NARCOTICS (Fa., Narcotlques ; GER., Schlafmittel).
The term " narcotic " is applied to a class of drugs, which, in medicinal doses, allay morbid susceptibility, relieve pain, and produce sleep ; but which, in poisonous doses, create stupor, coma, convulsions, and even death. The physiological effects of the various narcotics are always essentially different, each possessing its own marked peculiarities. Though the use of narcotics is regarded as an indulgence rather than as supplying any real want, it is remarkable that almost every country or race has its own, either indigenous or imported, pointing to the universal existence of the craving.
The ohief narcotic, because most widely used, is tobacco ; next in order come opium, hemp, and coca. These are the most important. Of minor significance, are ava or long pepper, betel-pepper, bull-hoof, emetic holly, ledum, pituri, rhododendrons, Siberian fungus, Syrian rue, thorn-apples, and tumheki. All these will be described in alphabetical order in the present article. Another class of products possessing narcotic principles, noticed in other portions of this work, are belladonna, cocculus indices, henbane, and lactucarium (see Drugs, pp. 794, 808, 812, and 815); and hops (see Hops, p. 1130). A fourth series, whose members are too insignificant to warrant any description, comprises clary, yarrow, ryle, sweet gale, Armenian azalea, Kalmia spp., Andromeda app., &c.
Ava, or Intoxicating Long leaves of Piper meth ysticum are chewed along with the betel-nut, instead of those of the betel-pepper, in many parts of Further Asia. The thick, woody, rugged, aromatic root-stalk, reduced to a pulp, and steeped in water, forms an intoxicating yet most refreshing beverage in the South Sea Islands. For its medicinal uses, see Drugs—Kava-kava, p. 815.
or leaves of Piper [Chavica] Betle and P. [C.] Siriboa are used in conjunction with betel-nut as a narcotic masticatory throughout a large portion of the East. It is very generally cultivated. The plantations are laid out like bean-fields, the plants standing 18 in. apart, and requiring much water. They are trained up poles for the first eighteen months, and are then directed around fast-growing young trees, planted meanwhile. The leaves are gathered in the 3rd-4th year, and the plants bear for 6-7 years, after which they die. In N. India and towards the Himalayas, where the climate is moist enough, the plants are raised under sheds, 20-50 yd. long, 8-12 yd. broad, and scarcely 4 ft. high, made of bamboo, wattled all
around and on the top. Slender rods are provided for them to climb up. This mode of cultivation is profitable, and extensively prevails, though twenty-four hours' exposure to the open air would kill the plants. There seems to be much probability that the narcotic effect of betel-chewing is due much more to these leaves than to the betel-nut (see Nuts—Areca).
Bhang, Charas, Ganja, sap of the hemp-plant (Cannabis sativa), well known in Europe as producing a valuable fibre (see Fibrous Substances, p. 934), contains a powerful narcotic principle. This principle is doubtless present to some degree in the plant wherever grown ; but in northern climates, its proportion is so small as to have escaped general observation, and that which does exist is very mild in character. In the warmer countries of the East, it is developed in a marked degree in the flowers, leaves, and young stems of the plant, and is the object for which the plant is grown. Its cultivation is largely and systematically conducted in the districts of Bogra and Rajah:Ili, north of Calcutta ; even more widely in Turkestan, and most of the trans-Himalayan countries ; also in Persia and Turkey, and throughout Mohammedan territory generally ; and the use of the narcotic has extended to the Hottentots in S. Africa, the negroes of W. Africa, the Indians of Brazil, and the Malaya. It is consumed in one form or another by 200-300 millions of people, chiefly Mohammedan and Hindu.
The chief constituents of the commercial narcotic are a resin and a volatile oil. The resin is obtained as a brown amorphous solid, and seems to be the seat of energetic action. Its effect is so potent that gr. taken internally suffices to produce narcotism, and 1 gr. causes complete intoxication. Dr. Preobaschensky states that he has separated the narcotic principle as an alkaloid, and makes it identical with nicotine, but his observations do not seem to have been verified. The oil is obtained only after repeated treatment of successive quantities of the plant in the same water. Freshly gathered plants just after flowering have afforded 0'3 per cent. of this oil, which possesses some active properties. The narcotic receives its various names according to the portion of the plant which yields it, and the method of preparation. These will now be described.