Clinical Applications of Surgical Anesthesia
Hypnosis, or suggestive relaxation, which is still another term for hypnosis, and chemical anesthesia have a great deal more in common than is generally recognized. Over 150 years ago, the chemist, Joseph Priestley, prepared nitrous oxide gas. About fifty years later, Sir Humphry Davy recognized the anesthetic properties of Priestley’s gas. It was in 1844 that hypnotism indirectly introduced nitrous oxide gas as an anesthetic agent in this country.
Gardiner Colton, an itinerant chemist, was giving a demonstration of hypnosis in Hartford, Connecticut, on December 10, 1844. In order to ensure a successful trance induction, it is reputed that an assistant engulfed the subject in nitrous oxide while Colton made passes over the face of his subject. The subject fell and, while falling, hit himself violently against the chair without the slightest sensation of pain. Wesley Wells, the dentist, was in the audience and he noticed what had happened. Colton told him about the effect of nitrous oxide. The next day, Colton administered nitrous oxide to Wells for the extraction of a tooth.
Thus, when hypnosis was at its height, anesthesia was a curiosity. Wesley Wells spent five years trying to get his colleagues to use nitrous oxide, but met with such bitter resistance that the subsequent frustration made him commit suicide. Colton, who introduced nitrous oxide anesthesia to Wells, went to New York and opened up a school for teaching dental anesthesia. He was exploited by none other than P. T. Barnum. The paradox is that at the time hypnosis was popular, exploiters were pushing anesthesia. Today, after a century, the reverse is true. Now anesthesia is in general use, whereas hypnosis is being exploited by charlatans. This, unfortunately, is retarding scientific acceptance of hypnosis.
Pierre Janet stated, “If my work is not accepted today, it will be tomorrow when there will be a new turn to fashion’s wheel, which is going to bring back hypnotism as surely as our grandmother’s styles.” This prophecy, made at the turn of the century, is now being fulfilled. It is evidenced by an ever-expanding interest on the part of the medical and dental professions.
Today only a sporadic application of hypnosis for surgical anesthesia is reported. It is also unfortunate that the advent of chloroform, ether, and nitrous oxide during the middle of the last century relegated hypnosis to undeserved obscurity and prevented it from being used as an anesthetic agent.