THIS year-book is divided into several parts—an introduction, which gives a short account of all that has been done in the year, a section in chemistry, another on materia medica and pharmacy, one on notes and formulæ, another on bibliography, and lastly, the transactions of the British Pharmaceutical Conference at York. A number of short abstracts of interesting papers are included in the work. The excitement caused by the recent case of poisoning by aconitine is likely to make the reader turn first to the papers on this alkaloid. Dr. Wright has furnished his researches on the alkaloids of aconite, the chief being aconitine, which is the active principle of the ordinary monkshopd, and the pseud-aconitine, which is the still more deadly alkaloid of the aconitum ferox. Powerful as those poisons are, one much more powerful has been obtained by Dr. Langgaard from a species of Japanese aconite. Another paper, of much interest from a forensic point of view, is one on ptomaines, or alkaloidal bodies found in human corpses after exhumation. These are actual poisons, formed in the body by putrefaction, and bearing considerable resemblance, both in their chemical reactions and poisonous effects upon animals, to natural vegetable alkaloids. This subject is one of very great importance, as the condemnation of perfectly innocent persons might result from one of these ptomaines being mistaken for a vegetable poison. There are a number of other researches on the active principles of various plants, remedial and poisonous, but all these yield in interest to those on the synthesis of similar bodies, for the great object of medicine is to cure, not by chance, but with certainty, and towards this object all branches of medical science are as present tending. It was formerly the reproach of medicine that doctors poured drugs of which they knew little into bodies of which they knew less; but now, thanks to experiments made upon animals, instead of upon patients, they now know a good deal both of the bodies they have to treat and the remedies which they are using. Hitherto, however, they have been compelled to use many powerful substances derived from plants, but varying more or less in their constitutional actions. Numbers of these substances have now been examined, and it is probable that before long we shall make them artificially. Prof. Ladenburg has now obtained atropine and hyoscyamine from the nightshade, thorn-apple, henbane, and Duboisia, and has lately got a third principle, hyoscine, from henbane. By decomposing atropine he he obtained tropic acid and tropine, and by recombining these products he again formed atropine. In conjunction with L. Rügheimer, he has now succeeded in making tropic acid synthetically from aceto-phenone, and we now await the synthesis of tropine in order to complete the method of preparing atropine artificially. M. Grimaux has succeeded in converting morphia into codia, another of the alkaloids of opium; and such researches as these, taken in connection with the rapid advance of our knowledge regarding the physiological action of these substances, leads us to hope that the day may not be so far distant when a medical man, wishing to produce a certain effect upon his patient, will no longer have to search haphazard amongst various plants, but will direct the chemist to make the particular body which he requires. We may mention still another paper, less interesting to medical men, but more so to the public at large. Prof. Baeyer succeeded, some years ago, in preparing indigo artificially, but the process was so expensive that it was not likely to be of much practical importance. He has now, however, succeeded in effecting the synthesis in another way, by which he can not only produce the indigo much more cheaply, but can produce it within the fibre of the material to be dyed. The artificial production of alizarin has already wrought a great change in the commercial relations of the South of France, and if indigo be produced synthetically at a lower price than it can be grown, similar alterations may result in some parts of our Indian Empire.
The Year-Book of Pharmacy, and Transactions of the Pharmaceutical Conference.
8vo. Pp. 560. (London: Churchill, 1881.)
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