By Erin K Costello
Trepanation (also spelled trephination) , one of the scariest examples of pseudoscience I have come across, is a procedure where a person either drills a hole into their head themselves (self trepanation), or has someone else do this for them. When trepanation is performed for a legit medical reason, like to release the pressure caused by swelling in the brain, it is known as a craniotomy. The procedure is also then performed by a surgeon. When trepanation is done electively though, it can be performed by a surgeon, but it is often done by someone who has little to no medical or surgical experience. Elective trepanation is also known as brain piercing, making a burr hole, and skull fucking. To perform this procedure both medically and electively, a tool is used to drill or otherwise work it's way through the skull, stopping just short of the brain. Thankfully not many people elect for this surgery like in the past, however some people still support this, receive this, and some on-line communities still see this as a ritual. Most of these communities are found on the dark web.
With the exception of circumcision, trepanation is believed to be the oldest known medical procedure performed on humans. It is the oldest known procedure for which we have physical evidence of. The word trepan comes from the Greek word trupan which means "to bore." Written works within the Hippocratic teachings have been found explaining the procedure. For decades archaeologists and anthropologists have been finding evidence of such procedures in cave paintings and in the discovered remains of human skulls. Carbon dating of the skeletal remains found that the practice went back thousands of years to prehistoric times beginning in the Neolithic period. In parts of France remains of human skulls show evidence of trepanation from about 6500 BC. There's archaeological evidence of cultures from all over the world having practiced this surgery. From Africa, Peru, Denmark, and Russia. Some of the skulls found appear to show markings indicating the surgery was performed multiple times on a person. The survival rate during this time was between 40-80% depending on where the participating culture was located, or which culture it was practicing, and at which point in history it was being performed.
Cultures throughout history have practiced this procedure for several reasons. Egyptians believed that by drilling a hole into one's skull, it would later assist the soul in leaving the body and traveling to the afterlife upon death. Other cultures performed this for various religious and spiritual reasons. Some cultures believed this to be an effective medical procedure in recovering from a head injury. It is believed that the tools once used to bore a hole into a skull were primitive items such as a rock. Trepanation was even regularly performed electively on people as recently as until the 1850s. Since then it had been deemed medically unnecessary and unsafe as an elective surgery. As a result, the practice ceased for some time. That is until the year 1962.
Since the early 1960s a growing movement had formed that favored the elective procedure of trepanation. The founder of this movement, and the author of Trepanation: The Cure For Psychosis, was a Dutch man named Dr Hugo Bart Hughes. Hughes, being a regular user of LSD, proclaimed a discovery he had while using the drug. According to his theory of evolution he believed that once humans began to stand upright our blood flow to the brain had been decreased. As a result of this decreased blood flow, certain parts of our brain either didn't obtain enough blood flow, and thus oxygen, or parts of our brains didn't receive any blood flow any longer, thus resulting in parts of the brain becoming inactive. He pointed out how one could correct this imbalance in a few simple ways; by standing on their head, jumping from a hot bath into a cold one, or through the use of drugs. The problem with these methods is that they are all only temporary. Hughes was seeking to achieve a higher state of consciousness on a more permanent scale. He believed that when we are babies, when our skulls are not yet fully formed, we have a higher BBV (Brain Blood Volume). Therefore, to regain the excitement humans felt as kids we needed to increase our BBV to the previous levels from when we were children. The way he believed to do this was through trepanation. The was because by boring a hole in one's skull you would increase the blood flow, thus increasing the oxygen, to the brain causing parts of the brain to re-awaken. He referred to this as "Homo Sapiens Correctus," since by doing this we were correcting the damage done to our brains by evolving to walk upright. To prove his theory he set out to trepan himself. Hughes had accomplished his goal using only local anesthetic, a hypodermic needle, a scalpel, an electric drill, and 45 minutes of time. After the procedure Hughes went on to claim that this hole in his head caused him to feel like he was 14 years old again.
A few years later Hughes met a man in Ibiza named Joseph Mellen. Mellen became a bit of an apprentice of Hughes'. Mellen would later go on to write a book called Bore Hole, in which he chronicled his events with Hughes, and the practice of trepanation. In the book Mellen explains that while flat sitting for a good friend of Hughes named Amanda Feilding, he decided it was time he became the second person to perform the act of self trepanation. The paragraphs to follow are going to be quite descriptive. They will become particularly gruesome as I quote the book. I suggest for those with a weak stomach to maybe scroll down until you see the words "YOU ARE SAFE HERE."
Mellen's first attempt at self trepanation was a complete and total fuck up. He had no idea what he was doing and had bought needles for administering anesthetic that were too small and weak, causing them to bend or break with each injection attempt. The following day he bought more appropriate needles, dropped a hit of acid, and tried again. He cut his scalp down to the bone using a scalpel, then placed the trepan tool to his skull and began to bore away. He explained how impossible it was to try and drive a spike in to his bone, he compared it to trying to uncork a wine bottle from the inside. It was then he became aware that he was in over his head (pun intended) and called Hughes, who was in Amsterdam with Amanda. Hughes agreed to help with the next attempt once he was back in England. England had other plans though. Upon Hughes' attempt to enter the country, he had learned Britain declared him as an undesirable visitor and refused him entry into the country. Amanda then volunteered to take the place of Hughes and assist Mellen.
