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What are Alkaloids?

December 10, 2012 by  
Filed under Alkaloids

What are Alkaloids?

An alkaloid is a naturally occurring plant-derived organic compound. Alkaloids are composed of oxygen, hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen. Many alkaloids are used as medicine and others are considered toxic. The most common alkaloid that is seen in everyday life is caffeine. Some other alkaloids are the drugs atropine, quinine, and the deadly nightshade plant.

History of alkaloids

Assortment of Alkaloids

The name ‘alkaloids’ was introduced by the German chemist Carl F.W. Meissner in 1819. It is derived from the Latin root: alkali which means “ashes of plants”. The first uses of alkaloids were seen in Homer’s The Odyssey. Homer refers to a gift given to Helen by the Egyptian queen, a drug bringing oblivion. The alkaloids were probably opium which is derived from the opium poppy. Actual studies of alkaloids did not begin until the 19th century.  German chemist Friedrich Serturner isolated the first alkaloid from opium. He named this isolated alkaloid morphium for the Greek God Morpheus (the god of dreams), which is better known as morphine by those of us today.

How common are alkaloids?

Alkaloids are produced by a large number of organisms. The organisms which produce alkaloids include bacteria, fungi, plants, and animals. At least 10,000 alkaloids are known. Alkaloids are found in 20-30% of all plant species. Alkaloids are common in plant families such as Solanaceae (Tomato and Potato Family) and Apocynaceae (Dogbane and Milkweed family) which makes up 60-70% of alkaloids. Alkaloids have a complex chemical structure. Alkaloids always contain a nitrogen molecule. Alkaloids can also contain molecules of oxygen, carbon and hydrogen.

Types of alkaloids

The effects of alkaloids are varied. Though, all alkaloids cause a physiological effect on the human body. For instance, ergot alkaloid is toxic and even deadly. Cocaine and caffeine are two of the most common plant-based alkaloids that are also considered toxic to the human body although they are seen most often in human consumption.

Poisonous alkaloids are known as tropane alkaloids. They are famous throughout history for their use in making poisons. Poisonous alkaloids are typically derived from the nightshade plant.

Some of the medicinal alkaloids are atropine, scopolamine and quinine. Atropine was initially used as a poison but now is sometimes used for the stimulation of the central nervous system and is used to dilate the pupils of the eyes. Scopolamine, which is an alkaloid similar to atropine, is most commonly used to treat motion sickness. Quinine, is an alkaloid compound, found in the plant cinchona succirubra is the medicinal choice for the treatment of malaria.

There are alkaloids that have narcotic effects also. The alkaloid most often used for its narcotic properties is morphine. The morphine alkaloids are derived from the opium poppy. Morphine alkaloids are some of the oldest drugs in the history of the world. The first use of these morphine alkaloids was around 3500 B.C. Morphine alkaloids just like caffeine and cocaine, are still used today. Morphine alkaloids are used as an analgesic, or pain reliever.

Another medicinal alkaloid is vincristine. Vincristine is now used to treat non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia in children. Vinblastine, which is an alkaloid derived from the same plant as vincristine is believed to be an effective treatment for Hodgkin’s disease.

There are thousands of alkaloids all over the planet. Some are used for medicinal purposes; some are used for toxic purposes. Alkaloids make the base of most pharmaceutical drugs you take today. Whether you knew it or not alkaloids have been a part of your survival since the day you were born.

An alkaloid is a naturally occurring plant-derived organic compound. Alkaloids are composed of oxygen, hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen. Many alkaloids are used as medicine and others are considered toxic. The most common alkaloid that is seen in everyday life is caffeine. Some other alkaloids are the drugs atropine, quinine, and the deadly nightshade plant.

History of alkaloids

The name ‘alkaloids’ was introduced by the German chemist Carl F.W. Meissner in 1819. It is derived from the Latin root: alkali which means “ashes of plants”. The first uses of alkaloids were seen in Homer’s The Odyssey. Homer refers to a gift given to Helen by the Egyptian queen, a drug bringing oblivion. The alkaloids were probably opium which is derived from the opium poppy. Actual studies of alkaloids did not begin until the 19th century.  German chemist Friedrich Serturner isolated the first alkaloid from opium. He named this isolated alkaloid morphium for the Greek God Morpheus (the god of dreams), which is better known as morphine by those of us today.

How common are alkaloids?

Alkaloids are produced by a large number of organisms. The organisms which produce alkaloids include bacteria, fungi, plants, and animals. At least 10,000 alkaloids are known. Alkaloids are found in 20-30% of all plant species. Alkaloids are common in plant families such as Solanaceae (Tomato and Potato Family) and Apocynaceae (Dogbane and Milkweed family) which makes up 60-70% of alkaloids. Alkaloids have a complex chemical structure. Alkaloids always contain a nitrogen molecule. Alkaloids can also contain molecules of oxygen, carbon and hydrogen.

Types of alkaloids

The effects of alkaloids are varied. Though, all alkaloids cause a physiological effect on the human body. For instance, ergot alkaloid is toxic and even deadly. Cocaine and caffeine are two of the most common plant-based alkaloids that are also considered toxic to the human body although they are seen most often in human consumption.

Poisonous alkaloids are known as tropane alkaloids. They are famous throughout history for their use in making poisons. Poisonous alkaloids are typically derived from the nightshade plant.

Some of the medicinal alkaloids are atropine, scopolamine and quinine. Atropine was initially used as a poison but now is sometimes used for the stimulation of the central nervous system and is used to dilate the pupils of the eyes. Scopolamine, which is an alkaloid similar to atropine, is most commonly used to treat motion sickness. Quinine, is an alkaloid compound, found in the plant cinchona succirubra is the medicinal choice for the treatment of malaria.

There are alkaloids that have narcotic effects also. The alkaloid most often used for its narcotic properties is morphine. The morphine alkaloids are derived from the opium poppy. Morphine alkaloids are some of the oldest drugs in the history of the world. The first use of these morphine alkaloids was around 3500 B.C. Morphine alkaloids just like caffeine and cocaine, are still used today. Morphine alkaloids are used as an analgesic, or pain reliever.

Another medicinal alkaloid is vincristine. Vincristine is now used to treat non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia in children. Vinblastine, which is an alkaloid derived from the same plant as vincristine is believed to be an effective treatment for Hodgkin’s disease.

There are thousands of alkaloids all over the planet. Some are used for medicinal purposes; some are used for toxic purposes. Alkaloids make the base of most pharmaceutical drugs you take today. Whether you knew it or not alkaloids have been a part of your survival since the day you were born.

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