Anesthetic Agents of Plant Origin: A Review of Phytochemicals with Anesthetic Activity

Molecules. 2017 Aug 18;22(8):1369. doi: 10.3390/molecules22081369.


The majority of currently used anesthetic agents are derived from or associated with natural products, especially plants, as evidenced by cocaine that was isolated from coca (Erythroxylum coca, Erythroxylaceae) and became a prototype of modern local anesthetics and by thymol and eugenol contained in thyme (Thymus vulgaris, Lamiaceae) and clove (Syzygium aromaticum, Myrtaceae), respectively, both of which are structurally and mechanistically similar to intravenous phenolic anesthetics. This paper reviews different classes of phytochemicals with the anesthetic activity and their characteristic molecular structures that could be lead compounds for anesthetics and anesthesia-related drugs. Phytochemicals in research papers published between 1996 and 2016 were retrieved from the point of view of well-known modes of anesthetic action, that is, the mechanistic interactions with Na⁺ channels, γ-aminobutyric acid type A receptors, N-methyl-d-aspartate receptors and lipid membranes. The searched phytochemicals include terpenoids, alkaloids and flavonoids because they have been frequently reported to possess local anesthetic, general anesthetic, antinociceptive, analgesic or sedative property. Clinical applicability of phytochemicals to local and general anesthesia is discussed by referring to animal in vivo experiments and human pre-clinical trials. This review will give structural suggestions for novel anesthetic agents of plant origin.

Keywords: general anesthetic; lead compound; local anesthetic; pharmacological mechanism; phytochemical; plant origin.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anesthetics / chemistry
  • Anesthetics / therapeutic use*
  • Anesthetics, Local / classification
  • Anesthetics, Local / therapeutic use*
  • Cocaine / therapeutic use
  • Eugenol / chemistry
  • Eugenol / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Phytochemicals / classification
  • Phytochemicals / therapeutic use*
  • Syzygium / chemistry
  • Thymol / chemistry
  • Thymol / therapeutic use
  • Thymus Plant / chemistry


  • Anesthetics
  • Anesthetics, Local
  • Phytochemicals
  • Thymol
  • Eugenol
  • Cocaine