Cicuta. Cicuta virosa L. Water Hemlock. Cowbane. Cigue vireuse, Fr. Wasserschierling, G.—A perennial, umbelliferous European plant, growing on the borders of pools and streams. It is very poisonous to most animals, though said to be eaten with impunity by goats and sheep. A number of the species of cicuta are intensely poisonous; indeed, the statement is made that C. maculata L. is the most poisonous plant native in the United States. The C. vagans (Oregon water hemlock), C. occidentalis Dougl. and C. bulbifera L., all of which are found in various parts of North America, are actively poisonous, as is also the European species C. virosa. From the last named. Van Ankum (J. P. C., 1868) obtained a resinous body which was intensely poisonous, resembling picrotoxin in its physiological action, and to which he gave the name of cicutoxin. Bohm (A. E. P. P., v, 281) has since obtained this principle pure, as a thick, tenacious, amorphous substance, of acid reaction, of slight odor but disagreeable taste. The dry root yielded about 3.5 per cent., the fresh 0.2 per cent. of cicutoxin. The presence of a volatile alkaloid resembling coniine, and termed cicutine, has been observed by Wittstein and Buignet. According to Jacobson (J. Am. C. S., 1915, xxxvii, p. 916), cicutoxin is a complex derivative of pyrone and is fatal to lower animals in doses of 50 mgm. per kilo.
Cicuta maculata L., American water hemlock, Musquash root, Beaver poison, Spotted cowbane. This grows in meadows and on the borders of streams throughout the United States, and is closely analogous, in botanical character and in effects, to the European species. In several instances children have been fatally poisoned by eating its root. This consists of several oblong, fleshy tubers, sometimes as long as the finger, spreading out from the base of the stem, and having an odor and taste not unlike those of parsnip. For microscopic examination of plant, see A. J. P., July, 1891, and Merck's Report, 1909, p. 35. Cicuta has been highly lauded as a specific in nervous and sick headache (Proc. A. Ph. A., 1858, 253), but is rarely if ever used. J. E. Young found in the seeds an alkaloid supposed to be identical with coniine. (A. J. P., xxvii, 294, confirmed by E. Glenk, A. J. P., 1891, 328.)
Egdhal (A. I. M., 1911, vii, p. 348) has collected the history of 46 cases of poisoning by cicuta, of which twenty-one were fatal. Nausea, vomiting, and convulsions occurred in practically all the cases. In most of them there was also bloody froth at the mouth and in many dilated pupils and unconsciousness. In his own case there was cyanosis apparently from interference with the respiration by the convulsions.
In cicuta poisoning there is generally violent vomiting, followed by vertigo, cold, clammy skin, slow, feeble pulse, general convulsions and later paralysis, unconsciousness and dilated pupils. Tannic acid has been suggested as an antidote, but its efficiency has not been proved. The treatment should be evacuation of the stomach, stimulants to combat the collapse, and the cautious use of morphine to control the vomiting and convulsions.