Strychnine information from Christison and Griffith's Dispensatory
This information has been taken from the Christison and Griffith's Dispensatory 2nd Edition 1848. The information contained is for historical purposes only.
Strychnos Nux-vomica; strychnine; nux vomica; strychnia;
FOB.. NAMES.—The terra Strychnin, or Stryehnina, has been adopted in most modern
STRYCHNIA, one of the vegetable alkaloids, was discovered in 1818, by
Pelletier and Cav.enlavLsin.tmxr^a^m.-*^ Strychnos Nux-vomica and .S. Ignatia, (figured in Carson, Illust. 59.) It has been since found also in the bark of the former plant, in the seeds of S. colubrina, or snake-wood, and in the Java poison called Chettik, or Tieute,
obtained from the S. Tieute; and it has .been likewise announced as existing
in the Wourali poison of Guiana, which is supposed to owe its properties, chiefly, to the juice of a fifth species of the same genus, the & guianensis, or S. toxicaria, Schomburgk.
Chemical History.—The strychnia of the shops is at present obtained only from nux-vomica. But it exists in larger proportion in the St. Ignatius-bean, a scarce substance in European commerce ; and I am inclined to think from some trials, that it may also be extracted more profitably from the bark of the nux-vomica tree th.au from its seeds. The process fox preparing it, from nux-vomica consists essentially in first obtaining, either directly, or through the medium of an alcoholic extract, a concentrated watery solution of its active salt, the igasurate of strychnia, in union with various other principles,—in then decomposing this salt by means of caustic lime or magnesia,—and lastly in dissolving from the precipitate, by boiling rectified spirit, an impure strychnia, which is subsequently purified by repeatedly crystallizing it from its spirituous solution, with or without the aid of animal charcoal as a decolor-izing agent. Every process hitherto published is tedious, troublesome and unproductive. It is said that, by subjecting the coarse powder of nux-vomica with water to fermentation with yeast for 20 days, the subsequent process is much facilitated (Molyn). The proportion of strychnia, even in the crude or somewhat impure rState, is seldom above a 200th part of the seeds. The St. Ignatius-bean, however, yields so much as A percent. (Geiseler). 'It is scarcely necessary to repeat or explain here the details of the processes adopted by the two British Colleges, as their nature is sufficiently apparent from the particulars of the formulae. That of the Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia, adopted from the process of Henri, is the more economical of the two, inas-much as it avoids the use of large quantities of spirit. And it has the farther advantage of pointing out how nux-vomica may be reduced to a state of suf-ficiently fine division; which, on account of its horny toughness, is by-no means so easy a matter as might be supposed from the brief directions of the London College to use the seeds "bruised." The product of either process is an obscurely-crystalline granular powder, grayish-white, seldom»snow-white, and generally, as the Edinburgh College indicates, more or less impure in the state in which it is now manufactured for the druggist.
In this state, strychnia is a composite body, consisting of nearly equal proportions of the two alkaloids of nux-vomica, strychnia and brucia, together with more or less colouring matter. From this substance the alkaloids may be obtained apart from one another, and perfectly pure, in the following manner.) Nitric acid very much diluted is neutralized with the strychnia of the shops; and the solution, after being filtered,is concentrated for crystallization. Nitrate of brucia then crystallizes in short, thick, dense prisms grouped together, and nitrate of strychnia in radiated tufts of long, light, silky, capillary needles; so that, on gently agitating the fluid to break up the crystals, the latter salt may be poured oflf with the mother-liquor, while the salt of brucia remains behind in the vessel. Each salt may then be dissolved in water, decolorized by animal charcoal, and decomposed with ammonia; and the precipitate thus obtained may be crystallized by cooling a hot solution of it in rectified spirit.
