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.
Resorcin. This agent was first separated from galbanum resin, and it has also been extracted from ammoniacum, guaiacum, asafetida, and other vegetable resins. It is a diatomic phenol. Thymol and some other vegetable products are also phenols. This natural resorcin was formerly much employed internally as an antipyretic and antiseptic. It was especially esteemed in the treatment of fermentative dyspepsia and gastric ulcer.
Then came the synthetic chemist, and in his hands resorcin became metadihydroxybenzene produced by the reaction of fused sodium hydroxide upon metabenzenedisulphonate; and this is the only "resorcin" now on the market. It is quite toxic, producing convulsions, and is used principally in so-called "hair tonics" and to remove epidermic scales in chronic skin diseases. But, as an internal remedy, the synthetic chemist ruined "resorcin."
The reader will please permit me to introduce a little homily at this point. Thomas Bodley Scott, in his book, "Modern Medicine and Some Modern Remedies," published in 1916, says: "The effects of the plant remedies are still often a matter of doubt, though the standardization of tinctures and the extraction of alkaloids have put things on much surer ground; these remedies, though very often useful - some of them, indeed, being seemingly indispensable - will eventually, I think, lose much of their prominent position, for the reason that they are foreign to the animal system. The inorganic remedies come under rather different heading; many of them, like iron, arsenic, iodine, potash, and soda, are already constituents of the flesh and blood, and in a measure they can be regarded as body foods; but the great future, I think, belongs to the organic animal remedies, to the ductless gland extracts, and to organic chemistry."
Synthetic resorcin is one answer to this. If the organic and synthetic chemist is only given a chance, Dr. Scott's prognostication will doubtless come true. And then, after the "vegetable remedies" come out of a retort, the "ductless gland extracts" will also be made synthetically and will lose out in professional esteem, and the "Pharmacopeia" become an appendix of the trade lists of the manufacturers of explosives and dyestuffs, and "official remedies" be listed under "By-products."
Doubtless Dr. Scott would not list as "constituents of the flesh and blood" such agents as mercury, silver, gold, bismuth, bromine, copper, magnesium, manganese, lead, and zinc, yet they are useful remedies; he would hardly claim that chemically made glucose, or benzosulphinide (saccharin) are as available as food as is natural sugar; and he must admit that all drugs, except food-drugs, are "foreign to the animal system," even the ductless-gland extracts from the sheep or other of the lower animals being foreign to the system of man. Bacteria and tapeworms are also foreign; and how is one to meet the indications they precipitate unless with some "foreign" substance? Let us keep our plant remedies natural instead of synthetic, and credit the work of the organic chemist on its own status - useful, but productive of remedies also "foreign to the animal system."