1804 CE
Morphine, the principal ingredient in opium, is identified

In 1804, Friedrich Wilhelm Sertürner extracts and purifies the active ingredient in crude opium. However, his discovery is largely unnoticed until his later article, published in 1817, attracts the attention of a French physician who realizes its fundamental importance. In this article, Sertürner names the active ingredient "morphium" after the Greek god of dreams, Morpheus. The drug was first marketed to the general public by Sertürner and Company in 1817 as a pain medication, and also as a treatment for opium and alcohol addiction. Commercial production began in Darmstadt, Germany in 1827 by the pharmacy that became the pharmaceutical company Merck. This is one of the first examples of applying modern chemical procedures to produce pure drugs from earlier plant-based medicines.

The usefulness of opium for dealing with pain had been known for centuries. But morphine is ten times more powerful than processed opium, when the same quantity is compared. Hailed as a miracle drug, morphine is widely prescribed by physicians in the mid-1800s for its pain relief properties. But by the 1870s, physicians begin to express concerns about “the morphine habit.”

Nonetheless, morphine is one of the most effective drugs known for the relief of severe pain and remains the standard against which new pain relievers are measured.

Source: Meldrum, M. (2003). Journal of the American Medical Association 290(18), 2470-2475.

Drugs: Opium (morphine, heroin, opioids)
Regions: Germany
Topics: Medicinal use of drugs