During the course of history, we can find efforts at creating one form or another of general anesthesia. These attempts can be tracked in the writings of the ancient Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Indians, and Chinese. The first attempts at general anesthesia were probably herbal remedies administered in prehistory. Alcohol is the oldest known sedative; it was used in ancient Mesopotamia thousands of years ago.
One man who made notable strides in this field was Hua Tuo. Hua Tuo (c. 140–208) was a Chinese surgeon of the 2nd century AD who lived in the late Eastern Han Dynasty. According to the Records of Three Kingdoms (c. AD 270) and the Book of the Later Han (c. AD 430), Hua Tuo performed surgery under general anesthesia using a formula he had developed by mixing wine with a mixture of herbal extracts he called mafeisan. Hua Tuo reportedly used mafeisan in order to induce a state of unconsciousness and partial neuromuscular blockade to perform even major operations such as resection of gangrenous intestines.
Hua Tuo’s Sanguozhi biography describes him as resembling a Daoist xian (Wade–Giles: hsien; 仙, “immortal”) and details his medical techniques: