Happy birthday morphine

morphine.png21st May is morphine’s 200th birthday – we’ve had the pain-killing poppy extract for two centuries and it has had a massive impact on medicine. Strangely, one of the most important effects was found when it was never used…

Anaesthetist Henry Beecher was involved in treating wounded soldiers during World War II. During particularly fierce fighting morphine supplies ran out. In desperation, Beecher used saline solution instead.

The soldiers reported that the fake ‘morphine’ eased their pain – Beecher had discovered the placebo effect.

Inspired by his experiences, Beecher ended up writing one of the most influential papers in medicine The Powerful Placebo, leading to placebo-controlled trials being used as standard in the testing of new medicines.

Chemist and psychedelic compound researcher Alexander Shulgin reports a similar experience in his book PiHKAL, when during his time in the Navy, he needed an operation for a damaged thumb.

…it was this that started me on my career as a psychopharmacologist. I was told that the white “drug” which was undissolved at the bottom of my orange juice glass, and which had finally plopped me over the line from being an alert and defensive surgery candidate to being comatose subject available to any and all manipulation by the operating physician, was nothing but undissolved sugar.

For those interested in the history, psychology and neuroscience of the placebo effect, you could do a lot worse than check out Placebo by cognitive scientist and Mind Hacks contributor Dylan Evans.

And for those still hungry for more about morphine, this is part of birthday celebrations hosted by Kelly from Time to Lean blog, where various authors are contributing morphine related posts. Party on.

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