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.
Manufactured by exposing copper plates to the action of pyroligneous acid.
Occurs in powder, or lumps of small crystals, bluish-green in color, of sour odor, and metallic taste. A solution is officinal as a test for butyric acid in valerianate of zinc; the acid is precipitated by it.
Metallic copper, even when powdered, is not usually absorbed. Drouard gave large doses to animals, without any result (Paris, 1802), but when finely divided, some may be rendered soluble by the gastric acids, and traces may be detected in the urine and saliva (Mialhe, Mitscherlich, Portal). Copper coins have often been swallowed with impunity, but profuse salivation is recorded in the case of a child after swallowing a penny (Barton, quoted by Gub-ler). That the sulphate can be absorbed from wounds has been both affirmed and denied. Langenbeck and Stadeler have traced poisonous symptoms to this cause only when fatty acids were present, but Blodig reported vomiting from a single application of cupric caustic to the conjunctiva: such absorption, though it may occur, is certainly not frequent (Husemann). Workers with alloys or salts of copper absorb it, for their secretions, hair, and teeth may be colored green by it during life; it has been found in their urine, and after death in the bones, and even in the earth in which they are buried (Millon: Bulletin de l' Academie de Mede-cine, t. xii.). Soluble salts of copper combine with albuminous secretions and form a bluish coagulum; this, when resulting from a salt of an organic acid (as the acetate) is still soluble, but from a salt of a mineral acid (as the sulphate) it is more resistent (Mitscherlich). In any case, only a portion of even a moderate dose is absorbed into the blood, and this probably as an albuminate - the larger portion passes off by the bowel, and appears in the dark brown faeces as sulphate.
Elimination occurs by the bile, the saliva, and bronchial secretion (Flandrin and Danger: Annales de Therapeutique, vol. i.): these observers did not detect it in the urine, but others have done so. Elimination is slow, for Orfila found copper in the viscera seventy days after its use had been omitted. It is apt to be deposited in the liver especially.
It must be recognized as a very usual constituent of the normal organism. Sargeaux detected it in the blood of many animals, and Odling and Taylor in the liver, kidneys, and other organs, irrespective of poisoning (Guy's Reports, 1866). In the bodies of domestic animals fed on vegetable food Wackenroder found no perceptible amount of copper, but in snails and shell-fish comparatively much; in man and carnivorous animals he found also a rather large proportion both of copper and lead, and concluded that they were derived from the nutritive or medicinal substances taken (Abstract in British and Foreign Review, 1855). Odling and Dupre found copper in bread, flour, shell-fish, etc., and in the human liver and kidneys, not invariably, but usually (Guy's Reports, 1858). Stevenson remarked that copper might be derived in the course of an analysis from a copper lamp used for incineration, so that the greatest care is required in such investigations (Lancet, ii., 1872). Schwartz-enbach found 0.004 gramme of copper and rather more lead in 2,100 grammes of liver (British and Foreign Review, January, 1857); Orfila had reported ten times as much. More recently, the average amount found in the entire liver and kidneys in fourteen bodies was 2 to 3 milligr. (1/33 to 1/22 gr.), and it was found also in the foetus. The specimens used in the investigation were carefully chosen as not having been exposed to absorption of copper, and the metal was excluded from all apparatus employed. We may therefore conclude that any quantity above 4 milligr. (1/16 gr.) found in these organs is abnormal, and results from direct administration of the drug (Bergeron and l' Hote, quoted Lancet, i., 1875, p. 255). In the case of the two wives of Moreau, 120 milligr. and 80 milligr. were found respectively (British Medical Journal, ii., 1874, and i., 1875). In a case where ammonio-sulphate of copper had been taken three months before death, nearly 300 milligr. (4 1/2 gr.) were obtained from the liver, a good instance of its slow elimination (Bourne-vette and Yvon: Revue Scientifique, 1874, p. 859). Rabuteau found 16 ctgr. (2 1/3 gr.) in 1,000 grammes liver also three months after the last dose -43 grammes in all of ammonio-sulphate had been taken (Gazette Heb-domadaire, March, 1877).
The sulphate, which is the salt most commonly used, has little action on the sound skin, but when applied to wounds or mucous membranes, it coagulates the albumen, and forms a thin film on the surface. The pure salt, or its concentrated solution, acts as a caustic; weaker solutions act as stimulants and astringents, both forms producing more or less condensation of the neighboring tissues. They exert, also, some antiseptic power, partly by decomposing sulphuretted hydrogen, and partly by destroying low organisms, whether animal or vegetable. Any conclusions drawn from the effects of the smoke and vapors of copper foundries are rendered doubtful by the coexistence of sulphurous acid, arsenic, etc. Vegetable life of all kinds is destroyed in the immediate neighborhood of such works.