Broadly speaking, the genus Scopolia includes five species of inflorescent plants belonging to the Solanaceae family that are indigenous to Europe and Asia. Incidentally, the genus derived its name from Giovanni Scopoli, an 18th century naturalist from Tyrol - an area in the Austrian Alps.
Scopolia is a perennial plant that grows up to 0.5 m in height and has straight stalks that come out every year from the permanent rhizomes lying beneath the ground. The herb bears ovate, smooth leaves that grow on long stalks and have curly edges. While the leaves have a pale green hue, the flowers are usually petite, shaped like bells, appearing between the petiole and the stem (leaf axils) and have a purple-brown color. The herb is often grown for decorative purposes.
In fact, scopolia may be said to be a blend of the Solanaceae species Atropa and genus Hyoscyamus. While the leaf, blossom and rhizome have a resemblance with Atropa, the fruits of scopolia are akin to that of Hyoscyamus. In fact, the Japanese scopolia called Scopolia japonica is so intimately related to the above that it can hardly be considered to be a separate species at all.
Scopolia normally thrives well in humid, rock-strewn places in mountainous regions and has a close resemblance to belladonna - in appearance as well as in its features. These are small plants bearing slender leaves and the fruits burst out throwing the capsule transversely. The tubular root of the plant lies horizontally beneath the ground and is bend just about barrel-shaped and is slightly evened out perpendicularly. The rhizomes are normally found in smaller parts measuring between 2.5 cm and 7.5 cm in length and between 0.8 cm and 1.6 cm in width. These tubular roots are usually cut open prior to putting them in the sunlight for drying. The top surface of the root is distinct as it has very intimately positioned big, carved out scars of the stem. The color of the root surface at the top diverges from yellowish-brown to deep brownish-gray. The rhizomes have small and incisive cracks that reveal the yellowish-white barks, its dark brown or pale brown top stratum, while the inner core is somewhat boney. The rhizomes of Scopolia Carniolica hardly possess any scent and initially its flavor is sweet, but later changes to astringent and potently bitter. On the contrary the rhizome of the Japanese scopolia is comparatively bigger having spherical marks and do not appear whitish when they are split. In addition, these rhizomes have a somewhat drab and sedative smell, but are not bitter to taste.
Compared to belladonna, the barks of Scopolia Carniolica are less chunky and even the enclosed starch granules are lesser in size. In America, scopolia has been used for several years in manufacturing belladonna plasters.
Dried rhizomes, roots.
Scopolia possesses several therapeutic properties, but it is primarily used as a sedative and mydriatic (a drug that causes the pupil of the eye to widen). Although the remedial properties of scopolia have a close resemblance to the characteristics of belladonna, this rudimentary medication has hardly been utilized as an internal medicine. In fact, during the last 10 years or so, most of the commercial hyoscine has been acquired from this herb.
It is important to note here that several researches conducted in the past into the consequences of using scopolamine are incongruous as they were unsuccessful in comprehending the quantifiable distinction between racemic (comprising dextrorotatory and levorotatory isomers in equal proportion) and laevoscopolamine. Racemic, occasionally known as atrocine, has a comparatively less potent impact on the autonomic nerves (a bundle of nerve fibers outside of the central nervous system belonging to the autonomic nervous system), although its effect on the central nervous system is same as laevoscopolamine.
The herb is frequently prescribed as a cerebral tranquilizer particularly to cure hysteria, manias and/ or drug habits. When the medication is used to treat insomnia or sleep disorder and epilepsy, it has the aptitude to enhance the impact of other medicines like bromides and morphine. In addition, the drug is also very effective in alleviating sexual stimulation. A blend of scopolamine and morphine was launched as a new method of anesthesia under the brand name ‘Twilight Sleep'. This sedative may be either used individually or as a prelude to chloroform or ether and it is believed to bring about unusual consequences when used in excessive measures resulting in loss of memory, inclusive of tenderness. Nevertheless, medical practitioners have found this particular anesthesia to be substandard as the mortality rate has been very high owing to its use. In addition, scopolia is often prescribed by herbal medical practitioners especially to treat seizures of the alimentary tract, bile ducts as well as the urinary tract. The herb is also applied externally to alleviate rheumatic or arthritic pain. Broadly speaking, the indications of this herb are akin to that of belladonna.
