[On the history of barbiturates].Dan Medicinhist Arbog 2015; 43:133-51DM
Throughout the history of humanity, numerous therapeutic agents have been employed for their sedative and hypnotic properties such as opium, henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) and deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), but also alcohol and wine. In the 19th century potassium bromide was introduced as a sedative - and antiepileptic drug and chloral hydrate as sedative-hypnotics. A new era was reached by the introduction of barbiturates. The story started with the chemist Adolf von Baeyer. His breakthrough in the synthesis of new agents as barbituric acid and indigo and his education of young chemists was of great importance for the science of organic chemistry and the development of the dye and medicine industry in the late 19th century. The next important step was the development of barbiturates. The pioneers were Josef von Mering and Emil Fischer. Using the Grimaux-method they synthesized various barbiturates. It was von Mering who got the idea of introducing ethyl groups in the inactive barbituric acid to obtain sedatives, but the synthesis was succeeded by the chemist Emil Fischer. Experiments with dogs clearly showed sedative and hypnotic effect of the barbiturates and the oral administration of barbital (Veronal) confirmed the effect in humans. Barbital was commercialized in 1903 and in 1911 phenobarbital (Luminal) was introduced in the clinic, and this drug showed hypnotic and antiepileptic effects. Thereafter a lot of new barbiturates appeared. Dangerous properties of the drugs were recognized as abuse, addiction, and poisoning. An optimum treatment of acute barbiturate intoxication was obtained by the "Scandinavian method", which was developed in the Poison Centre of the Bispebjerg Hospital in Copenhagen. The centre was established by Carl Clemmesen in 1949 and the intensive care treatment reduced the mortality of the admitted persons from 20% to less than 2%. To-day only a few barbiturates are used in connection with anaesthesia and for the treatment of epilepsy, and chemists are focusing on drugs with more selective effects.