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A Brief History of Anesthetics

Anesthetics have been around for thousands of years. The earliest recorded use of anesthetics dates back to the “pre-history” era. This is an era in human history that predates written text.

Herbal Anesthetics

Anesthetics in the pre-history period were herbal. The Sumerian Empire was the first to cultivate opium poppies. Opium poppies were harvested as early as 4200 BC. In 1500 BC, the first documented use of anesthetics containing Opium preparations was made. By 1100 BC, civilizations in Cyprus had begun to farm and harvest the plants.

In India and China, opium poppies were introduced in 330 BC and 600-to 1200 AD, respectively. In China, other types of herbal anesthetics were also used during this time. Hua Tuo, a Chinese physician, used an anesthetic made from cannabis to perform abdominal surgeries in the second century.

Many other species of’solanum plants’ were used in Europe, Asia, Americas as anesthetics. Each one contains a powerful tropane alkaloid. Hippocrates and Pliny, the Elder were prominent Roman and classical Greek figures who noted the use of solanum- and opium-containing plants. The coca leaves, from which cocaine was derived, were a common anesthetic in the Americas. Incan shamans used this method to inject local anesthetics. They would chew coca leaves, then spit them into their wounds.

These types of herbal anesthetics were used extensively for many centuries. However, there were some drawbacks. The main problem with herbal anesthetics was the inability to administer the correct dosage. Too much would cause death and not enough would produce any effect. Although standardization was difficult to achieve, it was possible in the nineteenth century. Anesthetics were classified according to where they were grown.

The Discovery of Morphine

Friedrich Wilhelm, a German pharmacist, extracted morphine from an opium poppy in 1804. He named the compound “morphium” after the Greek god of dreams and sleep, Friedrich Wilhelm. However, morphine wasn’t widely used for almost fifty years. The hypodermic needle, which was invented in 1853, allowed morphine to be administered by a new method. This led to a significant increase in its use. Morphine was widely used in that era as an anesthetic.

In 1874, a morphine derivative called diacetylmorphine-commonly known as heroin-was developed. Bayer began marketing heroin in 1898, and it was almost twice as powerful as morphine. Due to their addictive nature, possession of heroin, morphine, and cocaine in the US without a prescription was banned in the US 16 years later, in 1914.

Inhalant Anesthetics

Inhalant and oral anesthetics have been used by Muslim anesthesiologists for centuries. Many hundred surgeries were performed using sponges that had been soaked in narcotics and placed on the faces of those undergoing surgery.

The West was helped by the invention of inhalant anesthetics and the use of sterilized surgical techniques created by Joseph Lister.

Both nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide were used in experiments during the nineteenth century. Although carbon dioxide was not popular as an anesthetic, nitrous oxygen did become very common.

Humphry Davy (a British chemist) first discovered the anesthetic qualities of nitrous oxide in a paper published 1800. But nitrous oxide was only widely used several decades later, in the 1840s. American dentist William Thomas Green Morton in 1846 was the first to successfully use nitrous oxide for painless tooth removal.

Inhalant anesthetic diethylether was also used to extract teeth during the same decade. Valerius Cordus, a German physician, first synthesized diethylether in 1540. However, it wasn’t until the 1840s when the first public demonstration of the ether’s use was made. In the 1830s, also chloroform was developed. This had been a decade before. Although this became more popular in Britain over time, the dangers associated with both ether and chlorine were well-known.

Modern Anesthetics

There are two types of modern anesthetics: local and general. Some local anesthetics are substances like procaine or lidocaine. They prevent nerve impulses from being transmitted to the area in which the anesthetic is applied. Inhalants anesthetics are similar to nitrous oxide because they use the same delivery method. Fluorochemicals such as desflurane, isoflurane, and sevoflurane are commonly used inhalation anesthetics. They are safer than diethylether because they have a lower flammability.

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