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June 6, 1977

Acupuncture Anesthesia: Pricking the Balloon

JAMA. 1977;237(23):2530. doi:10.1001/jama.1977.03270500082039

Hopes that surgical anesthesia could be attained by nonpharmacologic means were raised when word reached us that Chinese physicians employed acupuncture for intraoperative pain relief.1 In 1973, Bonica2 (a member of the American medical delegation) reported personal observations of 15 operations done with analgesia provided by acupuncture; seven patients gave visual or physiologic indications that pain relief was not complete.

A study group, formed by the National Academy of Sciences, thereupon visited the People's Republic of China in May 1974 to gather firsthand scientific data about this modern application of an age-old therapeutic modality. The group's dozen members visited 16 hospitals and witnessed 48 operations performed under acupuncture analgesia.3

Though many patients tolerated surgery with little or no discomfort when treated with acupuncture, it became evident that acupuncture does not abolish pain totally, nor does it alter consciousness—two states traditionally associated with general anesthesia. The terms "acupuncture