Ether

The drug that I have chosen to place a spotlight upon is ethoxyethane, more commonly referred to as ether.  This drug intrigued me because I have always had a rather profound interest in the customs and such of the Victorian era. I remember at some point at about ten or eleven years of age reading about ether frolics. To this day, I remember what I learned, which was admittedly quite basic, and now I have researched more.  At first glance, what is seen as a rather unassuming, colorless liquid is actually quite a potent anesthetic.

Discovered in 1275, its hypnotic effects were noticed by German botanist and chemist Valerius Cordus in 1540, and its sleeping ones by Paracelsus. In 1794, ether began being used as a medical treatment. Prior to this, surgery had to be quick, yet it still caused immense physical pain and mental trauma for those brave souls who underwent it. Ether was at first mainly administered via pouring it on cloths and having the patient inhale the drug. The results were not always satisfactory and somewhat uncertain, and thus later and somewhat more successful methods involved rather complex apparatus, complete with valves, glass tubes and vessels. With these later methods, the ether was often vaporized for use.

In the 1800s, ether had a reputation for being used as a recreational drug. Starting in the 1840s, ‘ether frolics’ became a rather prevalent activity for some medical students- the ether was ingested during these parties, resulting in an emotional high, less controlled motor skills, immunity to pain, and memory loss. In fact, ether was sometimes taken instead of alcohol, since it was legal and the church did not forbid it as they did alcohol.  Ether was sold in pubs along with alcohol, as well as in shops.

A problem with ether was that doctors did not really have a way to control the amount of the drug inhaled by a patient and thus the patient could end up waking up during surgery, or having an overdose- not waking up at all. Some of the dangerous side effects of ether on humans are vomiting, nausea, breathing problems, low blood pressure, and arrhythmia. Today, ether has been replaced by other anesthetics that are less flammable, more effective, and safer.  In conclusion, this drug was a seminal one that helped medical science forge ahead and create safer and more pleasant surgeries for everyone.

Ether is administered to a patient.

Ether is administered to a patient.

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