Ergot is a parasite which develops in rye, taking the place of the grain, and having the appearance of a blackish fungus. It is a complex substance, containing various alkaloids and acids; a fixed oil, etc.
Three of the alkaloids are named ecboline, ergotine, and ergotinum; and the watery extract ergotin contains all the important constituents, and may be considered to represent the active principles of ergot.
Ergot is specially known as an oxytocic, exciting or increasing uterine contractions; and as a haemostatic.
In the latter capacity it acts by contracting the small vessels, thus promoting coagulation. The frequency of the pulse is lessened by ergot, and very large doses depress the heart and vaso-motor centres and lower arterial pressure.
It is not an active poison, and an ounce of the fluid extract has been given without producing serious symptoms.
In cases where poisoning has occurred the symptoms were thirst; gastric irritation and diarrhoea; a small pulse; burning pain in the feet; and sometimes tingling and cramps, dizziness, dilated pupils, and a feeling of cold. Before death there are convulsions. In European countries, where the poorer classes live largely on rye bread, chronic ergot-poisoning is familiar, and has at times prevailed as a scourge. There are two varieties of this chronic poisoning - the gangrenous and the spasmodic, - but it is unknown in this country, and need not be described here.
The urine, perspiration, and milk are reduced in quantity by ergot. After taking medicinal doses, one or more of the following symptoms may be observed: an unpleasant taste in the mouth; tickling in the throat; nausea; burning pain in the stomach or abdomen, with eructations of gas or diarrhoea; headache; lassitude; giddiness; specks before the eyes; unsteady gait; irregular pulse; chilly feelings.
Average dose, xxx.-2 mils. Ergotin. Not official.
Ergotin is prepared under trade names according to different formulas. It is unreliable and often inert. When used hypodermically it is irritant to the tissues and may produce abscesses, even when deeply given.
Preparations of ergot lose their strength if kept for any length of time.