The New International Encyclopædia/Gelsemium

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GELSEMIUM (Neo-Lat,, from It. gelsomino, jasmine, from Ar. yasmin, from Pers. yāsmīn, jasmine). A drug consisting of the rhizome and rootlets of Gelsemium sempervirens, a climbing shrub of the natural order Loganiaceæ, having a milky juice, opposite lanceolate, shining leaves, and axillary clusters of from one to five large, funnel-shaped, very fragrant yellow flowers. The fruit is composed of two separable jointed follicles, containing numerous flat-winged seeds. The stem often runs under ground for a considerable distance. The plant is a native of the United States, growing on rich clay soil by the side of streams near the coast, from Virginia to Florida and Texas. In the United States it is commonly known as the wild, yellow, or Carolina jessamine, although in no way related to the true jessamines, which belong to the Oleaceæ. The medicinal properties of the root were discovered by accident, the infusion having been administered instead of that of some other root, with the result of curing the fever for which it was taken. It contains an alkaloid, gelsemine, and gelseminic acid. The physiological action of the drug has been carefully examined. It appears that it has a paralyzing action on the motor centres, affecting successively the third, fifth, and sixth nerves. Its fatal action is due, according to Bartholow, to its causing paralysis of the respiratory muscles, and thus producing death by asphyxia. Wood believes the action is upon the respiratory centre. In large doses it produces alarming symptoms, which have terminated fatally. These appear to vary in different cases, but the more prominent are pain in the forehead and in the eyeballs, giddiness, a feeling of muscular fatigue, lightness in the tongue, slurred pronunciation, labored respiration, ptosis, wide dilatation of the pupils, and impossibility of keeping an erect posture. The mind in most cases remains clear until shortly before death. The earliest and most prominent symptoms of a fatal or dangerous dose is the drooping of the eyelids, which indicates the immediate administration of stimulants; for when the paralysis of the tongue, which ensues, extends to the epiglottis, deglutition becomes impossible, and, unless the sufferer be placed in a forward position, the epiglottis is apt to flap back and close the windpipe. The antidotes which have been found most efficient are carbonate of ammonia, brandy, aromatic spirits of ammonia, and morphine. Gelsemium is used chiefly in the treatment of facial and other neuralgias, particularly the so-called trigeminal neuralgia, which involves branches of the fifth nerve. It has proved valuable in some cases of malarial fever, and is occasionally used as a cardiac depressant and in spasmodic affections, but is inferior for this purpose to other remedies.