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The world of medicine is this weekend celebrating the 200th anniversary of the crystallisation of morphine. Since 1805, the drug and its derivatives have become the most widely used treatment for severe pain.
According to Dr Jonathan Moss, professor of anaesthesia and critical care at the University of Chicago, while many new pain relievers have been synthesised since then, 'morphine remains the standard against which all new medications for postoperative pain relief are compared'.
Today over 230 tonnes of morphine is used annually for medical reasons, including post-operative pain relief and pain relief for patients in the advanced stages of an illness, such as cancer.
However the drug is not without its problems, producing side effect such as severe nausea and constipation. It is also highly addictive.
Morphine was discovered by a 21-year-old pharmacist's assistant, Freidrich Wilhelm Adam Serturner, who wondered about the medicinal properties of opium, which was widely used by 18th century physicians.
On May 21, 1805, he successfully completed the crystallisation of morphine from opium for the first time. By the mid-1820s, morphine was widely available in western Europe and by the 1850s, the first reliable syringes were developed, allowing the drug to be injected into patients.
By the 1870s, doctors had become aware of the addictive properties of morphine.
Today over 500,000 patients worldwide with advanced cancer are dependent on morphine or one of its derivatives.
"Two hundred years after Serturner's work, we continue to learn a great deal about morphine", Dr Moss said.