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Gelsemium contains two potent alkaloids, Gelseminine and Gelsemine.
Gelseminine is a yellowish, bitter andpoisonous amorphous alkaloid, readily soluble in ether and alcohol, forming amorphous salts.
The alkaloid Gelsemine is colourless, odourless, intensely bitter and forms crystalline salts. It is only sparingly soluble inwater, but readily forms a hydrochloride, which is completely so. This alkaloid is not to be confounded with the resinoid known as 'Gelsemin,' an eclectic remedy, a mixture of substances obtained by evaporating an alcoholic extract of Gelsemium to dryness.
The rhizome also contains Gelsemic acid a crystalline substance which exhibits an intense bluish-green fluorescence in alkaline solution; it is probably identical with methylaesculatin or chrysatropic acid found in Belladonna root.
There are also present in the root 6 per cent of a volatile oil, 4 per cent of resin and starch.
---Poisoning by Gelsemium---The drug is a powerful spinal depressant; its most marked action being on the anterior cornus of grey matter in the spinal cord.
The drug kills by its action on the respiratory centre of the medulla oblongata. Shortly after the administration of even a moderate dose, the respiration is slowed and is ultimately arrested, this being the cause of death.
Poisonous doses of Gelsemium produce a sensation of languor, relaxation and muscular weakness, which may be followed by paralysis if the dose is sufficiently large. The face becomes anxious, the temperature subnormal, the skin cold and clammy and the pulse rapid and feeble. Dropping of the upper eyelid and lower jaw, internal squint, double vision and dilatation of the pupil are prominent symptoms. The respiration becomes slow and feeble, shallow and irregular, and death occurs from centric respiratory failure, the heart stopping almost simultaneously. Consciousness is usually preserved until late in the poisoning, but may be lost soon after the ingestion of a fatal dose. The effects usually begin in half an hour, but sometimes almost immediately. Death has occurred at periods varying from 1 to 7 1/2 hours.
The treatment of Gelsemium poisoning consists in the prompt evacuation of the stomach by an emetic, if the patient's condition permits; and secondly, and equally important, artificial respiration, aided by the early administration, subcutaneously, of ammonia, strychnine, atropine or digitalis.
---Medicinal Action and Uses---Antispasmodic, sedative, febrifuge, diaphoretic.
The medical history of the plant is quite modern. It is stated to have been brought into notice by a Mississippi planter, for whom, in his illness, the root was gathered in mistake for that of another plant. After partaking of an infusion, serious symptoms arose, but when, contrary to expectations, he recovered, it was clear that the attack of bilious fever from which he had been suffering had disappeared. This accidental error led to the preparation from the plant of a proprietary nostrum called the 'Electric Febrifuge.' Later, in 1849, Dr. Porcher, of South Carolina, brought Gelsemium to the notice of the American Medical Association. Dr. Henry, in 1852, and after him many others, made provings of it the chief being that of Dr. E. M. Hale, whose Monograph on Gelsemium was an efficient help to the true knowledge of the new American drug.
In America, it was formerly extensively used as an arterial sedative and febrifuge in various fevers, more especially those of an intermittent character, but now it is considered probably of little use for this purpose, for it has no action on the skin and no marked action on the alimentary or circulatory system.
It has been recommended and found useful in the treatment of spasmodic disorders, such as asthma and whooping cough, spasmodic croup and other conditions depending upon localized muscular spasm. In convulsions, its effects have been very satisfactory.
It is, at present, mainly used in the treatment of neuralgic pains, especially those involving the facial nerves, particularly when arising from decaying teeth.
It is said it will suspend and hold in check muscular irritability and nervous excitement with more force and power than any known remedy. While it relaxes all the muscles, it relieves, by its action on the general system, all sense of pain.
The drug is also said to be most useful in the headache and sleeplessness of the drunkard and in sick headache.
It has been used in dysmenorrhoea, hysteria, chorea and epilepsy, and the tincture has been found efficacious in cases of retention of urine.
Some recommend its use in acute rheumatism and pleurisy, in pneumonia and in bronchitis, and it has been advocated, though not accepted by all authorities, as of avail in the early stages of typhoid fever.
The roots and rhizome of yellow jessamine were historically used to treat migraine headaches and types of neuralgia.
All parts of G. sempervirens are toxic, including the flower and nectar. The primary toxic compounds are gelsemine and gelseminine, which act as motor nerve depressants. Symptoms of toxicity in humans include difficulty in use of voluntary muscles, muscle rigidity and weaknes, diziness, loss of speech, dry mouth, visual disturbances, trembling of extremities, profuse sweating, respiratory depression, and convulsions. In Germany, human therapeutic use of the rhizome is not permitted, because it is not believed that efficacy has been adequately documented and serious risks are known. In some Australian states, the use of G. sempervirens is restricted and subject to poison control. The therapeutic dose in humans and the toxic dose are very close. No data could be found regarding livestock toxicity. However, many ergot alkaloids are known to be toxic to livestock.
Uses and Efficacy
It has been claimed that G. sempervirens can be used to treat several types of ailments. However, there is little substantial proof. There are some testimonials regarding its effectiveness in treating various ailments in cats (e.g., fever with shivering, muscle weakness, and vertigo). The doses used were: 30cc BID for 2 days and 3 doses of 30cc 12 hrs apart.
Some Uses in Humans:
Analgesic -- Mexico
Anodyne -- Mexico, Turkey, and U.S.
Asthma -- Mexico
Cephalgia -- Mexico
CNS-depressant -- U.S.
Cough -- U.S.
Dermatologic aid -- U.S.
Dysmenorrhea -- Mexico
Fever -- Turkey and U.S.
Gonorrhoea -- Mexico
Malaria -- Mexico and Turkey
Neuralgia -- Europe
Parturition -- U.S.
Pertussis -- Mexico
Pleurisy -- U.S.
Poison, homicide -- Mexico, Turkey, and U.S.
Rheumatism -- Mexico
Sedative, nerves, hysteria -- Mexico and Turkey
Shortwindedness -- U.S.
Spasm -- Mexico and Turkey
Stomach ache -- U.S.
Tonic -- Turkey