Habitat and cultivation
Scopolia is indigenous to the eastern Alps and Carpathian mountains where it is found in abundance. The plant is also occasionally cultivated in the gardens for decorative purposes and grown commercially for mass production of tropane alkaloid. The plant propagates by means of its seeds that are sowed between autumn and late spring. The plants may also be grown by division during spring. Scopolia thrives well in rich soils in open areas in woods. The plants prefer humus rich, slightly moist, well drained soil in a sunny to partially shaded location.
Scopolia encloses a number of alkaloids, including scopolamine, cuscohygrine and hysocyamine. In effect, the alkaloid scopolamine present in the herb is analogous to those enclosed in belladonna root, but are more preponderate. Atroscine, also called inactive scopolamine, present in the herb thaws out at 179.6° F and produces tropic acid as well as scopoline by means of hydrolysis. A comparative analysis of several tons of the best quality of the Atropa Belladonna roots and Scopolia rhizomes available in the American market established that while belladonna produced 0.50 per cent of alkaloid on an average, the mean yield of alkaloids by Scopolia was 0.58 per cent.
It is officially permitted by the United States Pharmacopoeia to use the Scopolia Carniolica roots that need not enclose lower than 0.5 per cent alkaloid content for producing an extract as well as a fluid extract. In addition, the United States Pharmacopoeia has acknowledged or standardizes scopolamine hydrobromide.
It is essential to conserve scopolamine in air-tight containers or jar and place them in a dark place. In its pure form, the alkaloid is like a thick fluid. It is advisable to exercise enough caution while tasting the alkaloid and it is essential to taste the substance only after watered down solutions. It is interesting to note that the alkaloid loses about 12 per cent of its weight when dehydrated at 212° F. It may be mentioned here that scopolamine is identical to hyoscinae hydrobromicum. In addition, it may be noted that while euscopol is an optically dormant scopolaminum hydrobromicum, atroscine is an optically static isomer of scopolamine.
The major chemical found in Scopolia Carniolica is L-hyoscyamine that is present along with little quantities of L-scopolamine and atropine (a racemic blend of hyoscyamine) and atroscine (a racemic blend of scopolamine). The leaves of the herb encloses scopolamine, hyoscyamine, cuscohygrine and 3α-tigloyloxytropane that comprises around 0.5 per cent of the entire alkaloid content of the herb.
As scopolia is a very potent medicine and may result in loss of memory when it is taken in excess, it needs to be used cautiously, especially when it is being ingested. Usually, a controlled dosage of the herb should be around 3 mg of the entire alkaloids. An average solitary dose of the herb is normally 0.25 mg, while the maximum single dose should never exceed 1 mg.
Side effects and cautions
It is always advisable to use scopolia under the supervision of qualified and competent healthcare professionals as the herb is not only potent, but may result in serious after effects. Taking the medication prepared with scopolia in excess is extremely poisonous and, in such circumstances, patients may experience aftereffects such as tachycardia (unusually rapid heart beat), hyperthermia (bizarrely high body temperature) and hallucinations. However, no fatal aftereffects of using scopolia have been reported thus far.
Administration of the herb may occasionally result in disorientation and, at times, it may also cause vigorous hallucination as in the case of poisoning by atropine. Taking the drug in excess measure may or may not cause somnolence or induce sleepiness. Other side effects caused by the herbal drug include dilation of the pupils, an exceptionally fast pulse rate as well as dehydration of the mouth accompanied by an unusual hoarse nature of the voice primarily owing to the numbness of the larynx. Strychnine may be administered to patients who may be enduring serious breathing problems as an aftereffect of taking scopolia. It is advisable not to give any new drugs to help patients alleviate delirium owing to the aftereffect of taking scopolia. However, if the situation is acute, they may be administered small measures of bromides or paraldehyde.