This section is from the book "Botanic Drugs Their Materia Medica, Pharmacology and Therapeutics", by Thomas S. Blair. Also available from Amazon: Botanic Drugs, Their Materia Medica, Pharmacology and Therapeutics.
Colchici Cormus, Colchicum Root; Col-Chici Semen, Colchicum Seed; Colchi-Cina, Colchicine; Colchicum autumnale. The root official in Great Britain, Mexico, and the United States, the seed in nearly all national standards.
If colchicine is injected into the circulation, blood-pressure falls and the plain muscle of intestine, spleen, and uterus is stimulated to contraction. There is no effect on glandular secretion. After several hours a secondary train of symptoms appears, marked by central depression, and the animal dies of respiratory failure. The drug causes renal irritation, congested intestinal membranes, and a stimulation of the hemopoietic function of the bone marrow. Poisoning resembles in symptoms that caused by the poisonous proteins of shell-fish.
So, then, were colchicum a new drug, the pharmacologist would probably dismiss it as of no defined therapeutic value. Certainly there is nothing in its pharmacology explaining its demonstrated clinical value in the treatment of gout.
Dr. Robert P. Fischelis, in a paper read before the Philadelphia Branch of the American Pharmaceutical Association, has this to say:
"If for the first time in the history of medicine colchicum corm was sent to our pharmacological laboratory for report on its therapeutic value, the report would probably state: 'Colchicum is in full dosage a drastic cathartic. In poisonous doses it produces a train of symptoms simulating those observed in cholera. The m. 1. d. for the guinea pig is -gm. per unit of weight. The leucocytic count is diminished markedly during the first 24 hours of the use of the drug and then undergoes as marked an increase.' Observe that the one action of colchicum that has kept it so long in the pharmacopeia, its almost specific value in gout and analogous conditions, is not noted by the pharmacologist; indeed, it is quite probable that he would report the drug as having little value.
"It is impossible to exaggerate the value of pharmacology in demonstrating the action of drugs on the living body; in many cases it teaches us why and through what channels the remedy acts, it allows us to measure the dosage of many new remedies and assign them to their proper place in our classification, it renders exact much knowledge that has hitherto been empirical; but, in quite a number of cases, it furnishes no information whatever because the drug under examination gives no salient evidences of its action, and in many cases chemical evidence is also lacking. A modern school of therapeutics - a school whose tenets are very attractive to men whose minds tend to mathematical exactitude - would deny recognition to all drugs of this class. Their attitude is about as follows: 'If the drug under examination does not respond to physiological testing, if it furnishes no active principles or concentrates that can be shown to modify function, we will have none of it.' It should not be necessary to point out that the passing of the judgment we have outlined above would deprive us of quinine, colchicum, arsenic, calomel, phosphorus, gentian, indeed of a host of remedies of long established clinical reputation."
In therapeutic doses - root, 1 to 5 grains; seed, the same; fl., 1 to 4 minims; tr., 10 to 30 minims; vinum, the same; colchicine, 1-150 to 1-60 grain (average, 1-128 grain), is of thoroughly established value in the treatment of gout and allied conditions; and these therapeutic doses give rise to none of the toxic symptoms enumerated except purging if the administration is pushed. It is open to question if the active principle is as effective as is the whole drug.