Kills Snake Venom
A sure antidote for the snake poison has been found. The discovery will mark an epoch in the history of medicine. For thousands of years the secret has been sought in vain. It was Prince Lucien Bonaparte who, in 1843, first made a chemical analysis of the venom of the viper separating its active principle, which he called “viperine.” A similar principle has ben separated from the poison of the rattlesnake by Dr. Weir Mitchell, which he has termed “crotaline.” But until now no knowledge has been obtained of anything antagonistic to this toxic agent though alleged “cures” for snake bite have been plentiful enough. The remedy so long looked for has been found at last in strychnine. The deadly fluid secreted by certain species of snakes was made a subject of study from a very early date, but the old-time investigators knew not how to solve the intricate problems of organic chemistry. All that they accomplished was to create a prodigious number of antidotes, so-called, most of which in their turn were declared infallible. Not one of them was worth a penny. The most notable work in this line has been performed by Dr. Weir Mitchell of Philadelphia who, for the sake of obtaining sufficient quantities of the poison has sometimes kept as many as 100 serpents in his laboratory. His method of securing the venom for examination was to the seize the snake by the neck with tongs, forcing a saucer between the jaws. The enraged reptile would then bite into the saucer, on which the poison emitted was left. The substance thus obtained is a yellowish, transparent, sticky fluid, without smell or taste, easily dissolved in water. When dried it will retain its toxic properties for any length of time apparently, looking like a gum or varnish, and it has been preserved for twenty-two years without altering in the least. On this ground it is advisable to handle with caution even the dried fangs of snakes long dead. Boiling, unless continued for a long time, does not render the fluid harmless.
Alcohol has long held the first place in popular esteem as an antidote for snake poison. In truth, it is not such at all, though useful to sustain the vitality of the person bitten against the attack made upon it by the toxic agent. It stimulates the nerve centers and the action of the heart, if taken in small doses. But the mistake ordinarily made is to pour into the patient large quantities of whisky, the effect of which is exactly the opposite of that required. In such great doses alcohol depresses instead of stimulating the vital functions. Intoxication, far from helping the cure, aids the poison. And, by the way, people have often died from snake bite who were bitten when dead drunk.
With the newly discovered antidote the case is exactly the opposite. Danger is far more likely to result from hesitation in using it liberally than from an overdose. Strychnine–itself a poison scarcely less terrible than snake venom–acts directly upon the nerves, stimulating and turning on their batteries, which the snake poison seeks to depress and turn off. Acting with the unerring certainty of a chemical test, it neutralizes the effects of the serpent venom. But it must be administered in extraordinary quantities, even to the point of production spasmodic twitching of the muscles.
In fact, the ordinary doses must be greatly exceeded, and the administration of the strychnine must be continued, even if the total quantity injected within an hour or two amounts to what in the absence of snake poison would be a dangerous if not fatal dose. The few failures among the numerous success with the drug thus far recorded have nearly all be traceable to an insufficiency of the antidote. In urgent cases as much as twenty to twenty-five minutes should be given to any persons over fifteen years of age. If at the end of twenty minutes the symptoms show no abatement, a second injection of the same strength should be made promptly, and unless then a decided improvement is perceptible, a third one after a like interval. The action of the drug when applied as an antidote is not cumulative. The tendency to relapses is always great where much venom has been absorbed. Apparently yielding to the strychnine for the time, the insidious poison, after an interval during which it seems to have been conquered, all at once reasserts its presence and has to be met by fresh injections, regardless of the quantity previously administered. With children the amount of the remedy to be given must not be judged by the age of the child, but by the amount of venom to be counteracted, the degree of danger chiefly depending upon the size of the snake. The bigger the reptile, of course, the more poison it has. Furthermore, it is to be remembered that of all American serpents the rattlesnake is the most dangerous, the copperhead less so and the water moccasin least.
Don’t try this at home! Go to the hospital please, if you’ve been bitten. And if you have, why are you reading this on the internet??
Dr Mitchell was an eminent neurologist turned author. One of his most famous works is The Autobiography of a Quack, described by the Literature, Arts and Medicine Database as “cleverly constructed and written with a keen sense of satire”.
I can’t imagine anyone wanting to poison themselves with strychnine because of a snake bite. The cure would be just as bad as the sickness. You can read more about different poisons and their antidotes here. The idea of using strychnine as an antidote to snake venon has apparently not made it to the web. At least not until now.
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