Once back from her trip to Amsterdam, Amanda re opened Mellen's original wound, and used all her strength to dig away at his skull, finally getting the spike to take hold of his skull and then Mellen took over. He dropped a hit of LSD again, and bore away at his skull. Just before he broke through to his skull, Mellen passed out. Amanda called an ambulance and Mellen was rushed to the hospital. Doctors were in disbelief when they saw what Mellen had done. As a result the doctors tried to have him deemed as insane, to no avail. Meanwhile it spread around London that Mellen had trepanned himself, even though he hadn't fully succeeded. He decided to go for a third attempt once he was able to do so. The third attempt is wonderfully quoted here by Bore Hole:
"After some time there was an ominous sounding schlurp and the sound of bubbling. I drew the trepan out and the gurgling continued. It sounded like air bubbles running under the skull as they were pressed out. I looked at the trepan and there was a bit of bone in it. At last! On closer inspection I saw that the disc of bone was much deeper on one side than on the other. Obviously the trepan had not been straight and had gone through at one point only, then the piece of bone had snapped off and come out. I was reluctant to start drilling again for fear of damaging the brain membranes with the deeper part while I was cutting through the rest or of breaking off the splinter. If only I had an electric drill it would have been so much simpler. Amanda was sure I was through. There seemed no other explanation for the schlurping noises I decided to call it a day. At the time I thought that any hole would do, no matter what size. I bandaged up my head and cleared away the mess."
He wasn't yet satisfied that he had drilled in deep enough, or made the hole wide enough for the brain to restore it's pulsation. While Amanda was in America in 1970, Mellen set out to try boring another hole in his head, this time though using an electric drill. After some technical difficulties on day one, and some minor drill repairs, he went at it again on day two. He explains how he had little doubt about achieving his goal this time around, "This time I was not in any doubt. The drill head went at least an inch deep through the hole. A great gush of blood followed my withdrawal of the drill. In the mirror I could see the blood in the hole rising and falling with the pulsation of the brain." He went on to claim that once having completed self trepanation he had felt a sense of freedom and serenity that is still with him today. Upon Amanda's return she claimed to see a change in Joey, a rise in spirits. This encourages her to also self trepan herself. She buys a video camera to document the surgery. As Joey films her she shaves her head, makes and incision, and begins to drill a hole in to her head. As the drill makes it's way through the bone blood squirts out of the hole. She sets the drill down, and proudly walks over to Joey showing how they can now both live on the same mental plane thanks to his and her's trepanned heads.
Amanda and Joey released the film entitled Heartbeat In The Brain, and started a family. They appear to live perfectly normal and blissful lives apart from advocating for the right for all humans to drill a hole in their heads.
YOU ARE SAFE HERE
Peter Holverson was a depressed college dropout in 1968 when he met Hughes. Four years later in 1972, while occupying a small room in Amsterdam, Peter trepanned himself with an electric drill. Although weeks later he said he still felt symptoms of depression, he also claimed to have more energy, focus, and drive. In 2001 Holverson plead guilty in a Utah court to practicing medicine without a license after he drilled holes in the head of Heather Perry of Gloucester England to relieve chronic fatigue and depression. Perry, who had first learned of this procedure when she was a child through a mentioning John Lennon had made about considering undergoing the procedure, claimed to have noticeable relief from her ailments, and Holverson ended up with 3 years probation.
In 1997 Holverson set up ITAG (International Trepanation Advocacy Group) located in Wernersville, PA. The group has a website where they offer advice and and push for medical research. Despite a study instituted by ITAG showing no effect on the brain's blood flow after having the procedure surgically done, ITAG insists on trepanation having benefits for those having elected the procedure. They faulted the study for having not yet available equipment to accurately measure the brain blood flow volume.
The medical community, naturally, is completely against elective trepanation. The only time they will drill a hole in someone's head is to relieve swelling in the brain, and even then they will close the hole once swelling has subsided. However, there are some doctors who will perform this surgery in places like Mexico, Spain, and France through ITAG for a cost of about $2,400 - $3,600, minus travel and accommodation expenses. In 1998 Cevin Soling discovered this group of trepanauts and produced a documentary film about them called A Hole In The Head, directed by Eli Kabillio. In the film you hear testimonies from trepanauts claiming to have experienced all sorts of benefits.
For an additional self described experience in self trepanation visit this website. The person remains anonymous though the story comes with some images so be warned.
I do not know if any of these claims of reaching a higher enlightenment are accurate, or if trepanning yourself will heal whatever ails you. There are currently no studies that support these claims though. What I do know is that we are talking about drilling a hole in one's skull and stopping just before you drill into the brain. I also know this whole theory is based on the drug induced thoughts of a man who spent the 60s smoking a ton of weed and dropping acid. This dangerous elective medical procedure is also being done on nothing more than a hunch and a few anecdotal claims. I mean, think about it, this is your brain we are talking about! It isn't like you can live without it, or obtain a prosthetic one later on. Personally, I feel like there should be much more than a hunch and some stories, maybe even a guarantee, before risking your life.
What's The Harm?