Homeopathic Materia Medica by Farrington


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In considering the remedies derived from the animal kingdom, first I shall speak, IN EXTENSO, of the large family, formally called OPHIDIANS, or snakes proper. Of those we use in medicine, we have first the LACHESIS TRIGONOCEPHALUS. This was proved by Dr. Hering, sixty years ago. Next we have the CROTALUS HORRIDUS. There is also a South American species, proved by Dr. Muir, the CROTALUS CASCAVELLA. This has a few symptoms which will not yield to the administration of the other species. Then there are the NAJA TRIPUDIANS, one variety of the cobra, and the ELAPS CORALLINUS, so called from the shape of the scales on the back, which have something the appearance of coral. Lastly there is the BOTHROPS LANCEOLATUS, a remedy which, for a year or more, I have vainly tried to procure. It causes symptoms similar to that peculiar condition known as aphasia. Of these poisons, the first four are commonly used in medicine.

To get an idea of a class of medicines derived from one source or similar sources, it is well to study them in a group, and see what symptoms they have in common. The poison of the snake is generally held in a little sac behind the fangs. On the under surface of the fangs is a small groove, into which empties a little tube that conveys the poison from the gland. When they are not in use, they lie back on the roof of the mouth. If the animal is excited, it opens its mouth, the fangs are pushed forwards, and at the same time, by muscular action, etc., a drop of the poison runs down the canal, and into the punctured wound. Now, what follows ? That depends on various causes. The poison is more potent at some times than at others. The more angry the serpent is, the more active is its venom. If, in inflicting the wound, the fang passes through the clothing, some of the poison may thus be absorbed. Again, the power of resistance of the individual has some effect.

You may divide the effects of the snake-poison into three sorts: First, that which may be compared to the action of a stroke of lightning or a dose of Prussic acid. Immediately after the bite, the patient starts up with a look of anguish on his face, and then drops dead. This represents the full, unmodified, lightning rapidity of the poison. In the second form, commonly, the part bitten swells and turns, not a bright red, but rapidly to a dark purplish color, the blood becomes fluid, and the patient exhibits symptoms like those characteristic of septicaemia. The heart-beat increases in rapidity, but lessens in tone and strength. The patient becomes prostrated, and covered with a cold, clammy sweat. Dark spots appear on the body, where the blood settles into ecchymoses; the patient becomes depressed from weakness of the nervous system, or from poverty of the blood, and then sinks into a typhoid state, and dies. Or there follow nervous phenomena. The patient is seized with vertigo. Dark spots appear before the eyes; blindness; a peculiar tremor all over the body; face besotted; dyspnoea, or even stertor. Or it may assume a slower form. After the vertigo or trembling, the patient remains weak, and the place of poisoning becomes dark or gangrenous. All the discharges, the sweat, the urine and the faeces, are offensive. Dysenteric symptoms of a typhoid character show themselves. The patient goes into a low state, and finally dies. These are all phases of one action of the drug, the power of the drug to affect the blood and the nerves. A small dose of LACHESIS may make the prover feel as if he could study without fatigue. He grows loquacious, jumping from subject to subject. There is nervous excitement. A story, for instance, excites him unduly. ' Anecdotes move him to tears. Quickly the opposite state appears. The nervous symptoms change to prostration, or even complete paralysis. Nerves especially affected by the snake-poisons seem to be the pneumogastric and spinal accessory; consequently, you expect to find, as eminently characteristic, symptoms of the larynx, of the respiration, and of the heart. All of the Ophidia cause choking, constrictive sensation coming from irritation of the pneumogastric. All of them have dyspnoea and heart-symptoms.

It has been found that the snake-poisons coagulate the blood; but soon the blood is so far decomposed that it has no longer the power to thicken. It becomes liquid, dark, and oozes from every orifice of the body. Thus are haemorrhages produced, which are characteristic. They are most noted under LACHESIS and CROTALUS ; less in MAPS, least in NAJA. You already see in what class of diseases you will find these poisons curative; in low grades of inflammation, in carbuncle, gangrene, adynamic states, fevers of typhoid type, etc.

They produce a staining of the skin yellow. This is not jaundice, and must not be confused with that affection. It comes from the blood, and is due to the decomposition of that fluid, and not to the staining of the skin with bile. This is most marked in the Crotalus. Again, you may find that the skin is dry and harsh, as if there was no vitality in it, or it may be clammy, more characteristic of Lachesis. The discharges are foetid, even the formed fecal stools of Lachesis are horribly offensive. As the heart is weakened by all, we find as characteristic, running through them all, weak heart, cold feet, and trembling—not the trembling of mere nervousness, it is the trembling of weakness from blood-poisoning. The cold feet are not indicative of congestion, as you find under Belladonna. They are attendants upon a weakened heart.

The heart symptoms of NAJA greatly resemble those of Lachesis, but its cardiac symptoms point more markedly to the remote effects of cardiac valvular-lesions; those of LACHESIS more to the incipiency of rheumatic disease of the heart. In Naja, there is a well marked frontal and temporal headache with the cardiac symptoms; the heart beats tumultuously. The patient awakes gasping for breath. Naja causes more nervous phenomena than any of the snake-poisons.

Under Belladonna the head is hot, and the feet are cold, because the blood is surged toward thehead. Under the snake-poisons, the feet are cold, because the heart is too weak to force the blood to the periphery.

All of the snake-poisons cause inflammation of the cellular tissue. Accordingly, we find them valuable, when cellulitis arises in the course of typhoid fever, diphtheria, etc.

In diphtheria, CROTALUS has had more clinical experience in the persistent epistaxis.

ELAPS claims attention in cases of haemoptysis, when the blood discharged is dark in color, especially when the right lung is affected.

Antidotes for these poisons are numerous. There is no doubt that alcohol is a powerful antagonist to the snake-venom. It is remarkable how much alcohol can be swallowed by persons bitten by serpents, without the manifestation of the usual physiological effects. Whiskey or brandy can be used and in large quantities, until it produces its own effects. Dr. Hering recommends radiating heat as an antidote. The part bitten should be held close to a hot fire. Ammonia and permanganate of potash have been recommended as antidotes, and cures have been claimed for each.