Top 20 Most Insane Medical Experiments In History

History, Lists, Other, Science, Shocking, Weird

Medical science has yielded miracles in the last 100 years alone. Our life expectancy is longer than at any point in human history, and fewer and fewer people die every year due to preventable diseases all thanks to the hard work, brilliance, and ingenuity displayed by medical professionals. Alas, just like every part of human nature, there is a dark side to medical progress. Throughout history, countries, individual doctors, and sometimes psychologists have conducted experiments so horrible, they both shock and awe. While there are far more deplorable experiments out there, we took the liberty of narrowing it down to the top 20 – in the hopes that we can all learn something from these horrific experiments.

20. The Stanford Prison Experiment

Ever heard of “good cop, bad cop”? Take that a step further and you get “prison guard – prisoner”. In the early 1970’s, a psychologist named Philip Zimbardo sought to answer the question of how individuals would act in both situations. He chose individuals to act in both capacities, alternating periodically. The subjects became increasingly cruel and sadistic so much so that the experiment ended after just 6 days.

19. Leo Stanley’s Testicle Transplants

For over 40 years, Leo Stanley worked at San Quentin State Penitentiary as the physician. There, he was able to conduct bizarre experiments, including the removal of dead inmates testicles and implanting them in live inmates.

18. South Africa’s Aversion Project

Taking place in South Africa, psychiatrist Aubrey Levin sought to eliminate certain behaviors in patients by shocking (and even occasionally castrating) them any time they engaged in certain behaviors. The goal was to eliminate the need in the patients to engage in those behaviors. Despite the obvious deplorable nature of the experiments, no repercussions ever occurred for Dr. Levin.

17. Wendell Johnson’s Monster Study

In a horrific experiment on, of all things, orphans, Wendell Johnson sought to find out what would happen to two groups of children when they received completely different feedback. One group was praised for their speaking ability, the other was scolded for any mistake they made when speaking. As you can imagine, the group that was mistreated experienced speech difficulties and trauma for the rest of their lives.

16. Mairanovsky Poison Experiments

Throughout the Russian Revolution of the early 1900’s, Grigory Mairanovsky tested numerous poisons in Russian prisons on anyone that was considered an enemy of the people. He was a bad man and, despite being arrested for his personal behaviors outside the experiments, he was put in charge of a Soviet bio-warfare facility producing grotesque chemicals for years.

15. Project 4.1 Nuclear Exposure Observations

While this experiment was not intentional, the U.S. government secretly spied on residents of the Marshall Islands who were exposed to United States Nuclear testing. Not exactly an ideal way to learn about radiation exposure.


During the 1950’s, the CIA sought to create chemicals that would be used to brainwash and control subjects. With this end in mind, the CIA dosed numerous subjects against their will with addictive, mind altering drugs including LSD.

13. THN1412 Drug Trials

Unfortunately for participants, this medical experiment gone wrong took place recently — in 2007. A drug, called THN1412, was put through human trials because it had had no affect on animals and was thought to be capable of curing Leukemia. Unfortunately, a large portion of the control group died which, of course, caused the drug trials to cease immediately.

12. North Korean Experimentation On Prisoners

North Korea is no friend of human rights. Within recent years, it has been asserted that within its prisons, it has conducted excruciating tortures on inmates, including forcing them to eat poisoned food and allowing student doctors to practice on inmates without putting the subject to sleep.

11. Tuskegee Syphilis Study

This next deplorable experiment takes place a little closer to home. For over 40, years starting in the 1930’s, The U.S. Public Health Services observed citizens through the Tuskegee Institute who were told they had received a treatment for syphilis – or so they thought. There was no treatment, and scientists merely wanted to observe how the disease displayed symptoms as time went on.

10. Dr. Walter Jones Uses Scalding Water For Typhoid Pneumonia Treatment

Before the Civil War, medical treatments were crude at best. During the 1840’s, Dr. Walter Jones thought he had found a cure for typhoid fever – scalding hot water poured onto the skin for great lengths of time. Feel free to form your own conclusions as to how horrific this could have been for the test subjects.

9. Unit 731

For over 20 years, starting in the 1930’s, the Japanese government infected prison inmates with numerous diseases and then harvested their organs without even bothering to anesthetize them. In addition, numerous new weapons for the time, such as flame throwers, were tested on over 12,000 inmates.

8. Dr. Henry Cotton’s Surgeries

A little closer to home in the state of New Jersey, Dr. Henry Cotton sought to treat psychological illness by removing actual body parts. These parts included teeth, tonsils, ovaries, and testicles. As you can imagine, little but pain and suffering came from these experiments.

7. J. Marion Sims Surgery Without Anesthesia

It isn’t easy treading the waters of the unknown, and while he did a lot of good advancing gynecological surgery, this required J. Marion Sims to conduct what would today be considered some grotesque surgical practices. Specifically, Sims conducted numerous vaginal surgeries without the use of local anesthesia.

6. Accidentally Giving Inmates Bubonic Plague

While it was purely accidental, number 6 on our list is a humdinger. While attempting to find a cure for Cholera while working in the Philippines, Dr. Richard Strong gave patients the bubonic plague instead of a Cholera vaccine – by accident! The black death is not a good way to go.

5. Robert Bartholomew Electrocutes A Patient’s Brain

Number 5 on our list is, well, shocking. While trying to ascertain the inner workings of the brain, which does function off of electrical impulses, Dr. Robert Bartholomew shocked patients brains, directly, with electrodes. As you may have guessed, irreversible brain damage ensued.

4. Lauretta Bender Shocks Children

Yet another shocking member of our list, coming in at number for is Dr. Lauretta Bender and her shock treatments that were performed on troubled children in the New York City area. Dr. Bender personally examined most of the children, without much compassion for the suffering she was inflicting upon them.

3. Albert Kligman Attempts To Harden Human Skin

Seeking to make human skin “harder” as part of a project for the Dow Chemical Company in the 1950’s, Albert Kligman injected the skin of prisoners in Holmesburg Prison, PA, with numerous chemicals. Some of the prisoners weren’t even injected with permanentaly scarring chemicals, some were injected with Herpes on the off chance it might be able to make skin tougher.

2. Arthur Wentworth’s Spinal Taps On Children

If you think a spinal tap is bad today, imagine one in the 1890’s. What’s worse, Dr. Arthur Wentworth conducted over 30 spinal taps on children — all while their parents were unaware. All for the sake of finding out what would happen if he did.

1. Nazi Concentration Camps

It should come as little surprise that the worst medical experiments in history took place as part of the Nazi’s concentration camps. Not only were untold horrors conducted on millions of humans, but the sheer scale of it all dwarfs anything else on this list. Millions were gassed, tortured, operated on, all in the name of Adolf Hitler’s mad ambitions.