This section is from the book "Materia Medica And Therapeutics - Vegetable Kingdom", by Charles D. F. Phillips. Also available from Amazon: Materia Medica And Therapeutics: Vegetable Kingdom.
Active Ingredients. - The powers of sanguinaria chiefly depend on the presence of the alkaloid sanguinarine or chelerythrine, C19H17N04. It forms colorless crystalline needles, which cling together in lumps, or in stellate groups: when dry they are opaque. If a dry crystal be nibbled, it seems tasteless: but the alcoholic solution has an acrid and bitter flavor. The powder provokes sneezing if it reaches the nostrils. It is insoluble in water; soluble in ether, alcohol, and the fixed and volatile oils.
Sanguinaria contains also an alkaloid, named puccine, about the action of which there is no certain information. (The so-called "Sanguinarin" of the Eclectics is a mixture of several principles, and is said (Coe) to contain a resin, a resinoid, an alkaloid, and a neutral body.)
Physiological Action. - Sanguinarina has been recently experi-mented on by Weyland. Frogs injected with .0156 grain died in less than two hours: the symptoms were clonic convulsions and an early ces-sation of the heart's action; on opening the animal, the heart would some-times give a spontaneous movement or two, and at any rate retained a weak electric irritability. The muscles of the extremities, on the contrary, retained a strong electric irritability, and it was plain that the peculiar action of veratria as a muscle-poison (which was pointed out by J. L. Prevost, and by Bezold, Guttmann, and others) is not possessed by san guinarina. Drs. Tully, Eberle, and other authorities state that in human beings the effect of large doses of sanguinaria is to slow and weaken the pulse, and to produce nausea, vomiting, burning at the stomach, great thirst, faint feelings, vertigo, anaesthesia, irregular heart-action and pal-pitation, with great prostration, and sometimes convulsive rigidity of the limbs. At the Bellevue Hospital, New York, four deaths occurred from taking large doses. Sanguinarina, in short, is a powerful acro-narcotic, and as a poison may be said, perhaps, to combine many of the powers of veratrum with those of digitalis. (From an extended series of observations and experiments, Dr. R. M. Smith (Am. Jour. Med. Sciences, October, 1876) concludes as follows;
1 Stimulants and Narcotics.
"1. Sanguinarina destroys life through paralysis of the respiratory centre.
"2. It causes clonic convulsions of spinal origin.
" 3. It has no effect on either motor or sensory nerves.
"4. It causes marked adynamia and prostration from its depressing action on the spinal ganglia and muscles.
"5. It decreases reflex excitability through irritation of Setschenow's centre, and by ultimate paralysis of the spinal ganglia, from large doses.
"6. It produces in cats, dogs, and rabbits a fall of pulse and blood pressure, the fall of the latter being preceded by a temporary rise after the administration of proportionably small doses.
"7. The fall of blood tension is caused by a paralysis of the vaso-motor centre, and by a paralysis of the heart itself, probably of its muscular structure.
"8. The temporary rise in blood pressure is due to irritation of the vasomotor centre, previous to its paralysis, by small doses.
"9. The reduction in the pulse is due to direct action of the poison on the heart through paralysis of its motor power.
"10. Sanguinarina has no action on the liver.
"11. It causes marked salivation.
"12. It slows the respiratory movement, by prolonging the pause after expiration.
"13. This reduction is caused by loss of tonus of the respiratory centre.
"14. Small doses cause an irritation of the respiratory centre, and consequently in increase in the number of respiratory movements.
" 15. Applied locally, sanguinarina soon causes complete paralysis of striped muscular fibre.
"16. It always causes dilatation of the pupil.
" 17. It is an emetic.
" 18. It always lowers the temperature.
" 19. When introduced into the circulation, it diminishes muscular contractility."
Rutherford and Vignal, in the series of experiments with cholagogues, already alluded to, employed the resinoid "sanguinarin" and found that: "In one experiment three grains, in another one grain of sanguinarin, when mixed with a small quantity of bile and water and placed in the duodenum, powerfully stimulated the liver. 2. It rendered the bile more watery; nevertheless, it caused the liver to secrete more biliary matter in a given time. 3. The secretion of the intestinal glands was slightly increased by these doses. The results show that the statements of Tully and Mothershead ought not to be treated with indifference and neglect, as they at present appear to be in practical medicine.")
Therapeutic Action. - Sanguinaria, though little employed in England, is much esteemed by American physicians: the disuse of it here is due probably, in part, to the discredit thrown on it, some years back, by an absurd attempt to ascribe to the drug the power of curing cancer. In an innaugural dissertation (New York, 1822) Bird describes it as one of the best acro-narcotics contained in the Papaveraceae. The following summary of the medical virtues of sanguinaria is given by Dr. V. Vander Espt, of Courtrai,1 as a resume of the experience of physicians in America, and of his own trials of the drug in Belgium:
"The irritant and escharotic properties of sanguinaria give it an important place in therapeutics, and render it suitable to a variety of uses. It has thus been employed in the treatment of mucous polypi of the nasal fossae. Dr. Smith, of Hanover, first suggested its use in this affection, in the form of snuff. By virtue of the same action it has come to be used for repressing the fungous granulations of indolent ulcers, when it frequently produces a rapid cure. The ulcers are powdered with it daily. We have successfully employed the following compound: Glycerine, 80 parts; alcoholic extract of sanguinaria (the so-called sanguinarin, to be presently mentioned), 1 part. A small piece of charpie is smeared with this and applied to the ulcerated surface. This same preparation has rendered service in cases of hospital gangrene. We have since had occasion to employ sanguinaria in injection for anal fistulas; in one case a cure resulted in a fortnight.