USES.—In the Philippines and in Spain this plant is well known to be poisonous.
The bark and the leaves of both the red-flowered and white-flowered varieties are boiled in cocoanut oil and the product is used for inunction in itch and other skin diseases. The bruised root is a useful application for chancroids.
We have stated that the plant is poisonous, and indeed it is actively so in the tropics. It is now recognized as an energetic cardiac poison, comparable with strophanthus, destined to play an important part in therapeutics. Dr. Pouloux has made a study of the hydro-alcoholic extract of oleander and reports that it exerts a marked effect on the heart of frogs and rabbits, arresting them in systole.
Where there is asystolia, such as we encounter in Bright’s disease, without compensation, it stimulates the heart and increases the urine in the same manner as digitalis. No contraindications to its use are as yet known. It occasions no disagreeable symptoms and may be used many days consecutively provided that the daily dose does not exceed 10–15 centigrams.
The poisonous properties of the plant reside in two alkaloids isolated by Lukowsky from the leaves: oleandrine, extremely toxic and pseudo-curarine, as its name indicates, resembling curare in its action. Oleandrin is yellow, semicrystalline, soluble in water, alcohol, ether, chloroform and olive oil; fusible at 70–75° and changing to a greenish oil. With HCl it forms a crystalline salt. It is a violent irritant of the mucous membranes and given internally it causes emesis, diarrhoea, tetanic convulsions and death. It arrests the cardiac movements in doses of 25 milligrams.
Loiseleur-Deslongchamps experimented with the drug on his own person, using a solution of 30 grams of the extract in 120 grams of wine. He began by taking three drops of this preparation four times a day, adding a drop to each dose every day, so that at the end of 12 days he was taking 48 drops between 6 a. m. and 9 p. m. He reached a maximum of 64 drops a day but was forced to abandon his experiment at that point on account of the unpleasant symptoms induced—loss of appetite, great weakness and muscular pains. His deduction was that the plant contained a “destructive and irritant principle.” The experiment is of interest as demonstrating the maximum dose of the drug.
The active principles of the plant reside principally in the leaves and bark, but that they are abundantly present in other parts is proved by the death of several soldiers in Corsica from having eaten meat roasted on a spit of oleander wood.
BOTANICAL DESCRIPTION.—A small tree, about 6° high. Leaves coriaceous, lanceolate, entire, glabrous. Flowers in terminal cymes, rose-color or white, single or double. Calyx 5-parted. Corolla 15 petals, the inner ones larger, disposed in 3 groups of 5. Stamens 10, fixed on receptacle; filaments short. Style shorter than stamens. Two follicles, sharp-pointed, channeled, containing many imbricated seeds each with an awn.
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