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Oleum Succini.—Oil of Amber.

Other tomes: Sayre - BPC - AJP1881

The volatile oil obtained by dry distillation of amber and purified by rectification.

Preparation.—The crude oil of amber (Oleum Succini Crudum) is obtained by destructive distillation of amber as a by-product in the preparation of succinic acid from this source (see Amber, below). It is of a syrupy consistence, dark-brown, and of an unpleasant, empyreumatic, persistent odor. In order to make rectified oil of amber (Oleum Succini Rectificatum), the U. S. P. (1870) directs to mix in a glass retort, oil of amber, 1 pint; water, 6 pints, and to distill until 4 pints of water have passed with the oil into the receiver; then separate the oil from the water, and keep it in a well-stopped bottle. According to Hager, the yield is from 65 to 70 per cent of the crude oil.

Description.—The oil thus obtained is thin, colorless or pale-yellow, but turns brown and viscid if not carefully kept. It has an empyreumatic, balsamic, yet disagreeable odor, and a bitter and acrid taste. Its specific gravity varies from 0.88 to 0.93; Power (Essential Oils) records 0.975 for crude, and 0.915 for the rectified oil. The latter is readily dissolved in absolute alcohol, chloroform, ether, disulphide of carbon, or the fixed oils; alcohol of 90 per cent by volume dissolves only about one-fifth of it. It is not soluble in water, though this fluid acquires its taste and odor in a slight degree. It is a solvent for caoutchouc. It is principally a mixture of hydrocarbons containing some phenols (Power), and has no constant boiling point. It does not fulminate with iodine. Fuming nitric acid added gradually forms with it a balsamic resin, called artificial musk. Eau de Luce is formed by dissolving 1 part of rectified oil of amber in 24 parts of alcohol, specific gravity 0.830, and 96 parts of caustic ammonia, specific gravity 0.916.

Adulterations.—Oil of amber is sometimes adulterated with oil of turpentine. Dr. Bolley suggests the following method of detecting it: In a cylindrical glass vessel about a foot high, place the suspected oil, and pass a current of hydrochloric acid gas into it by a tube dipping to near the bottom. The gas must be previously dried by passing it through two bottles containing coarsely-broken chloride of calcium, before entering the oil. The current is to be continued an hour, and if oil of turpentine is present to the extent of even 5 per cent, the mixture gives crystalline evidence of it after standing 12 hours. Of course, where the adulteration is large, the artificial camphor is apparent much sooner (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1854, p. 119). According to Mr. A. E. Ebert, rectified oil of amber is liable to adulteration with kerosene, rendering the oil insoluble in absolute alcohol, imparting an opalescence to it by exposure to direct sunlight, and forming no resin or artificial musk when treated with nitric acid. He believes that there is but a small amount of the true rectified oil of amber to be had in our markets, that which is sold for it consisting principally either of turpentine agitated with the crude oil of amber until it has the desired color, and which may be detected by its odor, and violent fulminating action with iodine; or kerosene may be substituted for the turpentine on account of the cost of the latter (Proc. Amer. Pharm. Assoc., 1865, p. 149). It may be owing to this adulteration that piles are cured by a local application of it to them, as named by Prof. Procter in Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1866, p. 217, as I have known numerous instances where persons have cured or relieved themselves of piles by the application of ordinary coal-oil (J. King).

Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.Rectified oil of amber is the only form in which oil of amber should be employed for internal use. It is stimulant, diuretic, and antispasmodic; and has been employed with benefit in amenorrhoea, hysteria, dysmenorrhoea, tetanus, epilepsy, pertussis, infantile convulsions, and various other spasmodic affections. The dose is from 5 to 30 drops on sugar, repeated as often as required. Applied externally it is a rubefacient, and has been efficaciously used as a liniment in palsy, chronic rheumatism, pertussis, and infantile convulsions; in the latter affection it should be rubbed along the spine, either alone or combined with an equal part of laudanum and 3 or 4 parts of olive oil. ROCHE'S EMBROCATION, for pertussis and other spasmodic affections, is composed of oil of olive, oil of cloves, each, 1 fluid ounce; oil of amber, 1/2 fluid ounce. Mix.

