| Alcohol, opium, henbane and mandrake had
long been used to
control pain, and promote unconsciousness. However,
experience showed these drugs were unpredictable and often more dangerous
to the patients than the trauma of an operation without anaesthesia.
Thus, after the medieval period they fell into disuse in surgery.
Georgian experiments with gases eventually provided the breakthrough
in anesthesia - but it was a long time coming. Raymond Lully in
the 13th Century, and Paracelsus in the 16th Century both 'discovered'
Ether - made from distillation of sulphuric acid and alcohol. The
so-called 'Sweet Vitriol' had clear pain-killing properties but
did not catch on.
In 1799 Humphrey Davy discovered the effects of Nitrous Oxide;
in 1805 Serturner chemically extracted the active ingredient from
opium and named it Morphine, and in 1815 Michael Faraday demonstrated
that Ether had similar effects to laughing gas.
These potential 'wonder-drugs' had a brief vogue as an amusing parlour
entertainment, but remained unexploited until the 1840s.
The first steps were taken by an american dentist, Horace Wells.
William Thomas Morton performed the first surgical operation in
October 1846. On 21 December of the same year the first British
operation was undertaken by Robert Liston, who used ether to amputate
the leg of Frederick Churchill - a butler. Liston amputated the
leg in 26 seconds!
Local anaesthesia was introduced when the numbing effect of
Cocaine was first used by Dr Carl Koller - known as Coca
Koller! He was introduced to cocaine by Sigmund Freud.