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Copaifera Officinalis. Cobaiba, Copaiva, Balsam Copaiva.

Description: Natural Order, Leguminosae. This is an elegant and lofty tree, native to Martinique, Trinidad, and other West India islands; and also to Venezuela, Carthagena, and other South American provinces, in forests with the myrosperum. Woodville gives the following botanical description: "Leaves alternate, large, and pinnate, composed of from two to five pairs of ovate, entire, obtusely acuminate leaflets, two or three inches in length, rather narrower on one side than the other, smooth, pellucidly punctate, somewhat shining, and on short footstalks. Flowers whitish, in terminal branched spikes. The fruit is an oval, two-valved pod, containing a single seed."

The copaiva tree yields an oleo-resinous juice, of a peculiar balsamic character, for which it is valued in pharmacy. This juice flows from deep incisions which are made into the trunks of the trees; and is a very thin, colorless fluid. In a short time it becomes a little thicker, and acquires a faint amber tint, but remains transparent. As it appears in market, it is of a pale yellow color; thicker than olive oil but not so thick as castor oil; of a peculiar and penetrating balsamic odor, and a nauseous and somewhat hot taste. Water does not affect it; but it is soluble in alcohol, the fixed and volatile oils, and ether. Caustic alkalies, as of potassa and soda, and also the alkaline carbonates, when in very strong solution, will dissolve it perfectly; but weak solutions become milky. It dissolves magnesia; and forms ropy compounds when mixed with lime, soda, and other alkalies and alkaline earths. When triturated with one-sixteenth its weight of magnesia, or of freshly-slacked lime, it gradually solidifies–the magnesia uniting with its resin and absorbing its essential oil.

By being exposed to the air, this balsam loses a portion of the volatile oil it contains, and on which its remedial virtues depend; and finally becomes too thick to be fluid. If spread in a thin layer, it will ultimately become dry and brittle–the dissipated essential oil leaving behind a yellowish resin that has little smell, and no remedial power.

Adulterations: Copaiva from different ports, probably gathered at different seasons and under varying circumstances, may be a deeper yellow than that above described. But the article is subjected to various adulterations. Castor oil is much used for this purpose; and may be detected by boiling a drachm of the suspected article in a pint of water till all the fluid is evaporated, when the residue will be the firm resin of Copaiva if the article is pure, but will be soft if any castor oil is present. Turpentine may be detected by its smell on heating the specimen. An article known as Gurjun Balsam, or Wood Oil, and obtained from the Dipterocarpus turbinatus of Burmah, has been put upon the market as copaiva, to which it bears a strong resemblance, both in physical and remedial properties. Mr. Lowe, in the Parisian Journal of Pharmacy, says it may readily be distinguished from copaiva by being put into a sealed glass tube, and then heated to about 230° Fahrenheit. Copaiva remains fluid, or increases its fluidity at this temperature; but wood oil will become slightly turbid, and then coagulate so as to adhere tenaciously to the tube. Benzole forms a turbid mixture with equal quantities of wood oil, but a transparent solution with copaiva.

Properties and Uses: This balsam is a peculiar stimulant, with a portion of relaxing properties, acting gently but rather persistently. Its principal action is upon the mucous membranes and the kidneys. It slowly excites all the mucous passages, from the stomach through the entire bowels, and in the bladder, vagina, uterus, and lungs. It. creates a sensation of warmth and nausea in the stomach; usually increases the discharges from the bowels, and may induce rather active purgation; and in large doses will accelerate the pulse, excite vomiting and griping stools, so stimulate the water passages as to lead to painful urination, and ultimately cause an itching eruption upon the surface. Sensitive stomachs, and especially persons of a nervous temperament, are much and persistently nauseated by small quantities. It is absorbed, and may be detected in the urine and breath. It is principally used for chronic congestion and weakness of mucous passages, as gonorrhea, gleet, leucorrhea, bronchitis, etc. Its use in gonorrhea is the most popular one; and it is prescribed in all stages of the malady, during acute inflammation and lingering congestion, under the mistaken idea of its being a specific (§158) against the gonorrheal virus. It is not a specific to this malady, and is by no means indispensable to its cure; yet it is a good agent for the later stages, especially if associated with liberal quantities of demulcents; but is entirely misapplied when used in the earlier stages and while inflammation and scalding are present. I have used a diluted emulsion of it, (two parts of copaiva, four of gum, and twenty of water,) to advantage as an injection to the penis or vagina in gleet and the later stages of gonorrhea, and in low cases of fluor albus. Its nauseating character is an objection to its inward use in leucorrhea; yet it is sometimes of advantage in chronic cases of this malady. It should never be given during feverishness, thirst, or tenderness of the stomach. Though a good agent in a limited field, more value has been attached to it than it fairly deserves. Dose, ten to thirty drops, three times a day. It is often directed to be used in larger and more frequent doses; but my experience convinces me that larger quantities are not well borne by the stomach, and that the influence of a dose lasts fully four hours. It is not given alone, but always in some form to disguise its taste. Nitric ether (sweet spirits of niter) is much used for this purpose, but this is too poisonous in its nature to be a proper remedy. Essences and aromatic waters are most suitable adjuvants; or the yolk of an egg with mint or cinnamon water may be used to form it into an emulsion. Velpeau preferred to give it as an enema to the bowel, forming a drachm of it into four ounces of emulsion with the yolk of egg and water.

Pharmaceutical Preparations: I. Compound Emulsion. Copaiva balsam, white sugar, and gum arabic, each, half an ounce. Form these carefully into an emulsion in the usual way, with three and a half ounces of water; and then add six drachms fluid extract uva ursi, and two drachms compound spirits of lavender. I have used this preparation for ten years in the treatment of gonorrhea, and much prefer it to the emulsion of the Pharmacopoeia–which contains an ounce of the balsam in four ounces of the mixture, and no uva ursi. Dose, a large teaspoonful three times a day. In very degenerate cases of gleet, I have found good effects from incorporating half a drachm of balsam fir, or of liquid styrax, with the copaiva in forming this emulsion.

II. Pills. Balsam copaiva, two ounces; freshly prepared and calcined magnesia, a drachm; oil of peppermint, well rubbed with the magnesia, five drops. Mix the ingredients thoroughly, and allow them to stand till the copaiva solidifies. In old and tenacious samples of the balsam, this will take place in about eight hours; but in fresh and very fluid specimens, a much longer time will be needed, or another scruple of the magnesia may be added to absorb the surplus essential oil, and thus hasten solidification. Before it becomes too firm, the mass may be formed into two hundred pills, of which each one will contain about five grains of balsam. This is the formula of the U. S. Pharmacopoeia, except that I have found an advantage (in taste) by adding the oil of mint. Two or four of these pills may be taken twice a day, and are a convenient form for exhibiting this agent.

III. Capsules. Gelatin capsules are prepared in the usual way, each containing from five to ten drops of the balsam.


The Physiomedical Dispensatory, 1869, was written by William Cook, M.D.
It was scanned by Paul Bergner at http://medherb.com



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