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.
Considerable attention has recently been attracted to the asserted efficacy of this remedy in the state of system resulting from the bites of poisonous serpents; and cases have been recorded which go far to prove that it really possesses no inconsiderable curative powers.* The prostration of system which attends the operation of the poison would appear to indicate stimulation; and the ammoniacal preparations have long been in repute as antidotes. To produce the desired effect, the alcoholic remedy, it is said, must be given very freely; and, in most of the cases, it has been pushed to intoxication. It seems, however, that the system, when strongly under the influence of the poison, resists its influence, as tetanus is known to do. In a case recorded by Dr. T. A. Atchinson in the Southern Journal of the Medical and Physical Sciences for March, 1853 (vol. i. p. 108), in which the patient, a young woman of seventeen,, was found almost moribund two hours and a half after the bite of a rattlesnake, three pints of whisky, given in doses of a glassful every hour, though it produced reaction, and apparently saved the life of the patient, occasioned not the slightest intoxication. During the same time, however, eighty grains of carbonate of ammonia were given, which has been supposed to have some power of obviating the inebriating effects of alcohol. A young medical friend of mine informed me that, while upon an excursion in Texas, he was bitten by a poisonous serpent, and had already begun to experience alarming local as well as constitutional effects, when the progress of the poisoning seemed to be arrested by ardent spirit, given until it rendered him insensible. So many instances occur, in which spontaneous cures of snake-bites take place after the exhibition of threatening symptoms, and so many others in which the effects of the bite are simply those of a shock produced by fright upon the nervous system, that it is very difficult to determine how much value can be attached to any remedy, which may be recommended on the ground of experience. In the St. Louis Medical and Surgical Journ. (xii. 26) is a communication from Dr. J. Gilman, in which, as the result of numerous experiments directly with the poison of different serpents upon plants and animals, he found that alcohol, "if brought in contact with the venom, is, to a certain extent, an antidote;" while the poison mixed with the solution of ammonia and various other agents "seemed to act with undiminished energy".
* For accounts of cases, see a paper read by Dr. Edward Hallowcll, before the College of Physicians of Philadephia, Dec. 1, 1852, in the Transactions of the College, N. S., i. 394; the New Jersey Medical Reporter for March, 1853 (vol. vi. p. 195), in which a case is recorded credited to the Southern Medical and Surgical Journal; the Southern Journal of the Medical and Physical Sciences fur March, 1868 (vol. i. p. 108); and the Boston Medical and Surg. Journ. for January, 1854 (vol. xlix. p. 506).
In some nervous diseases, alcohol possesses considerable powers. In tetanus it has been given very freely, in the form of wine and ardent spirit, and is among the remedies upon which most reliance has been placed. The most suitable time for giving it is at the first appearance of the characteristic symptoms, and before the disease has become fully established; and it should be so exhibited as to give obvious proofs of affecting the system. It has been much used also as a preventive, when serious apprehensions have been entertained of an attack. The disease, when fully formed, resists the influence of alcohol strongly; and it is very difficult to obtain its characteristic effects. In the trembling palsy, alcoholic stimulation is sometimes temporarily beneficial; and it may be used with great advantage in those cases of delirium from exhaustion which imitate delirium tremens. Of its employment in the latter affection enough has been said already.
Finally, alcoholic liquors may be used in the debility arising from excessive secretion or hemorrhage, in that of convalescence, and in that which attends the advanced stages of most incurable diseases before the fatal issue. In epidemic cholera, it is highly recommended, in large doses, by M. Gaillard, who has found great advantage from it in that affection, which, according to his statement, is characterized by a strong insusceptibility to its intoxicating effects. Of the different forms of alcoholic liquor he prefers rum, of which a bottle or more may be given in the day. This quantity was borne by a delicate woman, wholly unaccustomed to alcoholic stimulation, without the least sign of intoxication. (Ann. de Therap., a.d. 1865, p. 127.) In the acute diseases of intemperate persons, it is generally necessary to have recourse to these liquors, in order to sustain life, even when there might be otherwise no indication, or a positive contraindication; care being taken to give them in as small a quantity as the circumstances of the case will admit, while efficient methods are employed to combat the disease, such as would be used in cases without this complication.
In the use of these drinks, a preference should always be given to the weaker, whenever sufficient to answer the intended purpose; and, from the weakest up to the strongest, there should be a graduation directly in proportion to the debility, and at the same time the insusceptibility of the system.
Alcohol has lately been employed as a dressing for wounds by several French surgeons, imitating a practice as old as the times of Hippocrates, who recommended wine for this purpose. In favour of the plan, it is asserted to promote union by the first intention, and to prevent various unpleasant accidents which are apt to follow, especially in hospitals, such as purulent infection, hospital gangrene, angioleucitis, and erysipelas. Alcohol is sometimes used in its purer forms, of the sp. gr. 0.835 for example, as in gangrenous wounds; sometimes in the form of ardent spirit, as brandy, whisky, camphorated spirit of 0.923 sp gr., tincture of aloes, etc. It is applied on compresses, steeped in the spirit, care being taken always to keep the wounded part sufficiently moist. (Arch. Gen., Dec. 1864, p 725).
Another local use of alcohol, suggested by Dr. Luton, of Rheims, is by means of subcutaneous injection, for the relief of obstinate neuralgia. Twenty drops may be thrown into the areolar tissue, as near the affected nerve as possible. The operation is attended by a rather severe pain, followed by swelling; but this soon subsides. (Ibid., Oct. 1863, p. 285).
In chronic debility, the alcoholic liquors should be employed with great reserve, from the fear of originating habits of intemperance. They are contraindicated in plethora, in fever and acute inflammation with a sthenic state of system, in acute gastric and cerebral inflammations under almost any circumstances except in drunkards, and in cases of special sanguineous determination to the brain.