Actions and Uses.—Strychnia belongs to that denomination of narcotics which act chiefly, if not solely, by stimulating the spinal chord and medulla oblongata, and without affecting the functions of the brain. The slightest observable effects from small doses are twitches of the muscles of the arms and legs, occurring especially during sleep, and accompanied with restlessness, some anxiety, acceleration of the pulse, and generally slight perspiration. More rarely the bowels present increased activity; the urine is either aug-mented or discharged more frequently ; and the venereal appetite is promoted. Larger doses cause more violent starting of the muscles, or even also a tend-ency to locked-jaw, which ace succeeded by stiffness, weariness,paii or rending in the limbs. In their highest degree, these effects amount to violent tetanic spastn, occurring in frequent fits, with brief intervals of repose, acute sensibi-lity, and dreadful alarm. Strychnia exerts this action more or less, through whatever organ or texture it is introduced into the body. It operates with an energy proportioned to the activity of absorption where it is applied, and hence most energetically when introduced into a vein, and, in the next place, when applied to a recent wound. The blood of an animal suffering under it will affect another animal similarly, if transfused into its veins. It is one of the most subtle of poisons. I have seen a wild boar killed in ten minutes with a third part of a grain of commercial strychnia injected into the cavity of the chest; I have known two-thirds of a grain cause alarming locked-jaw and general spasms in the human subject when swallowed ; one grain introduced into a wound would probably prove fatal to a man ; and Pelletier and Caven-tou have killed a dog in thirty seconds with the sixth of a grain of the pure alkaloid. It is not a cumulative poison, like mercury or digitalis. On the other hand, its activity does not diminish, like that of opium, under the influ-ence t)f habit. There is no antidote for it.
The chief practical application of these singular properties is to the treat* -ment of the different varieties of chronic palsy, such as hemiplegia, paraplegia," partial paralysis of particular joints or particular muscles, amaurosis, and palsy of the bladder. Strychnia must not be used in recent cases, or while general reaction prevails, or when signs exist either of local irritation in the brain or spinal chord, or of determination of blood towards the head. It is usually given once, twice, or thrice a-day, in doses gradually increased till some physiological effect appear, especially starting of the limbs. The paralysed muscles are always first affected, if they are thrown into spasms at all. If the remedy is to succeed, improvement begins speedily,—sometimes the day after the first fits of spasm ; and hence a fortnight's treatment will de-cide what is to be the probable result. The cure may be at times perfected quickly; but more generally, though amendment may show itself soon, com-plete recovery is not attained without persevering for many weeks or even months. This treatment is successful at times, even in very old cases, more generally in paraplegia than hemiplegia, much more frequently in cases of complete than of incomplete paralysis, occasionally in palsy of the bladder, seldom in other local palsies, and not often in amaurosis. Of 97 cases of hemiplegia or paraplegia, collected by Bayle or treated by Dr. Bardsley, Jun., 59 got quite well, and 25 greatly better. My own experience has been much less favourable. Yet I have several times seen hemiplegia and paraplegia, and, in one instance, incontinence of urine, in which it. has been found useful by others (Pit'schaft), apparently cured by strychnia : At least the first signs of amendment immediately succeeded the first signs of its physiological action. Strychnia, or some drug containing it, such as nux-vomica or St. Ignatius-bean, has also been used in the treatment of epilepsy, amenorrhoBa, ague, dysentery and rheumatism. Dr. Weitz, a physician of Nurenberg, long cele-brated throughout Germany for his success in curing epilepsy with a secret nostrum, was found after his death to have employed the St. Ignatius-bean.— Dr. Bardsley speaks favourably of the trials he made with strychnia in araenorrhcea. Hufeland, and a Swedish physician, Haystrom, found nux? vomica an effectual remedy in severe epidemic dysentery. And there' is no doubt that the same drug is one of the many bitters, which occasionally suc-ceed in arresting intermittent fever.
Strychnia must be administered with great caution and constant observation of the patient,—not merely because of its tremendous activity as a poison, but likewise on account of its variable strength. It is usually given in the form of pill with bread-crumb, beginning with a sixth of a grain, and increasing the dose gradually every other day till muscular twitches are produced. After this, it is seldom necessary to increase the doses, but sometimes advisable to discontinue them for a day 'or two when the effects are unusually severe. There is little use in giving it. oftener than once in twenty-four hours, namely, in the evening; for starting of the muscles is always produced most easily during the night-time, and not more easily when additional doses are given through the day. When the sample of the drug is changed, as it may be stronger, its dose should be diminished to two-thirds. Should severe spasms or restlessness be induced, a full opiate will arrest them. Strychnia may also be applied externally through means of a fresh blistered surface. This is the most approved mode of treating amaurosis (Shortt), and has given relief in facial neuralgia (Bfraclagan). From a twelfth of a grain to a grain in fine powder should be sprinkled over the blistered part once or twice a-day; and When the surface suppurates, a fresh blister must be applied on 9, neighbouring spot.
Brucia acts precisely as strychnia; but much less energetically. Different experimentalists fix its relative strength between one-sixth and one twenty-fourth of that Of strychnia.
The doses of commercial Strychnia vary from gr. £ to gr. i. internally, and gr. i. to gr. v. externally.