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Alkaloids such as cocaine and morphine are extremely useful as painkillers, but they have serious physiological effects and are addictive. Plants, after all, do not make them for the sake of animals, but for self-protection.

Organic chemists strove to modify the alkaloid molecule in an effort to find a substitute that kept some of the good aspects while losing some of the bad ones. In 1904, for instance, a molecule named novocaine, or procaine, was found, with a structure something like part of a cocaine molecule. It acted as a local anesthetic but was much safer to use than cocaine, so that it became highly important to dentists.

Chemists weren't always so lucky. In 1898 a modified molecule of morphine was found to be even more effective as a pain-reliever than morphine itself. After a few years, it was recognized to be even more dangerous to addictive. It was heroin.

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Author:Asimov, Isaac
Publication:Asimov's Chronology of Science & Discovery, Updated ed.
Article Type:Reference Source
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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