Medical and surgical practices have developed quite a bit in the past 200 years. Before when careful anesthetic practices were not in hand, surgeries were performed quite savagely. However, this wasn’t always the case. In one way or another, the use of anesthesia has existed for millennia. Albeit treatments were not as effective as their more contemporary varieties – making surgery quite the painful practice. Thankfully, modern medicine has developed quite a bit since then. Amazingly, some of these anesthetic methods were put into practice and perfected for thousands of years. In this two part series, we’ll discuss the development of anesthesia into its modern form, as well as its precursors in both the eastern and western worlds. This post will briefly cover traditional anesthetic methods in the Eastern world detailed by medical news outlet MedScape.
Opium – Middle East and Europe
In what was known as the “joy plant”, the opium poppy was cultivated by the ancient Sumerians as an early anesthetic as far back as 3400 B.C.E. An early clay tablet from approximately 2100 B.C.E. is thought to refer to the opium poppy as the “joy plant”, mentioning its anesthetic use. Arab physicians were thought to have used it for anesthetic practices, eventually spreading even into European cities throughout the Middle Ages. Until today, the plant’s pain relieving qualities have ensured its modern place in modern medicine.
Acupuncture – China
For 4,000 years, the Chinese attempted to perfect their surgical practices. Because of this, Chinese medicine may very well have been the first to claim the use of anesthesiology. Although they are disputed, written records of the use of narcotic wines to relieve pain during surgery date back to 250 B.C.E. The practice of Acupuncture however dates back even further, detailed in some of China’s earliest medical records. It is perhaps one of the most influential anesthetic techniques in the ancient world, further perfected centuries later.
Cannabis Vapors – India
Sushruta, the father of traditional Indian medicine, was one of the earliest documented users of surgical anesthesia. Living sometime between 1000-600 B.C.E., Sushruta wrote one of the most important foundational pieces on early Indian medicine, and possibly the oldest medical textbook in human history. The Sushruta Samhita details anatomical descriptions as well as surgical techniques. Here is where Sushruta also advocates for the use of cannabis vapors with wine to sedate patients who need surgery. It was used by hindu cultures for millennia to treat ailing patients
Mandrake Root – Mediterranean and Middle East
This Mediterranean root, which sometimes resembled the form of a human being, earned it a reputation as an ingredient used for witchcraft. However the plant also causes overpowering, dreamlike effects, when used in early anesthetic practices. Pediacus Dioscorides, a greek physician would use wine with the mandrake in a process that would extract the plant’s potency. In later years, the plant was mixed with opiates to increase its sedative power. It is referred to in various historical texts including the Bible.