Can Chloroform Be Used as an Anesthesia?

Chloroform is a sweet-smelling, colorless organic compound with the chemical formula CHCl3 and IUPAC name Trichloromethane. This dense liquid has C3 symmetry and tetrahedral molecular geometry.  Chloroform is nonflammable and has a slightly sweet taste. It is a highly volatile liquid, and for this reason, chloroform has been widely used for its anesthetic properties throughout history.

When ingested or inhaled, chloroform is a powerful euphoriant, sedative, anesthetic, and anxiolytic. Consumption of chloroform in small doses can knock or daze people unconscious. 

Occurrence of Chloroform 

You can find the low levels of chloroform in the air and inland rivers, groundwater, coastal water, and lakes. But most of the chloroform is human-made that you come across in the environment. The chloroform levels can be higher in the air (containing chlorine) above the swimming pool and industrial areas.

Uses of Chloroform 

Chloroform is majorly used in the manufacturing of Freon refrigerant R-22. Although the use of this refrigerant has been phased out in the developed countries due to global warming, developing countries are still using it. The other usages of chloroform are: as a solvent for floor polishes, adhesives, fats, rubber, lacquers, resins, alkaloids, and oils. 

Chloroform was used as an anesthetic until the mid-1900s to reduce the pain during medical procedures. However, due to its harmful effect, it is not used as anesthesia anymore.

Use of Chloroform as an Anesthesia 

In 1847, James Young Simpson, an obstetrician, used chloroform for the first time as an anesthetic. As a means of entertainment, he used it on two humans. Soon after that, Edinburgh was successfully using chloroform in dental procedures with no noticeable harmful consequences. 

Within no time, the popularity of chloroform as an anesthetic reached such an extent that in the 1850s, it was even used during the birth of Queen Victoria’s last two children by the physician John Snow. At the beginning of the 20th century, ether started to replace chloroform as an anesthetic. But the golden age of chloroform was brief. 

Due to its toxicity, chloroform was gradually replaced by a much safer compound ether because it has practically no side effects. Moreover, some people even used chloroform to attempt suicide. 

Effects of Chloroform 

Higher doses of chloroform increase the side effects. In small quantities, it can make you feel disoriented and lethargic. Exposure to chloroform is very hazardous as it can harm the brain, bone marrow, kidneys, and heart. Moreover, chloroform can cause hepatitis as it damages the liver, respiratory injuries, including pulmonary edema, pneumonitis, and respiratory depression. 

High doses of chloroform can be fatal as it is toxic to the central nervous system and can cause unconsciousness. And ultimately, you no longer be able to feel sensation or pain.

Furthermore, in severe dosage, chloroform can cause paralysis of the chest muscle, complete muscle relaxation, and strained breathing. As per the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, shorty or immediately after exposure to a level of 100,000 ppb (100 ppm) of chloroform in the air can make an individual feel dizzy and tired.

How Long Does Chloroform Take To Make You Unconscious? 

You require the appropriate dose of chloroform soaked in a rag to knock you unconscious. And unlike movies, it takes longer; taking a whiff would not drop you unconscious immediately. It would take at least five minutes with a perfectly measured dose to render someone unconscious.


Chloroform was a well-known anesthetic in the past. However, due to its harmful consequences, it is no longer used as anesthesia. Various available alternatives with fewer side effects, i.e., ether, took the place of chloroform.