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Ether is one of the most important drugs ever. It was the first drug used as an anesthetic. People used to have limbs their limbs literally sawn off while they were held down. Performing surgery was extremely painful. Ether made it clear that it is possible to have an agent that can depress a person’s brain functioning so major operations can be carried out .since then there have been improved versions of anesthetics. Ether has given way to more modern drugs. Inspite some of the major side effects and availability of safer anesthetics Ether is still used in some of the developing countries because of its high therapeutic index and low price.

 Through out the history of medicine many substances have been found to alleviate pain involved in surgical procedure, ether was one among them but to differentiate it was the best among all of them. A Spanish chemist Raymundus Lullius discovered ether in 1275 and named it “sweet vitriol”. The name sweet vitriol was changed to ether in 1730 by a German scientist W.G.Frobenius. Until March 30 1842, ether was used for variety of ailment but not yet as an anesthetic. Scientist and physicians used it for treating phthisis, catarrhal fever, bladder calculus, scurvy and pulmonary inflammation. The first surgical aesthetical use of ether is credited to Dr.Crawford Williamson Long MD, at the age of 27 in Georgia. He removed one of the two tumors from the neck of Mr. James Venable under ether anesthesia. Unfortunately he did not publish the results until 1848 which appeared in the southern Medical and Surgical journal. His publication appeared after W.T.G.Morton’s demonstration, therefore the credit of discovery of the surgical application of ether went given to Morton.


                                                                               "First operation with ether"

Dr.William T.G.Mortan a dentist in Boston learned about “ether frolics”and began his secret experiments with ether. He experimented on himself and on small animals at his home in West Needham, Massachusetts. Finally on September 30, 1846 at 9 p.m in his Boston office, he painlessly removed a tooth from city merchant Eben H.Frost.Morton demonstrated his discovery at the Massachusetts General hospital known as the “ether dome” on October 16, 1846 in Boston. This demonstration became a landmark in the history of anesthesia. Morton patented his discovery on November 12, the same year. Because of its association with Boston the use of ether came to be known as “Yankee dodge”.

Except in few developing nations ether is now rarely used as surgical anesthetics. It lost its importance as noninflammable anesthetic agents such as halothane became available. Beside ether had many undesirable side effects such as post anesthetic nausea and vomiting which were not noticed on the use of modern anesthetic agents.


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Kaushal Pathak's picture
Author: Kaushal Pathak

There are 12 Comments

Kaushal Pathak's picture

Ether was a blockbuster at the time its use made surgery much painless for the patients and easy to perform by the surgeon...
Kaushal Pathak

kranthi kumar's picture

Dear Kaushalpathak,
Nice collection. can you explaine me what flammability got to do with anesthetics.. as you mentioned "to be lost its importance as noninflammable anesthetic agents such as halothane became available".I mean how does it effects theraptical activity.??

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Kaushal Pathak's picture

Sir it does not affect the therapeutic activity....conveince of conducting surgery is of importance here...
in those times the equipment for performing surgery was not very was used to heat instrument ,hence a noninflammable anesthetic was preferred...
I hope you got the reason...
Kaushal Pathak

Manthan D. Janodia's picture

The information provided is quite interesting. Can you quote a few developing countries where ether is still used as anasthetic? Is is still used in India?

Manthan D.Janodia