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What is Nux Vomica?

By Synthia L. Rose
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Nux vomica is a toxic herb from the Strychnine tree, which grows in Australia, Sri Lanka and the East Indies. It is sometimes known by the common names “Quaker button” and “poison nut.” Historically, nux vomica has been used to kill vermin. It was also once used internally to treat livestock and humans as a form of herbal therapy. Due to fears of poisoning and death, herbal therapy with nux vomica is no longer widely practiced.

Its reputation as a medicinal plant stems from the abundance of alkaloids in nux vomica. These nitrogen-based plant chemicals can make users more immune to illness, despite the presence of poison, according to some alternative medicine practitioners. Alkaloids in nux vomica are also credited with increasing the body’s response to stimuli by making nerve centers in the body more sensitive.

This increased sensitivity leads to increased reflexivity of certain muscles. Sometimes muscle reactions to this herb can be too strong, leading to spasms and convulsions. Muscles in the spine and legs are most responsive to the herb, but all muscles, including the heart and lung muscles, can be affected.

The ability to trigger muscle reaction and contractions historically made the plant an effective treatment to induce bowel movements or vomiting. It was used in tonics purportedly to heal the digestive tract, cleanse the body, and relieve constipation. Nux vomica was also used to enhance circulation and respiration due to its muscle stimulation powers.

Some users of nux vomica report that all five senses are heightened, allowing them to hear, touch, taste, smell, and see more vibrantly. This has led to the recreational use of the herb with narcotics. Law enforcement studies claim that the illegal drugs cocaine, LSD, and heroin are sometimes laced with nux vomica.

Those who seek to use the plant for therapeutic benefits use it only in very small amounts. The herb is usually used in a concoction with no more than a 1-percent concentration. At high concentrations, convulsions might result. Medicines containing nux vomica contain either the alkaloid strychnine or brucine.

Strychnine is primarily used since it is stronger than brucine. At high doses of strychnine, muscle spasms in the back are possible. According to medical studies, some patients’ spines have curved backward due to the convulsions from excessive strychnine. This was accompanied by painful spasms, lethargy, and occasionally death, medical reports claimed. Strychnine is usually delivered through oral means or an injection with a salt-water mixture.

Brucine is typically available in tinctures, powder or extracts. Although it is not as powerful as strychnine, medical experts warn that it can still be a dangerous supplement. Signs that a person has been exposed to too much nux vomica include muscle soreness, tight jaw, and painful breathing. Rigid limbs and hyperactivity are also symptoms.

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