has been an academic specialty of UConn since 1964, when master puppeteer Frank W. Ballard—who passed away in 2010 and for whom an on-campus museum is named—first started teaching classes. In the five decades since the subject’s introduction, the school has put on nearly 500 puppet productions, with graduates of the BFA, MFA and MA programs going on to design and perform for some of the world’s best-known theaters, television shows, film studios, schools, museums and beyond. 

Original image
Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images
arrow
Pop Culture
5 Killer Pieces of Rock History Up for Auction Now (Including Prince’s Guitar)
Original image
Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images

If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of rock history, now is the time. A whole host of cool music memorabilia from the 20th century is going up for sale through Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles as part of its “Icons and Idols” sale. If you’ve got the dough, you can nab everything from leather chairs from Graceland to a shirt worn by Jimi Hendrix to never-before-available prints that Joni Mitchell signed and gave to her friends. Here are five highlights from the auction:

1. ELVIS’S NUNCHUCKS

Elvis’s nunchucks
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Elvis’s karate skills sometimes get a bad rap, but the King earned his first black belt in 1960, and went on to become a seventh-degree black belt before opening his own studio in 1974. You can cherish a piece of his martial arts legacy in the form of his nunchaku. One was broken during his training, but the other is still in ready-to-use shape. (But please don’t use it.) It seems Elvis wasn’t super convinced of his own karate skills, though, because he also supposedly carried a police baton (which you can also buy) for his personal protection.

2. PRINCE’S GUITAR

A blue guitar used by Prince
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Prince’s blue Cloud guitar, estimated to be worth between $60,000 and $80,000, appeared on stage with him in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The custom guitar was made just for Prince by Cloud’s luthier (as in, guitar maker) Andy Beech. The artist first sold it at a 1994 auction to benefit relief efforts for the L.A. area’s devastating Northridge earthquake.

3. KURT COBAIN’S CHEERLEADER OUTFIT

Kurt Cobain wearing a cheerleader outfit in the pages of Rolling Stone
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

The Nirvana frontman wore the bright-yellow cheerleader’s uniform from his alma mater, J.M. Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen, Washington, during a photo shoot for a January 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, released just a few months before his death.

4. MICHAEL JACKSON’S WHITE GLOVE

A white glove covered in rhinestones
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

A young Michael Jackson wore this bejeweled right-hand glove on his 1981 Triumph Tour, one of the first of many single gloves he would don over the course of his career. Unlike later incarnations, this one isn’t a custom-made glove with hand-sewn crystals, but a regular glove topped with a layer of rhinestones cut into the shape of the glove and sewn on top.

The auction house is also selling a pair of jeans the star wore to his 2003 birthday party, as well as other clothes he wore for music videos and performances.

5. WOOD FROM ABBEY ROAD STUDIOS

A piece of wood in a frame under a picture of The Beatles
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

You can’t walk the halls of Abbey Road Studios, but you can pretend. First sold in 1986, the piece of wood in this frame reportedly came from Studio Two, a recording space that hosted not only The Beatles (pictured), but Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and others.

Original image
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0
arrow
Lists
5 Dubious Historical Antidotes for Poison (and What Actually Works)
Original image
An artificial bezoar stone from Goa, India
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

When it comes to their health, humans will believe just about anything. In this extract from the new book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything, authors Lydia Kang, MD, and Nate Pedersen discuss some of the more questionable ways people once tried to protect themselves from poison—whether or not the methods actually worked.

Poison is everywhere. Naturally or unnaturally, it can be in the soil (arsenic), in the air (carbon monoxide), in your drinks (lead), and in your food (cyanide). With so much danger around, it’s no wonder humans have obsessed over finding a universal antidote—the one thing that could save us from all toxins. Imagine you’re a medieval prince about to inherit the throne. Chances are, there are a lot of power-hungry wannabes waiting in the wings. A little arsenic or hemlock might be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Just in case, best have an antidote on standby.

For millennia, a certain amount of magical thinking was employed when arming oneself against poison because science was inconveniently slow to catch up. So grab your handy unicorn horn and a bezoar, and let’s take a look.

1. BEZOARS

Bezoars have been used for centuries as antidotes to poisons. A bezoar is solid mass of undigested food, plant fibers, or hair found in the digestive tracts of animals, including deer, porcupines, fish, and, yes, humans. Anyone with a cat is familiar with the less-cool feline version: hairballs.

Bezoars and other stone-like items created by animals often had a good story behind them. Legends told of deer that would eat poisonous snakes and become immune or cry tears that solidified into poison-curing stones. First-century Arabic author al-Birumi claimed bezoars could protect against one poison called “the snot of Satan,” which we hope never ever to encounter. By the 12th century, when Europe became plagued with, uh, plagues, the bezoar crept into pharmacopeias as panaceas and alexipharmics (poison antidotes).

Bezoars were a seductive notion for the rich and royal, who were at risk of assassination. The stones were often enclosed in bejeweled gold for display or worn as amulets. Indian bezoars, in particular, were sought for life-threatening fevers, poisonous bites, bleeding, jaundice, and melancholy. Consumers were also known to scrape off a bit of bezoar and add it to their drinks for heart health and kidney stones. These tonics were sometimes adulterated with toxic mercury or antimony, which caused vomiting and diarrhea, making buyers think they were effective.

