This section is from the book "Materia Medica And Therapeutics Inorganic Substances", by Charles D. F. Phillips. Also available from Amazon: Materia medica and therapeutics.
In this common and painful malady, which is always accompanied by obstinate constipation, there is much evidence of the virtue of alum, dating from the last century. Dr. Copland praises it, and M. Brachet of Lyons, writing from a large experience, awards to it the first place among remedies: for eight years he states that the treatment he employed consisted of emetics and purgatives, then he gave a trial to antiphlogistics, and then to opiates: lastly, influenced by the success of Gendrin, he commenced to give 1 1/2 to 2 dr. of alum daily in mucilaginous liquid, and either with or without laudanum; on the third day usually the bowels acted, and if not, an aperient was given and the patient was nearly or quite cured, and this in upward of 150 cases. The successful cases of M. Gendrin were fifty-eight in number, and he experienced no. failures with the alum treatment.
In considering how it may operate, it is curious to notice the different views that have prevailed as to the pathology of the malady. M. Baumes, Mialhe, and others, consider it a general poisoning of the system; Com-balusier limits the poisoning to the primae viae; Cullen, Vogel, and others, make the colic a nervous affection, Willis refers it to the brain, Serre to. VOL I. - 18 the spinal cord; Orfila and Grisolle consider it a lesion of the abdominal nerves, or the great sympathetic, while Bracher and Andral trace it to lesion both of cerebro-spinal and ganglionic nerve-centres.
The intestines have been most generally regarded as the seat of disease, either in all their structure or in their mucous or their muscular coat. Meral especially argues that the latter is in a state of paralysis, a conclusion which has been widely accepted, and alum has been supposed to act partly as a stimulant to the paralysed muscle, and partly as a direct chemical antidote to the lead which it converts into an insoluble sulphate. In support of this view it may be mentioned that other sulphates, as of magnesia, soda, zinc, and free sulphuric acid also act favorably; but it scarcely explains the quick relief that is sometimes given, and one cannot say that its mode of action is quite clear. It would seem to have a specific power of relieving pain, because it has proved useful in other varieties of gastralgia and colic (Dr. Griffin, on Spinal Irritation, etc.).
I have myself only witnessed the good effects of the drug in two cases of lead-poisoning which presented all the usual symptoms: it relieved the pain and terminated the constipation; from 10 to 20 gr. may be given every two hours, properly diluted, and this quantity may be increased to 1 dr. or more, if necessary. Sulphuric acid and syrup of lemon form a suitable vehicle for it: in some cases it is well combined with a little opium.
On the other hand, several good authorities report less favorably of the remedy: Tanquerel and Grisolle found it almost inert, and Brown records increase of pain and of constipation from its use. Husemann, who may be taken as representing the German school, speaks of it as "obsolete," but with us it certainly is not so; Dr. Bartholow, for instance, in his recent treatise, describes it as "most effective" in the relief of the pain, the vomiting, etc.