Active Ingredients. - Ergot contains about thirty-five per cent. of a fixed oil, and about fifteen per cent. of a peculiar reddish-brown substance called ergotine, C50H52N2O3. The fixed oil is lighter than water, and soluble in alcohol, and (at all events when obtained by expression) is inactive as a medicine. The ergotine, popularly understood to be the active ingredient, has an acrid, bitter, and disagreeable taste; it is soluble in spirit, supposed to be insoluble in ether, and is certainly insoluble in water, which it simply colors red. The coloring matter is supposed to resemble the haematine of the blood. Being insoluble in water, it is scarcely likely, as remarked by Ingenhohl, to be the principle which renders ergot capable of contracting the uterus, since aqueous solutions are prescribed with the greatest advantage when uterine contraction is required.

From Winckler's analysis, it appears that having separated the fixed oil by means of ether, he found in the residue not merely ergotine, but another principle - a volatile basic substance analogous to propylamine, and to which he gave the name of Secalia. Ergotine, which appears to possess the properties of an acid, combining with the last named, gives Ergotate of Secalia, a product insoluble in ether, but soluble in alcohol and in water, and which Winckler believed to be the true representative of the active properties of the drug.

Ergot, from which the inactive fixed oil had been removed by means of ether, was employed by Kilian, of Bonn, with the best results, for the purpose of causing contraction of the uterus.1

In addition to the other principles, trimethylamine, C3H9N, is believed to have been obtained from ergot by distillation with potash.2 This substance, as stated under Arnica, may be recognized by its offensive and peculiar odor.

Physiological Action. - The action of ergot is remarkable, not only in the human subject, but upon animals. Dogs, pigs, and other creatures are affected by it in a very obvious and decided manner, and results of the same character are produced in all. Tessier says that dogs, rather than voluntarily swallow ergot, will die of hunger. The principal symptoms produced in them by the administration are dilatation of the pupils, with subsequently injected conjunctivas; rapid respiration, quickened pulse, tremors, paraplegia, profuse flow of saliva, thirst, vomiting, and frequently diarrhoea, attended by prostration and convulsions, and often followed by death. Tessier's experiments on pigs showed that the first effects of ergot in the animals were redness of the eyes and ears, with coldness of the last, and also of the limbs, accompanied by swelling of the joints. Later on, the ears, limbs, and tail became gangrenous, and the animals expired in convulsions. Post-mortem examination of the intestines showed these parts likewise to be gangrenous. Bonjean administered three drachms of the oil of ergot to a rabbit; after a period of suffering it became convulsed and died of opisthotonos. Tried upon the gravid uterus of animals the operation of ergot is by no means uniform. In some cases the result, is abortion; sometimes the contents of the uterus are simply destroyed, and, after the lapse of a time, expelled; in other cases, again, there are no obvious effects.

In the healthy human subject the symptoms most commonly induced by ergot are colic, pains and spasms in the stomach, salivation, nausea, vomiting, a sensation of fulness in the head, painful diarrhoea, occasionally with great prostration, and attended by mucous discharge; a tendency to suppression of the urine or to difficulty of micturition, and dilatation of the pupils, though the eyesight is not materially affected. In addition to these effects there are headache, which often lasts for several days, noise in the ears, flushed face, vertigo, stupefaction, sense of weight and uneasiness in the limbs, often palpitation of the heart, with dyspnoea, oppression of the chest, and unsteady gait, resembling that which is associated with drunkenness. The pulse at the same time becomes depressed, and frequently intermittent, and the beats are often diminished, ten, twenty, or more per minute.

Administered to pregnant women, ergot excites uterine action in a manner truly remarkable, facilitating parturition, or bringing on abortion. There is this great difference, however, in regard to the labor pains: natural pains are intermittent, the expectant mother experiencing intervals of rest; whereas the pains induced by ergot are continuous, and attended by a persistent sense of bearing-down. If there be any mechanical obstruction to delivery, the continuous character of the pains is apt to prove highly dangerous, through causing rupture of the uterus or of other delicate structures. Ergot, in a word, is eminently parturifacient, not only inducing uterine pains to liberate the foetus, but subsequently promoting the expulsion of the placenta, and putting an end to or checking uterine haemorrhage. In certain cases of the administration of ergot to parturient women, the death of the child is said to have been caused by it. Experience proves that the fault has not lain with the medicine, but with the unwise administration; the usual causes of failure and injurious results being either malformation of the pelvic structures, or premature resort to ergot, which is hurtful if given too soon, or while the uterus is not sufficiently dilated.

1 Boyle and Headlam, "Mat. Med.," p. 707. 2 Garrod, p. 351.

Among the effects produced by ergot, it is important to mention those which constitute the frightful condition called "ergotism," and which are induced either by the long-continued administration of the drug in medicinal doses, or by eating bread made from corn which has been infected by it while growing. This dreadful disorder is manifested under two distinct forms: the convulsive and the gangrenous - the former not terminating in gangrene, whereas the latter is always distinguished by gangrene. The convulsive form commences with malaise, irritation of the whole surface of the body, with formication, numbness and coldness of the extremities, often accompanied by cramps and by pains in the head and loins. Some time later the digestive organs become affected. There is a sense of tightness and oppression about the epigastrium, heart-burn, a feeling of lightness in the head, difficulty in hearing, with faintness, abnormal twitchings of the muscles of the face, often attended by strabismus and irregular contractions of the joints. These symptoms are generally accompanied by delirium bordering upon mania, with cold sweats; and the whole body is pervaded by a sense of great heat.