Is chloroform still used to knock people out?

Believe it or not, scientists still don't fully understand how anaesthetics work. So how does chloroform hold up?

22nd July 2009
Is chloroform still used to knock people out? (iStock)


Asked by: Mischa Blunt, by email

Chloroform is no longer used as an anaesthetic for several reasons, the most important of which is the relatively high risk of complications, including possible heart failure.

One major problem is the very small margin of error between stage-three anaesthesia (patient physically incapable and feeling no pain) and stage-five anaesthesia (paralysis of the chest muscles, often leading to death). It can also take up to five minutes for a skilled anaesthetist to bring a patient to stage three.

Chloroform was gradually replaced in the first half of the 20th century by the safer (although highly inflammable) ether, which is still used as an inexpensive anaesthetic today in some developing nations. The use of both chloroform and ether in Western nations effectively disappeared with the discovery of safer alternatives such as halothane and desflurane.


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