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The plants which contain pain-allaying principles, used at the present day, may be classed as follows:- In the family of Solanex, Atropa belladonna and A. mandragora, Hyoscyamus niger (henbane), Datura stramonium, Nicotiana tabacum; among the Papaveraceæ, Papaver somniferum ; in the family of Ranunculacea, Aconitum napellus ; among the Compositæ, Lutuca virosa ; in the Scrophularinæ, Digitalis purpurea (foxglove); and in the Umbelliferæ, Conium maculatum, and Cicuta rirosa. There are others I shall mention presently.
From all of these, certain active principles, called alkaloids, have been extracted. They have all a most remarkable influence upon the nervous system, and the alkaloids extracted from them constitute some of the most violent poisons with which we are acquainted. Some of them have, moreover, a peculiar action upon the eye; thus, for instance, Atropa belladonna causes the pupil to dilate in so extraordinary a manner that it is not difficult to ascertain that a child has eaten the large cherry-like berries of this shrub, when, on approaching a lighted candle close to the eye, we find that the pupil does not contract as usual. Again, Datura stramonium (Thorn-apple)
apt to produce blindness for a time when taken in high doses. The calming influence of tobacco (Nicotiana) is well known; and headaches cease as if by magic after a short sleep induced by eating lettuce (Latuca). Among the mild producers of sleep should be mentioned, also, the hop-plant (Humulus lupulus). Pillows stuffed with hops while in flower give repose when others, however soft, have not the power of doing so.
As to opium, the property of the common white poppy (Papaver somniferum), as å soother of pain and a giver of sleep, has been known for ages. Opium is the dried juice of the seed-vessels of this plant, and derives its name from the Arab
Its remarkable virtues are almost entirely owing to the alkaloid called Morphine, which it contains, together with a number of other interesting compounds.
The Indian hemp (Cannabis indica), which appears to be only a variety of our common hemp (C. sativa), possesses medical properties very similar to those of opium. Like the latter, extract of hemp (known as Haschish) exhilarates, intoxicates, induces sleep and anæsthesia,* generally followed by headache, nausea, despondency, &c. Hemp was known to the Greeks and Romans, but they were ignorant of its remarkable narcotic and anesthetic properties. It was used by the Scythians to allay grief and melancholy; they inhaled the fumes given off when the seeds of the plant were thrown upon red-hot stones placed upon the ground in the centre of a closed
* Incipability of feeling pain, &c.
tent. In the East, opium and hemp are smoked or eaten as a luxury, on account of the peculiar intoxication they produce, and people who once beconie habituated to these dangerous medicines remain slaves to them generally for ever.* The criminals of Barbary endeavour to procure a drug prepared from hemp before undergoing amputation for crime; under the influence of this drug they do not feel the knife of the executioner. A Chinese physician, Hoa-tho, who lived about 230 years before the Christian era, is said to have used hemp as an anæsthetic in surgical operations. The chemistry of hemp is not yet complete, but its remarkable intoxicating and pain-allaying properties appear to reside in the resin which every part of the plant contains in considerable quantity. The peasants who gather hemp in our climate often complain of headache after being long in the field.
According to Dr. O'Shaughnessy, the hemp-resin will sometimes induce that curious nervous effect known as Catalepsy, a condition of the nervous system which few have seen, and which many
discredit. It has been once remarked in a patient who had taken a grain of hemp-resin, when his arm was lifted by the physician it remained motionless in that position; and the same occurred with the other limbs, they remained motionless in any position in which they were placed.
Under the influence of hemp, also, all notion of time and space is apt to vanish completely.
Aconite has been found useful in cases of rheumatism, gout, neuralgia, toothache, &c. It is a powerful medicine, and can only be administered in small quantities; if given in too large a dose, it is apt to produce temporary insanity or death. Its peculiar action on the nervous system is owing to the principle Aconitine, by whose virtue it lulls the most excruciating pain, and has been found particularly beneficial in rheumatic complaints.
Opium and hemp are, perhaps, more dangerous substances to deal with than other pain-allaying compounds which I shall mention hereafter. However, in 1774, Ambroise Tranquille Lassard, surgeon to one of the Paris hospitals, recommended the employment of a narcotic such as opium previous to serious and painful operations. And in 1782, Weiss, a pupil of Petit, of Paris, narcotized Augustus, king of Poland, and amputated
* The religion of the Eastern nations forbids the use of wine ; hence they have habituated themselves to the use of these intoxicating drugs, which are far more hurtiul.
+ We all know the tale of the “O11 Man of the viountain ;" his followers committed assassin:tion under the influence of hemp preparations which he
part of the king's foot without his perceiving what was taking place.
In 1784, James Moore, surgeon at St. George's Hospital, London, introduced a plan for lessening pain during operations by compressing the nerves proceeding to the part.
Artificial somnambulism (or Mesmerism), of which I have spoken before, is said to have been used as an anæsthetic agent for the first time in India in the year 1845. Since then it has been applied with considerable success in Europe and America ; being first adopted in America, then in France, and afterwards in England. Dr. Esdail, of Perth, who has written a pamphlet upon the subject, brings forward 261 personal observations of surgical cases performed without pain during mesmeric sleep.
The art of mesmerizing often exhausts the strength of the person who induces this state of insensibility in the patient; some patients requiring only three-quarters of an hour, others as much as twenty-four hours' mesmerizing before falling into the somnambulistic state. The process called Hypnotism, discovered by the late Dr. Braid of Manchester, appears much simpler than the ordinary method of mesmerizing by the eyes, by passes, and I shall have occasion to refer to it again.
