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.
An elementary body found native as virgin sulphur, also as sulphides of metals.
Sulphur Sublimation. - Sublimed Sulphur.
Source. - Prepared from crude or rough sulphur by sublimation.
Characters. - A gritty powder, of a fine greenish-yellow colour, without taste or odour until heated. Insoluble in water, soluble in oils and turpentine with heat.
Dose. - 20 to 60 gr.
a. Confectio Sulphuris. - Sublimed Sulphur, 4; Acid Tartrate of Potash, 1; Syrup of Orange Peel, 4.
Dose. - 60 to 120 gr.
b. Unguentum Sulphuris. - Sublimed Sulphur, 1; Benzoated Lard, 4.
From Sulphur Sublimation are made: c. Sulphur Praecipitatum. - Precipitated Sulphur, "Milk of Sulphur."
Source. - Made by (1) boiling Sublimed Sulphur with Slaked Lime in water; (2) precipitating the filtrate with Diluted Hydrochloric Acid, washing and drying.
(1) 6S2 + 3CaH1O2 = 2CaS3 + CaS2H1O4 + 2H1O.
(2) 2CaS6 + CaS2H1O4 + 6HC1 = 6S2 + 3CaCl2 + 4H1O.
Characters. - A greyish-yellow soft powder, free from grittiness and smell of SH1.
Impurities. - Sulphate of lime; detected microscopically as crystals. Sulphuretted hydrogen; detected by odour.
Dose. - 20 to 60 gr.
d. Potassa Sulphurata. - Sulphurated Potash. See Potassium.
Preparation. Unguentum Potassae Sulphurata. - 1 in 151/2..
e. Sulphuris Iodidum. - Iodide of Sulphur, SI.
Source. - Made by fusing Sublimed Sulphur with Iodine.
Characters. - Greyish-black crystalline pieces. Solubility, 1 in 60 of glycerine; insoluble in water.
Unguentum Sulphuris Iodidi. - 1 in 15 1/2.
Sublimed Sulphur is also contained in Emplastrum Hydrargyri, and Emplastrum Ammoniaci cum Hydrargyro.
Externally applied, sulphur has probably no local action of itself, but is partially converted, by contact with the acid products of the skin, into sulphuretted hydrogen and sulphides, which are energetic substances. Whether, therefore, rubbed on as ointment, worn in flannel, distributed over the surface by fumigation, or given as a natural or artificial bath of "sulphur waters," it is not sulphur, but its hydrogen compound, which possesses local therapeutical properties.
Sulphuretted hydrogen, when brought in contact with the skin in any of the forms just mentioned, is a vascular stimulant and nervous sedative. It is probably on this account that sulphur has long been regarded as useful in relieving the pains of chronic rheumatism; and as an alterative in certain kinds of skin disease such as acne, in which the ointment of the Potassa Sulphurata is especially valuable. The solution of the gas is also absorbed by the skin, and is extolled (in the form of baths) in lead and mercury poisoning, syphilis, and chronic enlargements of joints. The rationale of these effects will be discussed under the head of its specific action.
Sulphur and sulphurated potash destroy the Acarus scabiei, and are used in the treatment of itch.
Internally, sulphur has been locally applied to the throat in diphtheria, but with disappointing results.
In the stomach it remains unaltered, and passes as such into the intestines, where it acts as a purgative, possibly by increasing peristalsis, more probably by stimulating the glandular structures. Medicinal doses of milk of sulphur, the Confectio, or the German Pulvis Glycyrrhizae Compositus, are simple laxatives, producing an easy soft stool with little or no pain. Sulphur waters, drunk freely at Harrogate, Moffat, and Strathpeffer in this country, at Aix-la-Chapelle, Challes, Aix-les-Bains, and the Pyrenees, on the continent of Europe, and at the Blue Lick, Alpena, Sharon, and other springs in the United States, have a similar hut more powerful effect, producing considerable disturbance of the bowels, and depressing the portal circulation. Sulphur and sulphur waters are extensively used as purgatives in congestion of the rectum and liver, haemorrhoids, and other diseases of the great bowel; and the waters and baths combined are powerful evacuants and alteratives in plethora, hepatic engorgement, and gravel.
Sulphur escapes in a great measure unabsorbed in the faeces, partly unchanged, partly as sulphides of hydrogen and the alkalies which it has encountered in the bowel, the activity of purgation varying indirectly with the degree of absorption.
The amount of sulphur which enters the blood in the form of sulphides of hydrogen and the alkalies, under the use of sulphur or sulphur waters, is usually insignificant. When inhaled into the circulation, sulphuretted hydrogen is a powerful blood-poison, acting both on the red corpuscles and the serum; it reduces the oxyhaemoglobin of the former, and converts the carbonates and phosphates of the latter into sulphides, sulphites, and sulphates; but this subject is not of therapeutical interest.
The hydrogen and alkaline sulphides pass into the tissues from the blood, and act chiefly upon the central nervous system. When in large quantity, they induce rapid failure of the nerve centres, especially those of respiration and circulation, the subject dying rather of asphyxia than from the poisonous influence on the blood just described. It is possible that the headache and nervous depression which attend the use of sulphur waters in some persons are minor degrees of these effects. It is possible also that sulphur and its compounds, possessing these powerful influences on the blood and tissues (which appear to be of the nature of arrest of oxydation), may modify nutrition to some extent even in medicinal doses, and thus possess alterative properties. In chronic rheumatism, syphilis, gout, and skin disease they have been much prescribed from time immemorial, especially at watering places. Sulphide of calcium has lately been found useful in scrofulous disease of bones.
It is under this head that we find the principal suggestions for the therapeutical employment of sulphur. The sulphides which we have traced through the blood and tissues are variously excreted. By the kidneys they pass out as sulphates, and it is said that one half of a dose of Sulphur Praecipitatum can be thus recovered from the urine, but only one-fifth of Sulphur Sublimatum. If in excess, part is also excreted as sulphides. No special use is made of these facts. By the skin they escape as sulphides, giving the characteristic foul odour to the perspiration, and somewhat increasing- its amount. Sulphur is used as a mild cutaneous stimulant and diaphoretic, and has always been regarded as a valuable internal remedy for many skin diseases, such as acne, chronic eczema, psoriasis, and syphilitic eruptions. Drinking the waters and taking the baths at sulphur springs probably act in this remote local way. Sulphide of calcium is specially useful in boils. The sulphides are also excreted by the bronchi and lungs, giving their odour to the breath; sulphur was once much used as an expectorant, especially in chronic bronchitis with abundant expectoration and gouty or rheumatic associations.
The valuable effect of sulphur waters, taken internally and used as baths, in cases of chronic rheumatism, gout, skin disease, plethora, etc., is principally, if not entirely, to be accounted for by the immediate and remote local action of the sulphides - on the bowels and portal system, and on the kidneys, skin, and bronchi respectively. It is an important fact that sulphur is a purgative alterative.