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.
Conii Folia - Hemlock Leaves. - The fresh leaves and young branches of Spotted Hemlock, Conium maculatum; also the leaves separated from the branches and carefully dried; gathered from wild British plants when the fruit begins to form.
Characters. - Fresh leaves decompound, smooth, arising from a smooth stem with dark purple spots; dried leaves of a full green colour and characteristic odour. The leaf rubbed with solution of potash gives out strongly the odour of conia.
Dose, in powder. - 2 to 8 gr.
Conii Fructus - Hemlock Fruit. - The dried ripe fruit of Conium maculatum. Spotted Hemlock.
Characters. - Broadly ovate, compressed laterally; half-fruit with five waved or crenated ridges. Reduced to powder and rubbed with solution of potash, they give out strongly the odour of conia.
Substances resembling Conium Fruit: Caraway, Anise, Dill, known by presence of vittae.
Composition. - The active principle of conium is a liquid alkaloid, conia, C8H15N. It is strongly alkaline, oily, and volatile; and has a peculiarly disagreeable mouse-like odour. It is readily disengaged from the preparations of the plant by the addition of alkalies; and is liable both to conversion into an inert resinous mass by exposure, and to decomposition by heat. The preparations of conium, for these and probably other reasons, are peculiarly uncertain in strength and action. Coniic acid, and a second alkaloid conhydrin, also exist in hemlock.
Incompatibles, - Caustic alkalies, vegetable acids, and astringents.
a. Of Conii Folia:
Cataplasma Conii. 1 oz. of the dried leaf powdered in each.
2. Extractum Conii, - A green extract from fresh leaves. About 30 in 1. Dose, 2 to 6 gr.
From Extract of Conium are prepared: a. Pilula Conii Composita. - Extract of Hemlock, 5;
Ipecacuanha, 1; Treacle, q.s. Dose, 5 to 10 gr.
b. Vapor Conii. - Extract of Hemlock, 60 gr.; Solution of Potash, 1 fl.dr.; Water, 10 fl.dr. 20 min. for one inhalation.
Succus Conii. 3 of the expressed juice of the fresh leaves, with 1 of Spirit. Dose, 30 to 60 min. (B. Ph.)
B. Of Conii Fructus: Tinctura Conii. - 1 in 8. Dose, 1/2 to 1 fl.dr.
Externally applied, as the cataplasm, conium is believed by many to be anaesthetic and especially to relieve the pain of cancer, as well as to promote the absorption of tumours. Careful experiment fails to confirm this opinion, the whole of the sensory nervous system remaining unaffected by the drug, except indirectly by poisonous doses.
Internally. - Conium sometimes causes irritation and vomiting.
Conia is readily absorbed into the blood, whence it reaches the tissues.
Conia is found unchanged in many of the organs after administration. Moderate doses cause a sense of weight in the legs and weakness of the knees; confusion of vision, with slight drooping of the upper lids, and swollen appearance of the eyes; giddiness, thickness of speech, and slight dysphagia. The poisonous effects of the plant are well described in the classical account of the death of Socrates.
On analysis, the action of conium is found to be as follows. The convolutions remain intact until asphyxia supervenes. The corpora striata are said to be depressed. The motor parts of the cord are but slightly affected, but their reflex excitability is moderately reduced. The respiratory centre in the medulla is finally paralysed; but the cardiac and vascular centres are not definitely influenced.
The motor nerves are the parts specially attacked by conium, being paralysed from their extremities upwards, whence the heaviness and weakness of the limbs. The muscles themselves remain irritable.
Death occurs in hemlock poisoning by asphyxia due to paralysis of the respiratory nerves and depression of the respiratory centre.
Conium, although of great interest to the pharmacologist, is but little used in medicine. It has been recommended, as large doses of the succus, in spasmodic and convulsive diseases such as tetanus, chorea, and epilepsy; in mania with muscular excitement; and in asthma, pertussis, and spasmodic affections of the larynx. The vapour would appear to afford relief in some of the last-named class of cases. Possibly the compound pill may allay spasmodic cough. The extract is an adjuvant vehicle of purgative powders such as calomel.
Conia is excreted unchanged, chiefly in the urine.
Assafoetida - Assafoetida. - A gum-resin obtained by incision from the living root of Narthex Assafoetida. In Afghanistan and the Punjaub.
Characters. - In irregular masses, partly composed of tears, moist or dry. The colour of a freshly cut or broken piece is opaque white, but gradually becomes purplish-pink, and ultimately dull yellowish or pinkish-brown. Taste bitter, acrid; odour fetid, alliaceous, and persistent. It dissolves almost entirely in rectified spirit.
Composition. - Assafoetida contains 4 per cent. of a volatile oil, 65 per cent. of resin, and 25 per cent. of gum. Oil of assafoetida is probably complex, but consists chiefly of sulphide of allyl, C6Hl0S, to which the unpleasant odour is due. The resin also contains sulphur.
Impurities. - Earthy matter.
Substances resembling Assafoetida: Galbanum, Ammoniacum, Benzoin; known by odour.
Dose. - 5 to 20 gr.
Enema Assafoetida. 30 gr. in 4 fl.oz. of water.
Pilula Aloes Et Assafcetidae. 1 in 4. (See Aloes, page 359.)
Dose, 5 to 10 gr.
Pilula Assafoetida Composita. Syn.: Pilula Galbani Composita. Assafoetida, 2; Galbanum, 2; Myrrh, 2; Treacle, by weight, 1. Dose, 5 to 10 gr.
Spiritus Ammoniae Foetidus. Assafoetida, 1 1/2; Strong Solution of Ammonia, 2; Spirit, 20. Dose, 1/2 to 1 fl.dr.
Tinctura Assafoetidae. 1 in 8. Dose, 1/2 to 1 fl.dr.
Assafoetida possesses the action of other volatile oils and resin upon the alimentary canal, but differs from them in this highly important respect, that whilst most of them are aromatic and pleasant to the palate, it is extremely disagreeable. The mental effect of this nauseous impression, added to the other stimulant effects on the mouth and stomach (see Caryophyllum, page 242), constitute assafoetida a powerful nervine stimulant, which arrests the emotional disturbance, muscular spasms, and other morbid nervous disorders of hysteria. It is no longer used in true epilepsy, chorea, laryngismus, or asthma. The stimulant action of volatile oils on the bowel (see Terebinthinae Oleum, page 343) is specially marked and is employed in the Enema Assafoetidae to expel flatulence, relieve constipation, and arrest convulsions.
The volatile oil of assafoetida passes through the blood and tissues, and is excreted in the urine, sweat, breath, and discharge from wounds. Thus remotely it exerts the usual stimulant action of ethereal oils, and is sometimes given as a stimulant and disinfectant expectorant in chronic bronchitis.