Letter Re: More About Post-SHTF Anesthetic Medicine Options

Introductory Note from JWR: Warning! The following article is presented for educational purposes only. As previously discussed in SurvivalBlog, using vinyl ether or chloroform for anesthesia can be very tricky. Both can induce deep levels of sedation much more quickly than desired. Thus, at a minimum can can compromise the patient’s airway, and thereby very possibly kill the patient. So unless you have both the equipment and the regularly-practiced expertise to safely intubate and extubate your patient, then do not use vinyl ether or chloroform. Chloroform is also a known carcinogen. Generally, local anesthetics are the best choices for austere medicine! You should only consider using a general anesthetic when there are absolutely no other options, and when aid from trained medical professionals is absolutely unavailable!

Merry Christmas Jim,
I’d like to add something to your knowledge concerning “do it yourself anesthetics”: chloroform.

Be advised: chloroform is carcinogenic and should only be used if no safer alternatives (including no sedation and no operation) are available. Synthesis should only be carried out with regard to proper safety procedures (ventilation, eye protection, …) and consideration for any pertinent laws. I am not a doctor, I do not have any formal medical training. I do however hold a degree in chemistry, I have synthesized chloroform and used it to carry out extractions of organic compounds.

Chloroform has long been used as an anesthetic as well as being a common chemical in many laboratories. It went out of use in medical practice as its carcinogenic nature became known. Yes, this stuff will increase your risk of contracting cancer and should only be used after due consideration. The decision to go ahead and use this on an elderly person will be taken differently than when dealing with a youth for

I am not a doctor, I will not advise you on how to use chloroform. I will however teach you how to manufacture it. The easiest way to manufacture chloroform is by reacting a methyl ketone with chlorine dissolved in an aqueous environment. In plain English: by mixing bleach with acetone. “Bleach” being any plain hypochlorite bleach solution, will react with acetone and form Acetic acid and chloroform. Chloroform will separate from the solution and float on top. (Theoretically, methyl ethyl ketone [aka 2-Butanone; ethyl methyl ketone, or MEK] could be used instead of acetone, I have no experience with this)

The purest product can be obtained by taking a small amount of bleach and slowly (while stirring) adding drops of acetone in solution until no more chloroform forms. (this minimizes the loss of acetone through evaporation which poses a potential fire hazard) The top layer can be off quite well, but it will be difficult to get every drop without spilling some concentrated acetic acid over as well. A better separation can be accomplished with a separatory funnel, if available.

The amount of each chemical can be difficult to calculate in advance as the purity/concentration of bleach is not a constant, if it is even accurately labeled. There are differences between sodium- ,potassium-and calcium hypochlorite to take into account. You need (ideal ratios) 3.8 grams of sodium hypochlorite bleach for every gram of acetone, or 30 grams per 10 ml of acetone, this would yield roughly 5 ml of chloroform. You will need a sizable amount of bleach to produce enough chloroform to keep someone sedated for any period of time.

The produced chloroform should be washed with water to flush out as much bleach and acetic acid as possible. Mix chloroform with half its volume of water, stir well and pour off the water. Do this twice and your chloroform is ready for storage or use.

“A text-book of practical organic chemistry” by Vogel Lists a more advanced method of producing Chloroform. A web search on “Vogel chemistry” should allow you to review the book in .pdf format on one of the many sites which host it. I would wholeheartedly advise a couple of decent chemistry books in every survival library (aseptics, medication, explosives, glue, dye, … your modern life is supported by practical chemistry, do you know anything about it?)

Chloroform can be used as an anesthetic by a qualified anesthesiologist. In addition, it may be used as a recreational drug by those truly daft or already dying and therefore may qualify as bartering tender.
A far better use is its use as an apolar solvent. Ether can be used to extract organic compounds from biological matter. For example: the aroma’s from flowers, natural dyes and alkaloïds. (Alkaloïds including the active compounds from narcotic and/or medicinal plants.) Generally, the chloroform is distilled off after the extraction is complete, preferably under vacuum to preserve the extracted compound.

The acetic acid can be purified by boiling off any remaining acetone and most water. There may be small amounts of bleach present. This concentrated acetic acid can be diluted to make strong vinegar. I suppose this vinegar may be useful as a cleaning agent. I doubt it could be considered food safe and useful for food preservation or preparation. Dehydration to yield acetic anhydride would be a chemists preferred destination, but is highly illegal under current drug precursor regulations.

(The following is not an exhaustive list of the hazards associated with chloroform)
Chloroform is carcinogenic and contact should be avoided! Do not inhale the fumes or ingest, avoid skin contact.
Chloroform is relatively fire-safe, making it suited for many extractions as it can be distilled off (though presently largely replaced by alternatives)

Chloroform must be kept away from light, ideally in an amber glass bottle in a cool room not prone to extreme temperature shifts.

I’d also a bit on chloral hydrate as well, but aside from me not having any practical experience with its synthesis, that sort of information may attract the wrong kind of attention (criminals as well as those who hunt them). Still, if you need a powerful sleeping aid post SHTF, any “lab” chemist should be able to synthesize some for you if you bring alcohol, sulphuric acid, salt and a source of electricity or hypochlorite powder. Happy new year and many a year after! – Hawkins