This section is from the book "An Experimental History Of The Materia Medica", by William Lewis.
The trials of this medicine, made among us, have not, as yet, so far as. I can learn, been accompanied with so much success. I have been informed of some cases, in which it was apparently of great benefit; of some, in which it did no service; and, of some, in which it affected the speech and hearing. It has been suspected that the general inefficacy of the medicine in this country was owing either to our hemlock being different in quality from the German, or to the extract being less skilfully prepared; but some of the extract has been procured from Dr. Stoerck himself, and found to succeed no better than our own: though the medicine has seldom been accompanied with very happy effects, it had activity enough to be productive of alarming symptoms.
In the third volume of the medical obser-vations and inquiries published by a society of physicians in London, Dr. Fothergill and Dr. Rutty have given two papers on this medicine, drawn from extensive practice in England and Ireland; from which we have grounds to per-suade ourselves, that though the cicuta is far from answering the expectations which Dr. Stoerck had raised, it may nevertheless be an useful acquisition, and may assist in curing some disorders, and alleviating others, in which the common medicines are inadequate auxiliaries. In real cancers, whether ulcerated or occult, there is no instance of its effecting a complete cure; but it was found to retard the progress of the deplorable disease, to mitigate the pain for a time, and to change the thin, ichorous, fetid discharge to a state more approaching that of laudable pus. In different kinds of malignant ulcers, it in like manner mended the discharge, and disposed the ulcer to heal. Some scrophu-lous tumours were completely resolved by it, and the cure has stood for several seasons: in other cases of this kind, the patient has frequently suffered a relapse, especially in the spring. Dr. Fothergill observes, that the suc-cess of this medicine depends on its being given in as large a dose as the patient can bear; for otherwise, though continued for a length of time, it seldom procures any benefit: that the hemlock is in greatest perfection when the flowers begin to fade, and the habit of the plant inclines to yellow; and that in making the extract, the less heat it undergoes, the better: that he has found twenty grains of one sort of extract equal in point of efficacy to near forty of another: that the dose is to be in-creased by degrees, till it produces certain effects, which seldom fail to arise from a full dose, and which for the most part are, either a giddiness affecting the head, and motions of the eyes, as if something pushed them outwards; or a flight sickness and trembling agitation of the body; or a laxative stool or two: that here we must stop till none of these effects are felt, and in three or four days advance a few grains more: that a greater quantity can commonly be borne at night than at noon, and at noon than in the morning: that the method he commonly follows is, to order two drams of the extract to be made into thirty pills, of which two are to be taken in a morning, two at noon, and three or four at night, and one pill added to each dose, according as the patient can bear it: that the extract, given in this manner, is apparently anodyne; promotes rest, and eases pain; seldom creates third, or that kind of morning head-ach which succeeds an opiate; rarely occasions costiveness, but in most procures a laxative stool the day following: that in some habits, very small doses offend the stomach, excite spasmodic twitch-ings, heat, and thirst; and that in such cases, its use is immediately forbid.
* In a paper of Dr. Fothergill's in vol. 5th of the London Med. Observ. and Inq. the efficacy of extract of hemlock in a particular painful affection of the face, is related. This disease is a sudden violent pain attacking some part of the face, continuing a very short time, and returning at irregular intervals, the nature and cause of which is not distinctly known. The Doctor was led, from some circumstances, to consider it as owing to a cancerous acrimony. In most of the cases he met with, the cicuta, taken in sufficient quantity, and long enough persisted in, removed the complaint.
* This remedy has likewise been strongly recommended in the cure of the chincough, by Dr. Butter, in a treatise on that disease. He represents it as no less efficacious in this complaint, then bark in an ague; but the trials made by other practitioners do not seem to have confirmed this opinion.
* The following directions for preparing in the most perfect manner the extract: of hemlock, are given by Dr. Withering in his Botanical Arrangement of British Vegetables. "Let several people be employed to gather the plant; and as fast as it is cut, let others carry it in hand-baskets to the press; but it must lie light and loosely in the baskets. Let the juice be immediately squeezed out; and as fast as it runs from the press, it must be put over the fire, and boiled till three parts out of four of the whole liquor is wafted. Then it must be put into a water bath, and evaporated to the consistence of honey. If it is now taken and spread thin upon a board or marble flab, and exposed to the fun and the air, it will soon be of a proper consistence to be formed into pills. From five to ten grains of this extract is a proper dose; few constitutions will bear more without experiencing disagreeable effects (a)." In the second edition of the same valuable work, Dr. Withering, however, informs us, that from the uncertainty of the preparation of the extract, he has for some years laid aside the use of it, and employed the powder of the dried leaves. Of this, from fifteen to twenty-five grains may be taken twice or thrice a day. It should be kept in glass bottles, to which the light has no access. See further, vol. I. p. 280. edition second.
Of the two colleges, that of London directs the expressed juice to be simply infpiffated by the heat of a brine bath; that of Edinburgh directs that after the matter by infpiffation is brought to the consistence of thin honey, it should be suffered to cool, and then be brought to a due pilular consistence by adding the powder of the leaves. This powder ought to form about a fifth part of the whole mass.
(a) Vol. i. p. 163. edition first.
Saccus spif-fatus cicutae Ph. Lond. & Ed.
The root of hemlock is generally supposed to be, both in external applications and when taken internally, of more activity than the leaves. Stoerck relates, that on being cut, it yields a bitter acrid milk, of which a drop or two, applied to the tip of the tongue, occa-sioned a rigidity, pain, and swelling of the part, so as to prevent speech; and that he was freed from this complaint, by washing and rubbing the tongue with citron juice. In drying, it seems to lose of its virulence: he says he has taken a grain or two of the powder without injury: there are instances of twenty and thirty grains being given, with advantage, in fcir-rhufes of the liver, etc. (a) in quartan agues on the approach of a fit, and even in acute fevers(b). Nor does the fresh root appear to be at all times of equal virulence: I have seen it chewed freely, without any other effect being perceived, than an impression of sweetishness resembling that of parsley roots or carrots: there are instances of some drams, and even ounces, having been taken, without producing any ill consequence(c). So variable does this plant appear to be in its qualities; if really the subject of the several histories was precisely the same species of plant.
(a) Renealm, Obsorvat, iii. & iv. Etmuller, Scbraeder dilucidat.. par. i. sect. ii. p. III.
(b) Bowie, apud Raium, hist. plant. i, 451.
(c) Petiver, Philosopb. transact. Abr. Lowthorp. ii. 641. Henley, ibid. Jungius, Eph. nat. curiof. dec. 1. ann. iv. obf. 106. Trew, Commerc. lit, Norimberg. ann. 1740. hebd. 47.
The seeds have been recommended by some as demulcent, paregoric, and antaphrodisiac. Of their real qualities, little more is known with certainty, than that they are innocent to some kinds of birds: Mr. Ray says, he found the crop of a thrush full of hemlock seeds, even at the season when corn was plentiful.
* In the Medical Commentaries (a), it is assert-ed, that the extract prepared from the seeds of hemlock has been observed to be much more powerful than from the leaves. And in the last Edinburgh pharmacopoeia, an extract of this kind is directed to be kept as an officinal.