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General Anesthetics

Dr. Crawford Long Discovers The Usefulness of Ether

Ether, known as "sweet vitriol" until 1730, was discovered in 1275 by a Spanish chemist named Raymundus Lullius. While ethyl ether was first created in a laboratory in 1540 by a German scientist named Valerius Cordus, it wasn't until 1841 that the anesthetic property of ether was put to work. After witnessing "ether frolics", public gatherings of those who would take ether for amusement, and noting the lack of pain felt by those getting injured at these events, Dr. Crawford W. Long returned from schooling in Pennsylvania to his hometown of Jefferson, Georgia. While it is believed Dr. Long used ether for minor operations in 1841, the first recorded use of ether as an anesthetic occurred on March 30, 1842, when Long used applied it in the removal of two tumors from the neck of James M. Venable. Venable felt no pain from the procedure and paid two dollars for the tumor extraction.

Four years later, on September 30, 1846, Dr. William Morton, a former dental partner of Dr. Horace Wells, who had advocated the use of nitrous oxide as an anesthetic, administered ether to remove a tooth of a patient in Boston. In October of the same year, Morton gave a public demonstration of ether's anesthetic property at Massachusetts General Hospital. With the procedure occurring with great success, Morton was later wrongly credited as the discoverer of ether's surgical use. The year following the successful demonstration, Sir James Young Simpson, a future pioneer in anesthesiology, introduced ether for use as an anesthetic for childbirth. Ether wouldn't suit him for such purposes for very long.

In the present, ethyl ether, a volatile, colorless, and very odiferous compound, is often used as a solvent for certain oils, rubber, and other fatty compounds. In its purest form, ether is a component in the preparation of Grignard reagents. Ether is also utilized along with other anesthetics to produce a state known as "balanced anesthesia"; this combination is used due to the slow rate at which ether causes unconsciousness in patients. If administered at high concentrations, respiratory arrest can occur. More minor symptoms from ether exposure include dizziness, nasal irritation, and the drying of skin. The molecular formula of ethyl ether is (CH3CH2)O.


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