Tuesday, July 02, 2013

1942: Curare used as anaesthetic/ paralytic

Curare (succicholine) was a famous native American poison.  The Indians would rub it onto arrow tips, and when they pierced through the skin, the poisons would be injected into the animal's circulation.  The effects would paralyze the animals long enough for the Indians to finish the kill.  (1, page  page 4, 177-178)

The poison was first used during artificial respiration in 1811 by Sir Benjamin Brodie in England. Other 19th century physicians used it as an anaesthetic, although they struggled to find the best dose to use.  Some physicians even experimented by using it for various diseases, and some of these experiments resulted in better treatment.  (2, page 227)(1, page 177-178)

The medicine was not routinely used as an anaesthetic until 1942 when Canadian anaesthesiologist Harold Griffith used "in human anaesthesis."  (2, page 227)  This was a major breakthrough because it allowed surgeons the opportunity to sedate and ventilate patients during operations. 

It was later adapted as the ideal paralytic to use during an intubation because the effects wear off in a matter of minutes.  
  1. Vogel, Virgil J., "American Indian Medicine," 1970, London, Oklahoma University Press
  2. Szmuk, et al, "A brief history of tracheostomy and tracheal intubation, from the Bronze Age to the Space Age," Intensive Care Medicine, 2008, 34, pages 222-228, reference to page 227

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