But were they? One team of researchers soaked bezoars in an arsenic-laced solution and found that the stones absorbed the arsenic or that the poison was neutralized. Hard to say if it worked well enough to cure a fatal dose. Ambroise Paré, one of the preeminent French physicians of the 16th century, was also a doubter. The king’s cook, who’d been stealing silver, was given the choice between hanging or being Paré’s lab rat. He chose the latter. After the cook consumed poison, Paré looked on as a bezoar was stuffed down his throat. Six hours later, he died wracked with pain. Perhaps he chose ... poorly?

2. MITHRIDATES

This antidote was named after Mithridates VI, the king of Pontus and Armenia Minor. Born in 134 BCE, he pretty much invented the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” by consuming poisons daily to prevent his own assassination. His royal home was stocked with stingray spines, toxic mushrooms, scorpions, mineral poisons, and a poisonous plant–filled garden. He was so unpoisonable that after his son took over his kingdom and he faced execution, he couldn’t even commit suicide by poison! He begged a guard to stab him to death. (It worked.)

Though the king’s actual recipe for the antidote is nowhere to be found, versions began to circulate after his death, and they became synonymous with the king himself. Compounds with lengthy and expensive ingredient lists prevailed, including iris, cardamom, anise, frankincense, myrrh, ginger, and saffron. In the first century, Pliny the Elder snarkily remarked, “The Mithridatic antidote is composed of fifty-four ingredients ... Which of the gods, in the name of Truth, fixed these absurd proportions? ... It is plainly a showy parade of the art, and a colossal boast of science.”

Showy or not, people would take the extensive mix of herbs, pound them together with honey, and eat a nut-sized portion to cure themselves. At least it endowed them with expensive-smelling breath.

3. HORNS

An apothecary shop sign in the shape of a unicorn
An ivory pharmacy sign in the shape of a unicorn's head
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Unicorn horns have been considered a part of antidote legend since the mythical beast galloped into literature around 300 BCE. For centuries afterward, real earthly beasts would sacrifice their lives and their horns to slake our thirst for the miraculous, nonexistent animal, including rhinoceroses, narwhals, and oryx. Even fossilized ammonites were used. It was believed that drinking vessels made of such horns might neutralize poisons, and wounds could be cured by holding them close by. In the 16th century, Mary, Queen of Scots reportedly used a unicorn horn to protect her from poisoning. Too bad it didn’t prevent her beheading.

4. PEARLS

Pearls have long been thought to be powerful antidotes. A beautiful, rare gem created by the homely oyster, a pearl is born out of annoyance (the mollusk secretes iridescent nacre to cover an irritant, like a parasite or grain of sand). Pretty as they are, they’re about as useful as the chalky antacid tablets on your bedside table; both are chiefly made of calcium carbonate. Good for a stomachache after some spicy food, but not exactly miraculous.

Pearl powder has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of diseases, and Ayurvedic physicians used it as an antidote in the Middle Ages. It was also reported to make people immortal. An old Taoist recipe recommended taking a long pearl and soaking it in malt, “serpent’s gall,” honeycomb, and pumice stone. When softened, it would be pulled like taffy and cut into bite-sized pieces to eat, and voilà! You would suddenly no longer need food to stay alive. Cleopatra famously drank down a large and costly pearl dissolved in wine vinegar, though in that case she wasn’t avoiding poison. She didn’t want to lose a bet with Antony—which might have fatally injured her pride.

5. THERIAC

Albarello vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
A vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Theriac was an herbal concoction created in the first century by Emperor Nero’s physician, Andromachus, who was reported to have Mithridates’s secret notes. It was a mashed formula of about 70 ingredients, including cinnamon, opium, rose, iris, lavender, and acacia in a honey base. In the 12th century, theriac made in Venice was branded as particularly special, and Venetian treacle (derived from a Middle English translation of theriac) became a hot commodity. Its public, dramatic production often attracted curious crowds.

By the 18th century, cheaper golden syrup was substituted for honey. As treacle began to lose its luster as a treatment, its definition as an herbal remedy disappeared from common vernacular. But the sweet syrup remained. Which is why when we think of treacle, we think of treacle tarts, not a fancy means of saving ourselves from a deathly poisoning.

BONUS: WHAT ACTUALLY WORKS

Thankfully, science has brought us a wide range of antidotes for many items we shouldn’t be exposed to in dangerous quantities, if at all. N-acetylcysteine, fondly referred to as NAC by doctors, saves us from acetaminophen overdoses. Ethanol can treat antifreeze poisoning. Atropine, ironically one of the main components of plants in the toxic nightshade family (such as mandrake), can treat poisoning from some dangerous fertilizers and chemical nerve agents used as weapons. For years, poisonings were treated with emetics, though it turns out that plain old carbon—in the form of activated charcoal—can adsorb poisons (the poisons stick to the surface of the charcoal) in the digestive system before they’re dissolved and digested by the body.

As long as the natural world and its humans keep making things to kill us off, we’ll keep developing methods to not die untimely deaths.

We’ll just leave the fancy hairballs off the list.

The cover of the book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything
Workman Publishing

Excerpt from Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang, MD and Nate Pedersen/Workman Publishing. Used with permission.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios