On Solutions of Alkaloids in Medicated Waters.



In a letter written shortly after his return home from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, where he graduated in March last, the late John D. Owen communicated to the editor an observation which is of particular interest to the medical and pharmacial professions. At our request, he commenced some experiments, which remained unfinished when he was prostrated by sickness. Since his demise we have verified his observation by experiment, and now communicate it to the readers of this journal, together with some observations on the subject.

Mr. Owen had dispensed a prescription ordering sulphate of morphia to be dissolved in peppermint water; the latter had been made, according to the Pharmacopoeia, by triturating the oil with carbonate of magnesia and water. When the vial was brought back for renewal Mr. Owen observed that the sides were covered with crystals, which he collected, and proved to be morphia.

The process of the Pharmacopoeia alluded to, yields, in all cases, a medicated water possessing an alkaline reaction, which is shown by its effect upon a diluted tincture of turmeric, the latter turning reddish brown. If chloride of ammonium and ammonia water are added to such a medicated water, any soluble phosphate will in a short time produce a dense cloudiness and finally a precipitate. It is unnecessary to enter into the causes of the solubility of magnesia under these circumstances; the fact is a plain one, and the possibility of dangerous effects very obvious. Neutral salts of insoluble (in water) alkaloids may be dissolved in such medicated waters, but the alkaloids will be gradually precipitated in a form in which they cannot be uniformly diffused in the liquid even by agitation; hence the possibility, if the separated alkaloid does not firmly adhere to the vial, that the last dose may contain an excessive amount of a poisonous article; while, in case it should adhere with sufficient firmness, the result might be, at least, disappointment in the effects, if nothing worse, in consequence of insufficient medication.

Heretofore we have advocated the preparation of medicated waters by distillation from the drugs, solely for the reason of their superior flavor and taste. The facts pointed out above furnish a by far stronger argument. As long, however, as the Pharmacopoeia allows the preparation of these waters from the volatile oils by the aid of magnesia, it would appear to be the plain duty of the pharmacist to neutralize or faintly acidulate these waters in all cases where salts of poisonous alkaloids are to be dissolved therein.

The American Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. XLIII, 1871, was edited by William Procter, Jr. (Issues 1-4) and John M. Maisch (Issues 5-12).