Sweet dreams or maybe not?

March 30, 1842 – On this day, surgeon Crawford Williamson Long (1815-1878) in Jefferson, Georgia removed a tumor from the neck of patient James M. Venable. With this operation, Long was the very first to use inhaled diethyl ether as an effective anesthetic.

In the 1860s, this kind of ether became in general use for anesthesia. It made all kinds of medical operations (from amputations to assisted childbirth) less painful, and therefore easier and safer as well. Even dentists began using it to knock out their patients.

It was however flammable and had several side effects such as post-anesthetic nausea and vomiting, so it is no longer used today. Later alternatives were methyl propyl ether (Neothyl) and methoxyflurane (Penthrane).

In modern clinical psychiatry, full anesthesia is usually given to patients before an ECT treatment (electroconvulsive therapy, known to most of us as electroshocks).

Since the 1980s, the most used anesthetic with ECT is Propofol (also known as Diprivan). This milk-like fluid is administered intravenously. It works quickly and has relatively few after-effects.

As a rule such anesthesia in hospitals is perfectly safe, but private use of Propofol is more dangerous: in a large enough dose, it can be lethal. The death of pop star Michael Jackson (2009) was caused primarily by a Propofol overdose.

In 2013 in the USA the state of Mississippi wanted to use Propofol for executions, but the European Union refused to export it for that purpose.