This section is from the book "A Treatise On Therapeutics, And Pharmacology Or Materia Medica Vol1", by George B. Wood. Also available from Amazon: Part 1 and Part 2.
These are prepared by a simple distillation of the fermented liquors. and receive names according to the particular liquors from which they may be severally derived. Thus, the spirit distilled from wine is called brandy; that from a fermented solution of sugar, rum; and that from the fermented infusion of malted grains, particularly rye, is called whisky, or, if flavoured with oil of juniper, gin. There is little difference between these, in relation to the effects of the alcohol; but one is sometimes preferred for its flavour, or in consequence of some peculiarity of effect from peculiar impregnation, as in the instance of gin, which is more diuretic than the others from its oil of juniper. Medically, therefore, it is of little importance that the different forms of ardent spirit are now frequently prepared artificially from rectified spirit, by freeing this from fusel oil by passing it through charcoal, then reducing it with water to the requisite strength, and lastly, giving the desired colour and flavour by suitable additions.
Brandy (Spiritus Vini Gallici, U. S.) is recognized in the U. S. Pharmacopoeia as officinal. It varies somewhat with the character of the wine from which it is procured. French brandies have the highest reputation, and of these the cogniac and armagnac. Brandy, according to Brande, contains 53.39 per cent, by measure of alcohol of 0.825. It has, therefore, somewhat more than twice the strength of madeira and sherry wines, four times that of the light wines, and from eight to twelve times that of ale and porter. Besides alcohol and water, it contains a little volatile oil, colouring matter, oenanthic and acetic ethers, and a minute proportion of tannic acid. Its colour is sometimes deepened by ihe addition of burnt sugar.
Whisky (Spiritus Frumenti, U. S.) was introduced into the U. S. Pharmacopoeia, at the late revision, and from its very extensive medicinal use, very properly so. It is the spirit obtained by the; distillation of the fermented infusion of rye, corn, or other grain. Its average strength is about the same as that of brandy, and its medicinal effects nearly identical, though it differs considerably in flavour. It may, therefore, if of good quality, be substituted in medical use for brandy, over which it has the advantage of being much cheaper. The Pharmacopoeia requires that it should contain from 48 to 56 per cent, of absolute alcohol; so that its sp. gr. should not be greater than 0.922 at 60° F., nor less than 0.904.
The effects of the ardent spirits have been already fully described in the general observations on alcohol. The consequences of their abuse are so fearful, that they should be banished altogether from customary use. Less apt than wines and malt liquors to cause gout, they much more frequently give rise to delirium tremens and meningeal inflammation, and, in their ultimate operation, if the many dangers by the way be escaped, to diseased liver, degeneration of various organs, and finally death with universal dropsy.
The distilled liquors should never be employed, when the fermented will answer equally well, in consequence of the terrific dangers of their abuse. But occasionally they are necessary to the salvation of life. It is sometimes, in low fevers, advisable to introduce stimulus into the stomach in as concentrated a state as the organ will bear, when considerable quantities both of it and of nourishment are required. Thus, it is better, in such instances, to give a tablespoonful of brandy with two of milk, than an equivalent quantity of wine and other liquid aliment. The stomach receives better, and subsequently manages better, the material in smaller bulk. Again, cases now and then occur, in which the prostration and insensibility are so great that wine is powerless. Brandy or some equivalent liquor is then our only resource. In the low diseases of drunkards, it is necessary to stimulate with ardent spirit; as wine will have little more effect than water. In delirium tremens, it is not unfrequently necessary to use it to prevent death from sheer prostration. There are certain diseases, too, in which there is an extraordinary insusceptibility to alcoholic liquids; and enormous quantities are requisite to act decidedly on the system. This is often the case in tetanus, and it is said to be so in the state of system resulting from the bites of venomous snakes. Sometimes in prolonged syncope, and in asphyxia, it may be advisable to administer brandy, either by the mouth or the rectum.
In dyspeptic affections a little brandy often yields great relief to patients unaccustomed to its use. A teaspoonful or two will generally relieve the peculiar and distressing epigastric uneasiness of that complaint, and, taken at meal times, will facilitate the solution and digestion of the food. The relief, indeed, is so great, that the patient often feels an irresistible inclination to repeat the remedy; and as, from time to time by the gradual diminution of the excitability of the organ, it becomes necessary to increase the dose in order to obtain the same relief as at first, the patient is led on, almost without a suspicion on bis own part, into confirmed habits of intemperance. Many a drunkard has probably owed a miserable death to the inconsiderate recommendation of a little brandy in dyspepsia. To obtain the same advantages with less danger, the bitter tinctures, as those of gentian, quassia, and columbo, may be prescribed, and so associated with other medicines, that the patient may not be able to trace his relief to the spirit. The aromatic spirit of ammonia, which is only alcohol holding a little carbonate of ammonia in solution, with aromatic oils, may also be substituted. In no case should the remedy be continued uninterruptedly and indefinitely.
Brandy sometimes affords quick relief in gastrodynia, pure gastric spasm, and nervous colic.
It is also sometimes useful in correcting the effects of limestone water, when no other drink can be obtained, and when this produces nausea and diarrhoea, as it is very apt to do with persons unaccustomed to it. In travelling in limestone regions, I have often found advantage from adding a single teaspoonful or two to a tumbler of the water. It covers the nauseous taste, and often corrects the purging tendency.
Brandy is much and very usefully employed externally as a stimulant and rubefacient. In all low states of the system, with a cool surface, it may be employed in the way of friction, and as hot as the skin will bear it Under the same circumstances, it may be rendered more efficient by admixture with rubefacient medicines, as Cayenne pepper, and, when the case is complicated by spasmodic or other nervous disorder, with garlic. It may be used also, in the form of hot fomentation, to relieve internal abdominal pains, when associated with a depressed state of sys-tem. For the prevention of bed-sores, and excoriations from other causes, it is often applied with benefit by lotion to the skin; and Dr. Christison recommends particularly a mixture of brandy and the white of egg, to be applied to the part by a brush; the application to be repeated as each layer dries, until a coating of sufficient thickness is formed.
Brandy may be given diluted with water, or mixed with milk, in the form of milk-punch. The latter is an excellent remedy when there is a conjoint indication, as often happens, for stimulation and nutrition. The successive introduction of the milk in small portions, with stimulus enough to promote its digestion, has a very happy effect. For use in low fevers, one part of brandy should be added to two or three of milk; and the preparation may be given in wineglassful doses.
Under the name of Mistura Spiritus Vini Gallici, or Brandy Mixture, the London College formerly directed a preparation consisting of brandy and cinnamon-water, each, four fluidounces, the yolks of two eggs, refined sugar half an ounce, and oil of cinnamon two minims, mixed together. If the cinnamon-water of the U. S. Pharmacopoeia be used, there will be no occasion for the addition of the oil of cinnamon. Two or three tablespoonfuls may be given for a dose in low fevers, when brandy is indicated. The preparation has been omitted in the British Pharmacopoeia.