This section is from the book "Materia Medica And Therapeutics: An Introduction to the National Treatment of Disease", by John Mitchell Bruce. Also available from Amazon: The pharmacology and therapeutics of the materia medica.
The sclerotium (compact mycelium or spawn) of Claviceps purpurea, produced within the paleae of the common Rye, Secale cereale.
Characters.-Subtriangular, curved, with a longitudinal furrow on the concave side, obtuse at the ends; from one-third of an inch to an inch and a half in length; of a violet-brown colour on the surface, pinkish within; solid, frangible, fracture short; odour faintly marked, but strong if the powder be triturated with solution of potash.
Composition.-The chemical composition of ergot has always been a subject of difficulty, and cannot be said to be yet settled. Ergot is now generally believed to contain three important bodies: 4 per cent. of sclerotic acid, 2 1/2 per cent. of scleromucin, and colouring matter. Besides these, there occur in it 30 per cent. of a fixed oil, cholesterin, cellulose, mannite, lactic acid, abundance of potash salts, methylamin, trimethyl-amin, leucin, and several unimportant alkaloids. Sclerotic acid, C12H19NO9, is a brownish hygroscopic substance without odour or taste, acid, forming salts readily soluble in water, and possessing the physiological action of the ergot itself. Scleromucin is a colloidal gummy -like mass, without odour or taste, soluble in water. It contains nitrogen, and has the same physiological action as sclerotic acid, but less marked. The colouring matter is also feebly active physiologically; it consists of several bodies, named sclererythrin, scleroxanthin, etc. The "ergotin" of manufacturers is an extract of the drug, not any of the active principles in a separate form.
Lose.-20 to 30 gr. Of "Ergotin" hypodermically, 1 to 3 gr.
In large doses ergot is a gastro-intestinal irritant, but moderate doses may be given almost indefinitely without interfering with the stomach or bowels.
The active principles of ergot enter the blood, hut exert no appreciable change on it. Thence they pass into the tissues and organs, and set up well-marked symptoms, if given in full doses for a sufficient time. The parts chiefly affected are the central nervous system, respiration, circulation, intestines, and uterus. The highest centres (cerebral) are not directly influenced by ergot. The spinal cord is distinctly affected, a series of nervous phenomena being the result during life, and definite changes found in the posterior (Burdach's) columns after death. The patient first complains of creeping sensations in the limbs, as if an insect were running along the skin; sudden painful cramps or twitching of the legs follows; the gait becomes staggering (ataxic); and convulsions, with loss of sensibility and motion, may follow. These spinal effects are chiefly seen in cases of chronic "ergotism," where the drug has been consumed in large quantity in rye bread; but they indicate its. mode of action, and may be met with clinically. The motor and sensory nerves and muscles are themselves unaffected. Respiration becomes infrequent after large doses, and death occurs by asphyxia. The heart is reduced in frequency by ergot, sometimes twenty to thirty-six beats per minute, and becomes feeble and irregular at last, possibly through the vagus, more probably through failure of the ganglia and want of venous charge. The arteries become distinctly smaller under ergot -according to some authorities, by vaso-motor stimulation; according to other authorities, by active venous dilatation, which drains the blood from the arteries, and causes them passively to contract. The blood pressure falls steadily. The intestine is peculiarly blanched under ergot, and consequently excited to peristaltic movements. The uterus becomes similarly anaemic, and contracts actively, especially if pregnant, and still more if parturition have commenced, when long and powerful pains are developed. These effects of ergot on the bowels and womb have been also referred to stimulation of their spinal centres. The body temperature falls. Gangrene frequently results from the protracted use of ergotised meal as an article of diet.
Ergot is used chiefly to control haemorrhage and to excite or increase uterine contraction. As a haemostatic, acting apparently by lowering the blood pressure, it is extensively employed in haemoptysis, haematemesis, menorrhagia, and intestinal haemorrhage, where the hypodermic injection of ergotin is rapid and effective, unless it alarm the patient and excite movement and palpitation, when it is better avoided. In aneurism it may be combined with rest and low diet to promote consolidation in the sac. The use of ergot in the second stage of labour should be confined to cases of uterine inertia where there is no obstacle in the passages; so frequently is this ecbolic abused, that it is calculated more harm than good has resulted from the discovery of its action in parturition. After the completion of the second stage, ergot may be more safely given to expel the placenta and clots, and ensure contraction of the womb; whilst in post partum haemorrhage it is an invaluable adjuvant to more immediate remedies. In polypus uteri, chronic metritis, sub-involution, etc., ergot is also used with success. The action of ergot on the spinal cord suggests its rational application in paraplegia of inflammatory origin, sclerosis, etc., and instances of recovery under its influence are recorded. It has also been used in recurrent mania, referable to cerebral hyperaemia.
Ergot reduces the amount of the urine, sweat, and milk, more probably, however, through the blood pressure and the nervous centres of the glands in the brain and cord, than by direct action on the excreting cells. It is a valuable remedy in some cases of polyuria (diabetes insipidus), very rarely in saccharine (true) diabetes. The sweats of phthisis are said to be controlled by ergot. As an antigalactagogue it is but seldom employed.
Saccharum Purificatum-Refined Sugar.-C13H12O11 Pure cane sugar prepared from the juice of the stem of Saccharum Officinarum. From plants cultivated in the West Indies and other tropical countries.
Characters.-Compact crystalline conical loaves, known in commerce as lump sugar. 100 parts are soluble in 45 of water or 10,000 of rectified spirit. It increases the solubility of lime in water. See Liquor Calcis Saccharatus, page 50.
Syrupus.-1 in 1 1/6.
Sugar or Syrup is contained in all syrups and lozenges, several confections, and various mixtures, pills, powders, etc.
Sugar is nutrient and demulcent, but is chiefly used in medicine to cover the taste of other drugs.