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There are many medicines in use today where physicians and doctors have to walk a fine line when it comes to administering accurate and safe dosages. For many medicines, the therapeutic dose of a compound is very close to a toxic dose of the chemical. Give too little of a medication, and it won’t take effect. But too much will create dangerous side effects and may even lead to poisoning deaths. This fine line separating toxic doses from safe and effective doses is present in medications like lithium, stimulants for ADHD, and certain drugs for seizure disorders. The same principle applies to a few homeopathic remedies today, including aconite, which is sometimes used to alleviate anxiety symptoms. For patients with mild to moderate anxiety, homeopathic remedies can work to alleviate symptoms. But finding the right solution and figuring out the correct dose to use can take some trial and error.
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What is aconite?
Aconite comes from a perennial plant called Aconitum. Aconitum looks similar to a delphinium, or larkspur, flower. The Aconitum plant will produce a helmet-shaped purple or blue flower, but some species of the plant produce white, pink, or yellow buds. In the U.S., there are more than 100 different species of Aconitum that grow in temperate zones around the country, and some parts of Canada. It’s also possible to find Aconitum growing in Asia, Europe, and Africa. Aconite is found in these plants, and it is a poisonous alkaloid compound. In ancient cultures, shepherds would use aconite to lace bait and then kill wolves to protect their flock.
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When was aconite first used as a medical treatment?
For hundreds of years, people have been using Aconitum byproducts to create both medicines and poisons. All parts of the plant are considered toxic, but the roots of the plant are the most poisonous to humans if ingested. Byproducts and extracts from the Aconitum plant have been used in traditional medicines, and are part of many herbal teas in traditional Eastern and herbal medicine. Aconitum extracts and aconite have been used as a fever reducer, and for pain and high blood pressure. The extracts have also been used as diuretics, to increase sweating, reduce heart rate, and as a sedative. In some traditional medicines, the toxic root extracts are mixed into ginger or licorice. Poisonous Aconitum extracts were also used on arrows tips during wars and conflicts.
In Western medicine, aconite was mainly used as a tincture and applied as a topical for arthritis pain, nerve pain, and swelling. The substance was first used for medicinal purposes in 1763 in Austria. Because the therapeutic dose of aconite is so close to the toxic dose of the compound, it was soon removed from medical books and encyclopedias in the early 1800s. Even though aconite and other derivatives from the Aconitum plant were known to be poisonous, doctors did notice some beneficial effects from the plant extracts, and it continued to be used in some medical settings at minimal doses.
What is it used for today?
Homeopathic remedies will call for aconite to ease anxiety and agitation, reduce fevers, headaches, and congestion from colds and respiratory infections. Aconite is also used in homeopathy to alleviate symptoms of exposure to temperature extremes. It’s possible to purchase aconite in health food stores as an over-the-counter supplement. However, it has a poor reputation and is dangerous in the wrong hands. The ancient Roman emperor Claudius was thought to have been murdered with aconite. And as recently as 2010, a woman was convicted of killing someone with a poisonous serving of aconite-laced curry.
It is possible to purchase dried and powdered root from a brick-and-mortar supplement store or online. People can find aconite powder in pellets, capsules, liquid drops, and tablets. Most aconite products will give detailed and precise dosing instructions for both adults and children. Some aconite products are specifically marketed toward children, and aconite today is mainly used to treat anxiety symptoms.
Some homeopathic enthusiasts believe that aconite is useful for treating fevers, heart disease, pain, and inflammation. However, research into the herbal remedies effectiveness for these issues is not well understood, and there aren’t many published studies on aconite. One current study found that aconite may have some therapeutic benefits, although how it affects the body long term is not well understood at this time. More studies are needed before clinicians can draw concrete conclusions on long-term effects and risks.
How effective is it?
Aconite is a potent and fast-acting alkaloid substance. The effects of aconite derive straight from the alkaloid compounds it contains. Some other examples of plant-based alkaloids that are used in a variety of settings today are caffeine and nicotine. The poison strychnine is also an alkaloid compound. Alkaloids that derive from plants have a long and varied history of being used as medicines and treatments. Today, many plant-based alkaloids are used to make medications to prevent migraines, tremors, motion sickness, and even asthma. While alkaloids can be helpful and powerful chemicals for treating health issues, they can also be toxic at incorrect doses.
Before the modern medical interventions, fevers from a variety of different infections and health problems were frequent occurrences. Because people did not have a good understanding of what caused a fever and how to treat a fever, they often explored a range of different herbal remedies to reduce temperature. Aconite was well-known as a fever reducer and was commonly used to treat fevers and instances of tachycardia since aconite could also slow the pulse.
Medical books from the late 1700s would instruct practitioners to give aconite to a feverish or tachycardic person at one drop every fifteen minutes for one hour. Then, repeat the dose once an hour for up to six hours until the fever decreased. Dosing times and amounts were strict and precise, and people understood how toxic aconite could be if given at too high a dose or too frequently.
Are there any adverse side effects of using aconite?
Aconite is an incredibly toxic substance, and it’s very easy for someone to poison themselves. The first symptom of aconite poisoning is tingling in the face and sudden numbness of the tongue and mouth. Poisoning victims will also experience a sensation of bugs crawling on the skin, followed by a sudden decrease in body temperature. The person will become clammy and cold, and then experience a drop in heart rate and blood pressure. Nausea, vomiting, and gastric pain become pronounced, and then the pupils will dilate to the point of causing blurred vision. Facial paralysis is also common. Death typically happens within a few hours after ingesting a toxic dose of aconite.
Are there any long-term risks?
The long-term consequences of using aconite are not fully understood at this time. Research is still ongoing in this area. What is known is that too high of a dose of aconite, or taking aconite too frequently can result in poisoning.
There are no antidotes to aconite poisoning. If someone suspects they’ve been poisoned with aconite, they need immediate medical attention. Doctors will monitor a person’s vitals and will administer certain medications that can counteract some of the effects of aconite. In extreme cases, an aconite poisoning victim may need to undergo cardiac bypass surgery to survive a fatal dose of aconite.
What other alternative treatment methods are there for anxiety?
Because aconite is so toxic, people with anxiety symptoms should steer clear of this supplement. There are other natural and safe remedies for anxiety symptoms on the market today that do not come with a risk of poisoning.
Anxiety is a chronic and lifelong condition, and it is understandable that someone with this disorder may not want to take prescription medication for the rest of their life. For cases of mild to moderate anxiety, talk therapy in combination with lifestyle changes, and using safe supplements like CBD may be useful in managing anxiety symptoms. Anyone taking medication for anxiety should always talk to their doctor before stopping their medication and switching to something else.
In both human and animal studies on CBD, researchers found that the compound had some level of beneficial, therapeutic effect on anxiety symptoms. Unlike aconite, CBD will not reduce fevers, nor will it slow heart rate. If anything, CBD will reduce both resting and active blood pressure for a short period after someone uses CBD. People who are taking a prescription blood pressure medication should speak to a doctor before using a CBD product.
CBD will bind to the body’s naturally occurring endocannabinoid receptors and is sufficient for producing a calming effect and increased feelings of well-being and equilibrium. Unlike aconite, CBD is non-toxic and does not come with a risk of poisoning. While CBD does derive from the cannabis plant, it is not the same compound in marijuana that gets someone high. CBD is not psychoactive, and the most common side effects are dry mouth and drowsiness.