What: History Pub with Nate Pedersen

When: 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. (doors open one hour prior to each event) Tuesday

Where: McMenamins Old St. Francis School, 700 NW Bond St., Bend

Cost: free, online registration recommended.

Note: Registration is full for the 7 p.m. event. A limited number of walk-up seats will be available at the door.

Contact: deschuteshistory.org/events or 541-389-1813

You may have heard the saying “The cure is worse than the illness” (cod liver oil anyone?). Bend librarian, author and amateur historian Nate Pedersen proves that aphorism in his latest book, “Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything,” co-written with internal medicine physician Lydia Kang.

Ranging from ridiculous (goat testicle implants to cure impotence), to disturbing (cocaine toothache drops), to straight-up deadly (arsenic-laced cosmetics), the medical and beauty practices of the past described in the book are morbidly compelling. They are recounted with both macabre humor and modern scientific insight, making “Quackery” a highly entertaining and informative read.

When describing misuse of the mercuric salt calomel (not to be confused with the nontoxic and better tasting caramel), the authors warn, “Don’t be fooled: It’s as harmless as your khaki-clad next-door neighbor who hides a basementful of bone saws.”

Section headings such as “A Brief History of Hurling,” “Bottoms Up: Adventures in Drinkable Cocaine” and “First, Do No Harm … Oh, Never Mind,” let you know you’re in for a wild ride.

Pedersen will discuss his book and some of the more interesting and bizarre treatments he uncovered during his research at two History Pub presentations on Tuesday at McMenamins Old St. Francis School in Bend.

The genesis of “Quackery” came when Pedersen, an avid runner, stumbled across a story about 1904 Olympic marathon winner Thomas Hicks using highly toxic strychnine as an energy boost during the race. Since strychnine has also been widely used since medieval times as rat poison, Pedersen wondered why any doctor or coach would prescribe it and why an athlete — even more than 100 years ago — would consent to take it.

He discovered there was a (somewhat) rational basis to the thinking behind using strychnine as a performance-enhancing drug because chemically, it acts quite similarly to caffeine. However it’s very difficult to manage the dosage and avoid taking too much, with disastrous and potentially deadly results.

Spectator descriptions and photos of Hicks during the race show the runner exhibiting various symptoms of strychnine intoxication, bordering on a toxic level of poisoning. If Hicks had been given a third dose of strychnine (something his coaches seriously considered), he likely would have died.

When Pedersen discussed his idea for a book about outlandish medical misfires with his wife, young adult novelist April Tucholke, she suggested he partner with Nebraska-based doctor Lydia Kang. Tucholke had met Kang through their shared publisher, and the two had participated in book tours and author events together.

Pedersen and Kang brainstormed the subjects they wanted to cover, divided up the research and wrote their own chapters. As they completed a draft chapter, each author would share it with the other who would make suggestions and edits before they passed the work along to their editor at Workman Publishing.

“It was actually really fun researching this,” Pedersen said. “There was a lot to choose from and definitely some good stories that didn’t make the final cut because we had to zero in on the ones we thought were the most fascinating or the most absurd.”

While quackery usually refers to the products and practices being peddled by charlatans who know what they’re selling is phony, Pedersen and Kang broadened their definition for this book.

They also included medicines and treatments then believed to be beneficial but now known to be, pointless, counter-productive or dangerous.

One of the most stomach-churning things Pedersen uncovered while researching past diet and fasting fads was the tapeworm diet of the 1800s. You can probably imagine how the thinking behind this one went: Eat a tapeworm and the parasite then eats your food for you, leaving you svelte and beautiful. That would be great, except for the fact that tapeworms can grow to 30 feet long, live for decades and keep reproducing inside you. Left untreated, a tapeworm infection can cause headaches, brain inflammation, seizures and dementia.

If Pedersen has a goal beyond the entertainment value of his catalog of medical mayhem, he hopes it spurs readers to have an open mind but a critical eye when considering a treatment or procedure today.

“With the spread of misinformation and bad information made very easy now thanks to the internet, it’s ripe time for quackery,” Pedersen warned. And who knows what widely accepted practices of today will be considered junk science 100 years from now?

While many of the stories in the book may make readers simultaneously cringe and laugh out loud, Pedersen cautions us not to look back with too much of a sense of modern superiority.

“It’s worth remembering that all these people had the same goals we have,” he said.

“They wanted to live a long time and be healthy and pretty, and that’s why they embraced some of these unusual treatments.”