Aconite Toxicology

All parts of the plant are poisonous. The highest concentration of poison is contained in the root and fresh seeds.

Aconitine
Lycaconitine

Aconite effects: Aconite poisoning is said to cause a feeling of wearing a fur or a feather coat. Smelling on the flowers is reported as irritating to the nasal mucosae, causing them to swell up. The herb in full flower is reported to emit fumes that cause temporary loss of sight. (Though I have not made such experiences myself.) If ingested, aconite produces an acrid bitter taste. It is poisonous to goats and swine, but is said to have stimulating effects on horses. Because it makes a horse fiery, horse traders would feed their horses aconite before offering them for sale.

Touching the leaves or root are reported to cause symptoms of poisoning, even though the skin is a natural barrier. It is hence recommended to wear gloves when handling the plant, especially when touching the roots. Aconite brought in contact with an open wound on the finger is reported to have caused pain in the whole arm. If the toxins enter the bloodstream through an open wound, they can affect the entire cardiovascular and respiratory system.

Acute aconitine poisoning causes a tickling and burning sensation, followed by paralysation of the tongue and mouth and disabled speech. It may also cause a hallucination of ants crawling all over the fingers, hands and feet, followed by uncontrolled spasms and paralysation of the face muscles and a cold feeling, as if ice water ran through the veins, since aconitine stimulates the body’s low temperature receptors. These symptoms are followed by a decrease of all receptive functions, paralysation of arms and legs, dyspnoe, seeing green, vertigo, ear whistling, trigeminus distress, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and incontinence. Increasing dyspnoe and cardial dysfunctions may ultimately result in death through cardiac arrest or respiratory failure. Depending on the dose, death may set in as fast as within an hour. Aconitine does not effect the cerebral functions. The patient may fall into a coma only during the very last stage or remains clear of consciousness until the last second, as in strychnine poisoning.

Treatment is mainly supportive. All patients require close monitoring of blood pressure and cardiac rhythm. The stomach is emptied by tube or a non-depressant emetic. Gastrointestinal decontamination with activated charcoal must happen within 1 hour after ingestion. The major physiological antidote is atropine, which is used to treat the bradycardia. Other drugs used for ventricular arrhythmia include lidocaine, amiodarone, bretylium, flecainide, procainamide and mexiletine. Cardiopulmonary bypass is indicated if the symptoms are refractory to treatment with these drugs. Successful use of charcoal hemo-perfusion has been claimed in patients with severe aconite poisoning.

Historical antidotes are atropine and digitalis or strophanthin, injected subcutaneously in maximal dose. Alcohol, strychnine, and warmth have also been employed in the past.

Toxic dose: 0,2 mg cause symptoms of poisoning, 2 mg are said to be lethal. The dried herb is tenable for one year. One report cites, skin-contact with the leaves picked with barren hands caused tickling, numbness and effects on the circulatory system. Indian Aghoris smoke the herb in tantric rituals. There are no reports about dose.

Medicinal uses: In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Aconitum carmichaelii, Fu Zi, is used to treat “coldness”, general debility, and “Yang deficiency”. Used are the root (Tubera Aconiti, Radix Aconiti, Aconiti tuber) and herb (Herba Aconiti, Aconiti herba).

Other: According to Christian Rätsch, the nectar of the flowers may produce a psychoactive honey.

References and further reading:

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