Since the discovery of ether and chloroform, the use of mesmerism to produce anæsthesia appears to be almost abandoned; not so, however, with hypnotism, which seems about to revive. The discovery of the different gases--carbonic acid gas,
in 1756, by Black'; oxygen gas, in 1774, by Priestley ; nitrous oxide gas, a little later, by the same, &c. &c., gave rise, in England, to the supposition that they might be useful in the treatment of certain diseases, and the system of Pneumatic medicine was imagined. This system consisted in causing the different kinds of gases to be inhaled by the patients; it was thought that such a treatment would prove very beneficial in consumption (Pthisis). A medical pneumatic institution was accordingly formed at Clifton, near Bristol, by Dr. Beddowes, and huge reservoirs of gases were established for the use of the sufferers. In the year 1799, Humphry Davy, who had just completed his apprenticeship, was appointed the superintendent of this establishment. In the summer of 1800, Davy published some researches the
called nitrous oxide or "laughing-gas,” and on the effects produced when nitrous oxide and other gases are inhaled. He experimented upon himself, and found that nitrous oxide relieved him from headache after a profound fit of intoxication induced purposely by drinking a bottle of wine in eight minutes. similar observations, he came to the conclusion that “as nitrous oxide seems capable of destroying physical pain, it may pro
bably be used with advantage during surgical operations in which no great effusion of blood takes place.” This idea had been formed after ten months of continuous and often hazardous experiments. It was on the 16th of April, 1799, that Davy inhaled nitrous oxide for the first time; he states that the introduction of this gas into the lungs was accompanied by a loss of sensation and voluntary motion, but does not recollect what followed.
Nitrous oxide is one of the most remarkable gases with which we are acquainted. It is a transparent, colourless gas, like air, easily prepared by heating nitrate of ammonia; it has a sweetish taste and a faint odour. It has sometimes been called “laughing-gas," on account of its singular property of inducing involuntary laughter in some who inhale it. This
gas cannot be breathed for more than a short time, because its peculiar action on the nervous system soon paralyzes the voluntary muscles of the mouth, which, accordingly, cease to grasp the tube of the apparatus, and common air enters the lungs. An animal confined in nitrous oxide gas soon dies after exhibiting symptoms of excitement. When inhaled by man, it first produces a sensation of warmth in the chest, which warmth soon spreads to the extremities, then follows paralysis of the muscles of the mouth, which puts a stop to the further breathing of it. After a short period of quiet or stupor, the patient becomes excited-laughs, sings, dances, &c. In the course of a minute or two, all these effects pass off suddenly, and he returns to full consciousness with a bewildered stare, having no recollection, or a very confused one, of what has passed. It is, in fact, a true case of somnambulism, momentarily produced. But, in some instances, this period of excitement does not manifest itself, or is only of very short duration, and then comes on a kind of stupor and a complete state of anæsthesia. But it is only with patients who are very sensitive to the action of the gas that this state of insensibility to pain can be produced. The late Dr. Gregory, of Edinburgh University, made several experiments with nitrous oxide, by which he has shown that its action upon the economy is precisely similar to that of ether or chloroform, though it cannot be taken by most patients in sufficient quantity (owing to the paralysis of the muscles of the mouth) to procure complete anæsthesia.
Forty years after Davy's experiments, in 1844, Horace Wells, a surgeon-dentist of Connecticut (North America), applied nitrous oxide to tooth-drawing. The first operation was made upon himself; and, when his senses returned, he exclaimed: “This is, indeed, a new era in tooth-drawing !” He afterwards practised this mode of producing anæsthesia for some time, with considerable success. But, unfortunately, in some expe
riments at Boston, he failed completely, and was most wantonly ridiculed by the ignorant. Wells then abandoned his business; and, in 1818, died by his own hand. In that same year, however, a medical practitioner at Boston, Dr. Bigelow, made some very serious operations whilst the patients were under the influence of nitrous oxide. The inhalations usually occupied about six minutes, and produced complete insensibility.
Such was the state of things when Mr. Morton and Dr. Jackson, of Boston, discovered the anæsthetic properties of a substance then called “ Chloric ether.” Morton, who had been a pupil of Wells, had already used nitrous oxide; and it was known, as early as 1818, that this “chloric ether," when inhaled, was capable of producing similar effects to those of nitrous oxide. Thinking that “chloric ether” could be more easily administered than the gas, Morton made an experiment to this effect upon himself, on the 30th of September, 1846, and succeeding in rendering himself completely unconscious for eight or nine minutes. He soon afterwards extracted teeth from patients placed under the influence of this new anæsthetic; and, on the 16th of October, 1846, he administered the volatile liquid to patients about to undergo surgical operations, in the Massachusetts General Hospital.
Morton withheld his discovery, calling the sleep-producing substance “Letheon;” but its peculiar odour led Dr. Bigelow to try the effects of common ether (sulphuric ether), and, finding that it acted precisely like the “ Letheon,” he immediately made known his discovery. The American papers, however, criticised it unjustly for some time; but all the absurdities asserted against this valuable discovery were exposed when Dr. Bigelow published his work “On Éther and Chloroform," in 1848.
In London, ether was soon experimented with by Dr. Booth, Mr. Liston, and several others. Professor Simpson was at this time in London, and, procuring one of the best inhaling apparatus, he proceeded to Edinburgh, where he employed ether in the treatment of accouchements. Soon after this, Drs. Velpeau and Roux informed the Academy of Medicine at Paris that the discovery of the anesthetic properties of ether was a glorious conquest for humanity.
Thus ether,—which was known to Raymond Lully in the thirteenth century, and to Basil Valentine in the fifteenth, and which Valerius Cordus carefully described how to make, in 1540, calling it Oleum Vitrioli dulce,—was only applied to produce insensibility to pain about the middle of the nineteenth century.
It is, perhaps, as curious that the so-called “chloric ether,"