Morphine & the Drug Timeline (03:30)
Listen to the trial-and-error story of how German pharmacist Friedrich Sertürner isolated morphine from opium in 1815. What follows is an overview of what Sertürner's discovery unleashed in the pharmaceutical world.
Opium as Pain Reliever (02:03)
The quest to control pain has been a driving force in the history of drugs. For centuries, opium was the one substance that could reliably relieve pain. Pharmacists wondered what gave opium its "magical" qualities.
Sertürner's Isolation of Morphine (03:18)
Pharmacist Friedrich Sertürner's nearly lethal attempts to produce morphium unlocked the door to modern medicine. By adding alcohol to the resin from poppy sap (or opium), he extracted an alkali.
Discovery of Alkaloids (02:54)
In 1815, the French translation of Sertürner's findings spread around the world, leading scientists to extract chemicals from other herbal remedies and to quantify them in dosages. They isolated nicotine, caffeine, quinine, and codeine.
Opiates & the Nervous System (01:33)
The brain receives and interrupts "signals" of pain in the nervous system, and opiates interact with that system to alter the transmission of pain signals. Opiates also have serious side effects.
Experiments with Nitrous Oxide (03:16)
Pain was once understood as a necessary part of surgery. Chemist Humphry Davy experimented and found that nitrous oxide gas relieved pain. He theorized about its potential in surgery but went no further than to write about it.
Rejection of Nitrous Oxide (02:16)
In 1845, dentist Horace Wells realized nitrous oxide could be used to dull pain in surgical procedures. He and his partner, William Morton, proposed this at Harvard Medical School, but no one believed that pain could be erased.
Experiments with Ether (01:49)
Having failed with nitrous oxide, William Morton turned his focus to ether and its commercial potential. He experimented with ether on himself, noting that inhaling it rendered him unable to move.
Ether as Surgical Anesthestic (02:56)
Morton brought his findings about ether back to Harvard Medical School, giving a patient an ether inhaler to use before an operation and watching as a doctor successfully performed the first pain-free surgery.
Changing World of Pain Relief (01:27)
News about anesthetic ether spread quickly. The social tolerance of pain decreased, and by the mid-19th century, the world of herbs and tinctures was replaced by tablets in controlled doses.
Experiments with Coal Tar (03:18)
Coal tar was a highly available waste product of the coal gas industry, and chemists were eager to uncover its potential. A serendipitous pharmacy mix-up resulted in the discovery of fever-reducing properties of acid anilide.
Bayer Company & Salicylic Acid (01:25)
German chemist Carl Duisberg, who worked at the Bayer dye factory, created and sold the synthetic analgesic, phenacetin. The profits led Bayer to pursue other products, like salicylic acid.
Aspirin & Heroin (01:54)
Bayer chemist Arthur Eichengrün modified salicylic acid to create aspirin. He then modified opium molecules to create diamorphine -- or heroin. A Bayer executive disapproved of aspirin but sent heroin to the shelves.
Success of Aspirin (01:48)
Eichengrün began promoting aspirin on his own, discovering that it not only reduced fevers but also reduced pain. He eventually convinced Bayer to market it, and it became one of the best-selling drugs in the world (to this day).
Drugs from Chemical Modification (00:38)
The invention of aspirin from coal tar illustrated the potential in altering the chemical make-up of an existing molecule to unleash additional properties.
How Aspirin Works (01:33)
Aspirin blocks pain locally, before it gets to the spinal column. Aspirin and other anti-inflammatories stop the body from producing the chemicals it normally does when tissue has been damaged.
Synthetic Drugs & Chloral Hydrate (03:08)
Chemists set out to create drugs from scratch. Seeking to improve upon ether and chloroform in 1869, chemist Oscar Liebreich injected chloral hydrate into patients, inducing a long sleep that was hard to wake up from.
Sleeping Pills (01:15)
A chloral hydrate pill was successfully sold to customers as a sleeping pill. It was the first drug designed from scratch for a specific purpose. Chemists then set out to create alternative sleeping pills.
Truth Serum (06:44)
Sodium thiopental -- the "truth drug" -- is a barbiturate, which acts as a central nervous system depressant. It makes patients chatty just before they fall asleep. The body responds to pain, but the brain does not.
Modern Drug Synthesis (01:01)
Today, chemists still create drugs by taking simple molecules and building them up to create complex ones. Pharmaceutical companies have chemical compound "libraries" with which researchers experiment.
Modern Pain Relief Research (02:16)
In the search for the perfect painkiller, doctors study people with a genetic condition that prevents them from feeling pain. Today, researchers are testing drugs that block a key protein found at pain nerves.
Legacy of Morphine (01:02)
In the 200 years since Sertürner first isolated morphine, a series of deliberate and accidental triumphs has led to advances in pain relief. Still, morphine remains the most effective in cases of severe pain.
Credits: Pain: A History of Anesthesia—Pain, Pus, and Poison (00:50)
Credits: Pain: A History of Anesthesia—Pain, Pus, and Poison
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