In the arms of Morpheus the development of morphine for postoperative pain relief

Can J Anaesth. 2000 Apr;47(4):367-74. doi: 10.1007/BF03020955.


Purpose: To analyse the historical development of morphine for postoperative analgesia and how this development was shaped by the evolution of anesthetic techniques.

Methods: After a systematic review of the literature, information was gathered from primary sources.

Principal findings: In ancient medicine, some plant derivatives were used to alleviate pain including: alcohol, cannabis, mandrake, and opium. Over the past two centuries, opium and its derivatives have become the most widely used analgesics for severe pain. Before the development of general anesthesia, surgery was only performed out of extreme necessity. It is probable that an analgesic such as opium would have been given following surgery although its use may not have been recorded. The first description of postoperative opium was by James Moore in 1784. Morphine was isolated from opium by Friedrich Serturner in 1805. However, it was not until the development of the hypodermic needle and syringe nearly 50 yr later that the use of morphine became widespread. Over the last century, various delivery systems for morphine have been developed including subarachanoid and epidural injection, and more recently patient-controlled intravenous, epidural and intranasal analgesia. In addition, many new opioids have been synthesized.

Conclusion: Since its isolation from opium almost 200 yr ago, morphine remains the most widely used analgesic and the standard against which all new opioids for postoperative pain relief are compared.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects
  • Analgesics, Opioid / history*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Morphine / adverse effects
  • Morphine / history*
  • Morphine / therapeutic use*
  • Pain, Postoperative / drug therapy*
  • Pain, Postoperative / history*


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Morphine