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.
Musk is the product of an animal bearing some resemblance to the deer, usually less than three feet high, with elevated haunches, long and narrow ears, a short tail, and tusks projecting downwards from the upper jaw. It is of various colours, but the most common is a deep iron-gray. The musk is contained in an oval sac, situated between the umbilicus and prepuce, and opening outwards by a small orifice.
The animal inhabits the mountainous regions of Central Asia, lying between Siberia in the north and the Himalaya Mountains on the south, and comprehending Chinese Tartary and Thibet, It is solitary and timid, preferring the highest and most inaccessible places among the mountains, and seeking its food at night. The natives catch it in snares, or kill it by means of cross-bows set in its paths. Sometimes they also shoot it with guns, or with the bow and arrow. After its death, the bag is cut off and dried.
The musk of commerce is brought from two sources; from Siberia, through Russia, and from China, by the port of Canton. The Chinese variety is the best, and, so far as I know, is the only one imported into this country.
The great value of musk leads to its frequent adulteration, and it seldom reaches our shops quite pure. The Chinese open the sacs, remove their contents, which they mix with dried bullock's blood and other impurities, and then reintroduce a portion of the mixture into the sac, and close the opening more or less carefully. Another portion they inclose in artificial sacs, made from the skin or scrotum of the animal; and it is these latter which are most frequently brought to the United States, according to my own observation. After importation, the contents of the bags are removed, and, as we are informed, undergo another adulteration, in the process of granulation, by which it is prepared for the shops.
The true musk sac is oval, between two and three inches long, bare on the side at which it was attached, and covered on the other with coarse hairs, arranged concentrically about a small opening. The sacs commonly imported are of about the same size, but are full and rounded as if stuffed, have a piece of membrane on one side, and a portion of hairy skin on the other, and show clearly where the two pieces have been clumsily sewed together.
As usually kept in the shops, the musk is in irregular grains, soft and unctuous to the touch, of a brown or reddish-brown colour, and frequently mingled with the short hairs of the sac, which appear to have been added to increase the weight. The smell is strong, extremely diffusive and permanent, to most persons very disagreeable in its greatest intensity, but usually considered agreeable when slight, and much esteemed in perfumery. So diffusive and so permanent is it, that a small portion of musk will scent the whole atmosphere of a chamber for many days, without losing any appreciable portion of its weight; and the slightest contact with it will give an odour to the person or clothing, which remains for a considerable time. In some very nervous persons, the smell produces giddiness and faintness; and it has been known to throw hysterical women into convulsions. The taste is bitter, somewhat acrid, and disagreeable. Musk is inflammable. It imparts its virtues partially to water and alcohol; but neither fluid has been found to act satisfactorily as a menstruum in pharmacy. The active principle has not been isolated. Though musk contains a considerable proportion of matter volatilizable by heat, yet it cannot be deprived of its odour by distillation with water.
Musk will keep for a long time unimpaired in a well-closed glass bottle, in a dry place. It should always have its own strong characteristic odour and taste, a colour neither very pale nor blackish, and an unctuous feel, without grittiness.
In medicinal doses, musk produces a feeling of warmth in the stomach, followed by slight cerebral excitement, some increase in the frequency and fulness of the pulse, and a warm softness of the skin, which continue for a short time, and then subside without leaving any unpleasant effect behind. Taken more largely, it is said to disturb the stomach, and to occasion a feeling of weight, giddiness, and pain in the head, with considerable excitement of the circulation, and a tendency to sleep. I have, however, never noticed this last effect. In very large doses, we are told by Jorg, that it causes trembling of the limbs, and sometimes convulsions. It is, then, a moderate stimulant to the circulation, and a powerful stimulant of the nervous system, though possessed of little narcotic power. Trousseau and Pidoux have found it somewhat excitant to the genital organs. (Trait. de Therap., 4e ed., ii. 218.) It is said also to have sometimes proved diaphoretic and diuretic; which, indeed, may be said of all the stimulants.
Its odorous principle, which is probably also the source of its medicinal activity, is certainly absorbed; as it was noticed by Tiedemann and Gmelin in the blood, and is often strongly perceptible in the urine, perspiration, and pulmonary exhalation.