Related Products.—SUCCINUM, or AMBER, Ambra flava, Electrum. The origin of amber is somewhat uncertain; it is believed to be a fossil resin, produced by the hardening of the resinous exudates of certain extinct coniferae. That it was at one time liquid, is obvious from the insects which are occasionally found buried in it. No living insect is known exactly similar to those found in amber; showing that a very long period must have elapsed since the trees producing it vegetated (T.). The greatest part of the amber of commerce is found in Prussia, on the south shore of the Baltic, being thrown up from the sea between Königsberg and Memel. It is supposed to be derived from beds of wood-coal from Pinites succinifer, Goeppert (Pityoxylon succiniferum, Kraus), in the basin of the Baltic. It is also met with on the Sicily coast, in Poland, in France near Paris, in China, and in several parts of the United States, Amber is a brittle, light, hard substance, usually nearly transparent; sometimes almost colorless, but commonly yellow, deep-brown, or red. It usually occurs in irregularly shaped pieces, tasteless, and without smell, except when pounded or heated, when it emits a fragrant odor. Amber is capable of acquiring a fine polish, on account of which it is used for small articles of ornament. It yields readily to the knife, has a conchoidal vitreous or resinous fracture, becomes negatively electrical by rubbing, and has a specific gravity of 1.065. Water has no action on it, but alcohol, by long digestion, dissolves about one-eighth of the amber, and forms a colored solution which, when concentrated, becomes milky when mixed with water; the precipitate possesses the properties of a resin. Volatile oils and ether but partially dissolve it. A boiling solution of fixed alkali almost wholly dissolves amber, forming a kind of soap, soluble in alcohol or water. Diluted acids have no action on amber; sulphuric acid converts it into a black resinous mass; nitric acid acts upon it, dissolving it completely.

Heated in the air, amber softens at about 215° C. (419° F.), and fuses at about 290° C. (554° F.), evolving an agreeable aromatic odor, and burning with a clear yellow flame. It can not be fused without undergoing some chemical change. By destructive distillation in a retort, amber yields first an acid liquor, which contains succinic and acetic acids; then some succinic acid is deposited in the neck of the retort, and an empyreumatic oil (oil of amber) comes over, at first thin and yellowish, afterward brown and thick; toward the end of the operation, a yellowish light sublimate is observed in the neck of the retort; this is called by Gmelin, amber-camphor. An inflammable gas is evolved during the whole time of the operation. The residue in the retort consists of a brown resin (colophonium succini). The proximate principles of amber are a volatile oil, with a strong but agreeable odor; a resin soluble in cold alcohol, a resin soluble in boiling alcohol, succinic acid as high as 6 per cent, and a bituminous matter on which alcohol, ether, fixed and volatile oils, and alkaline solutions exert no solvent action. Baudrimont found 0.48 per cent of sulphur in 100 parts of amber. Roumanian amber yielded to O. Helm (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1881, p. 442) 1.15 per cent of sulphur, and 5.2 per cent of succinic acid. Sicilian amber yielded only 0.4 per cent of the latter acid, and a dark variety of amber, called glessite, had a specific gravity of only 1.015 to 1.027, and yielded no succinic acid upon dry distillation.

Amber is not used as a medicine; its principal employment is in the preparation of its oil, succinic acid, and varnish. Amber varnish is made by roasting 2 pounds of amber, and then dissolving it in 3 pounds of linseed oil, and a sufficient quantity of oil of turpentine. Adulteration with colophony may be recognized by alcohol, which dissolves out the adulterant.

ACIDUM SUCCINICUM, Succinic acid, Sal succini volatile (H2C4H4O4). Molecular weight: 117.72. Succinic acid was observed by Agricola in 1550, and was long believed to be a volatile salt of amber, until its acid character was demonstrated in 1675, by Lemery. It exists in nature, also in fossilized wood, and in many vegetable and animal fluids. It maybe obtained by the action of nitric acid upon the higher fatty acids, wax, or spermaceti. Pasteur discovered its formation in the vinous fermentation of sugar. It has also been obtained synthetically. The medicinal acid is obtained by the distillation of amber, although another and more convenient method consists in the fermentation of calcium malate or of tartaric acid (see details in Roscoe and Schorlemmer's Chemistry, Vol. III, Part II, New York, 1884, p. 185). The acid, when pure, forms white or transparent and odorless crystals; when prepared from amber the crystals are yellow or brown, with a smoky, acid taste, and have the odor of amber oil. They maybe purified by boiling with nitric acid, of specific gravity 1.32. Succinic acid is soluble in 20 parts of cold, 2 parts of hot water, less soluble in alcohol, and nearly insoluble in ether. The pure acid melts at 180° C. (356° F.). Its salts are called succinates. It was formerly used to considerable extent in medicine, but it is now seldom employed. It has but little action except to accelerate the pulse and promote cutaneous and bronchial excretion. The dose of succinic acid is from 5 to 15 grains.

SUCCINATE OF AMMONIUM has been employed in spasmodic conditions and as a remedy for delirium tremens, hysteria, rheumatism, and bronchitis. A liquor of succinate of ammonium, known also as Liquor Cornu Cervi Succinici, has been considerably employed in Germany for similar purposes.


King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.



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