"A resinous exudation from the living root of Convolvulus Scammonia, Linné"—(U. S. P.).
ILLUSTRATION: Bentley and Trimen, Med. Plants, 187.
Botanical Source.—This plant has a perennial, fleshy, fusiform root, from 3 to 5 feet long, and from 3 to 5 inches in diameter, branched toward the lower end, with a grayish bark, and abounding in an acrid, milky juice. The stems are annual, numerous, slender, round, smooth, branching, twining, very slightly angular near the ends, and growing from 12 to 20 feet upon the soil, or on adjacent plants. The leaves are on long petioles, alternate, sagittate, oblong, acute, entire, quite smooth, truncate and angular at the base, with acute, spreading lobes, and of a bright-green color. The flowers are borne on axillary, solitary, 3-flowered peduncles, scarcely twice as long as the leaves. Sepals 5, rather lax, smooth, ovate, repand, obtuse, with a reflexed point, and covered at the edge. Corolla funnel-shaped, very much expanded, pale sulphur-yellow, thrice as long as the calyx, an inch or more in length; limb entire, and somewhat reflexed. Stamens 5, erect, converging, thrice as short as the corolla. Ovary 2-celled, 4-seeded, supporting a slender style as long as the stamens, with 2 linear-cylindrical, erect, oblong, parallel, distant, and white stigmas. Capsule 2-celled; seeds small and pyramid-shaped (L.).
History.—Scammony plant is a native of Turkey, Syria, Greece, Persia, etc., and somewhat resembles the Convolvulus panduratus. The official portion is the concrete juice of the root, the other parts of the plant yielding no milky juice whatever. It is collected in the month of June, the root being cut across, obliquely, near its crown, and shells fixed beneath, into which the milky juice gradually flows. This soon concretes under exposure to the air and evaporation, forming the gum-resin of commerce (scammony), of which but a few drachms are obtained from a single root. Evaporation being necessarily slow, partial fermentation sets in, producing porosity and a somewhat cheesy odor. It is seldom obtained in a pure state, being more or less adulterated with flour, ashes, meal, chalk, sand, tragacanth, colophony (resin), etc. It is imported directly from Smyrna, or from some of the Mediterranean ports. There were several varieties of scammony formerly known as the Aleppo, Smyrna, and Montpellier, of which the first-named was the best (Virgin scammony), but, owing to extensive adulteration of the drug, it is now more feasible to distinguish between genuine and factitious scammony, based on its resin contents. (For an interesting account of the production of scammony, near Smyrna, by Sidney H. Maltass, see Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1854, pp. 139-146; also see D. Hanbury, on several commercial specimens of scammony, ibid., 1854, p. 146; and Jos. Carson, ibid., 1848, pp. 1-15.)
Description and Tests.—As required by the U. S. P., scammonium is "in irregular, angular pieces or circular cakes, greenish-gray or blackish, internally porous, and breaking with an angular fracture, of a resinous lustre; odor peculiar, somewhat cheese-like; taste slightly acrid; powder gray or greenish-gray. When triturated with water, scammony yields a greenish emulsion; it does not effervesce on the addition of diluted hydrochloric acid, and the decoction, when cold, does not assume a blue color on the addition of iodine T.S. (absence of starch). Ether dissolves at least 75 per cent of it; and, when the ether has been evaporated, the residue, dissolved in hot solution of potassium hydrate, is not reprecipitated by diluted sulphuric acid"—(U. S. P.). The latter test excludes rosin, which, when mixed with scammony, is precipitated upon the addition of acid. This precipitate also turns dark-red immediately with concentrated sulphuric acid. Scammony resin is but slowly changed by this reagent to a light wine-colored red. Colophony, if present, may also be separated by means of oil of turpentine, in which scammony resin is nearly insoluble. Scammony, treated with ether, may yield to this solvent as much as 90 and 95 per cent of resin; gum and mineral and the other aforementioned insoluble adulterants remain undissolved. The resinous part of scammony is also soluble in alcohol (see Resina Scammonii).
The British Pharmacopoeia (1898) directs for scammony that which is known in commerce as Virgin scammony. It is very brittle, easily reduced to powder, should afford only the slightest reactions with the tests for starch (allowing for scammony starch; see T. Greenish, Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1875, p. 29), and should not yield more than 3 per cent of ash on incineration. "An alcoholic solution should not afford a blue color with test-solution of ferric chloride (absence of guaiacum resin)"—(Br. Pharm.). The whitish powder occasionally found on scammony is calcium carbonate, and effervesces with diluted hydrochloric acid. At Montpellier, in southern France, a factitious scammony (Montpellier scammony) has been manufactured, being prepared by evaporating the expressed juice of Cynanchum monspeliacum, Linné, a plant belonging to the natural order Asclepiadaceae. According to Jessler (1865), the air-dried root of this plant contains 3.24 per cent of resin.
Chemical Composition.—Mr. Charles A. T. Doench (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1882, p. 545) obtained from the root a yield of 5.4 per cent of scammony resin (also see his analysis of commercial specimens). Commercial scammony resin, as stated before, contains from 75 to 90 per cent and more of resin, soluble in ether and alcohol, very little soluble in water, and small quantities of gum, albuminous bodies, wax, extractive matters, traces of starch, etc. The active principle of scammony resin is the glucosid scammonin (Spirgatis), which is identical with jalapin of W. Mayer (orizabin of Maisch, 1887; and Th. Poleck, Zeitschr. d. allgem. Oesterr. Apotheker Vereins, 1892, p. 451). Scammonin is the anhydride of water-soluble scammonic acid (jalapic acid), and, by treatment with diluted acids, is decomposed into sugar and scammonolic acid (jalapinolic acid of Poleck). (For further details regarding these bodies, see Orizaba root.)
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Scammony is a powerful drastic cathartic, operating with harshness and griping. It was a favorite internal and external remedy with the Arabians. It does not appear to be poisonous even in large doses, but is seldom used alone, except in cases where a powerful impression on the bowels is desired; most commonly it is combined with other cathartics, whose action it augments, while its own virulence is diminished. Scammony is. usually given in the form of an emulsion with sugar or sweet almonds. But when triturated with milk it is considered a superior preparation, as follows: Seven grains of pure scammony to be gradually triturated with 3 ounces of unskimmed milk, to which a few grains of ginger may he added, forms a safe purgative. Another form of using this gum-resin is that of biscuit. A paste is made of scammony, 1 drachm; Venice soap, 5 grains; sugar, 9 grains; biscuit, in powder, 1 ounce; and a few drops of water. Mix together, divide into 2 biscuits, and let them dry; 1 biscuit acts energetically. The dose of powdered scammony is from 3 to 12 grains; of the pure resin, half this quantity. Its use is always contraindicated by intestinal inflammation.