Anesthetics have been used for thousands of years. In fact, the first recorded use of anesthetics was actually in the ‘pre-history’ era, an era of human history predating written text. Early Uses of Herbal Anesthetics
In the pre-history era, anesthetics were herbal in nature. Opium poppies are known to have been harvested as early as 4200 BC, and these plants were farmed first in the Sumerian Empire. The first recorded uses of anesthetics containing opium preparations was in 1500 BC, and by 1100 BC, civilizations in Cyprus and other locations were farming and harvesting the plants.
Opium poppies were introduced to India and China in 330 BC and 600 to 1200 AD, respectively. Other types of herbal anesthetics were in use in China during this era as well. In the second century, the Chinese physician Hua Tuo is known to have used an anesthetic derived from cannabis to perform abdominal surgery. In Europe, Asia, and the Americas, several other ‘solanum’ plant species were used as anesthetics, including mandrake, henbane, and several datura species. Each of these contains a potent tropane alkaloid. In the classical Greek and Roman eras, prominent figures such as Hippocrates and Pliny the Elder noted the uses of opium and solanum-containing plants. In the Americas, the leaves of the coca plant (from which cocaine is derived) were an often-used anesthetic. This was applied by Incan shamans who would chew coca leaves and then spit the leaves into wounds to administer a local anesthetic.