By FRANK H. MOERK, PH. G.
Read at the Pharmaceutical Meeting, October 18.
Professor Maisch some days ago handed to me a small package of a powder, stating that he wished I would examine it, as it was said, or, more correctly, known to be a specific for cancer. The information furnished with the sample was, that it was supposed to consist largely of "horse-sorrel." Professor Maisch suggested that it might contain arsenic.
The powder was black in color, but white particles were easily discernible in it.
On treating a portion with warm water, a colorless solution was obtained after filtration, thus indicating the absence of plants or parts of plants. This solution on evaporation and heating failed to char; another indication of the absence of vegetable matter. However, on testing for arsenic, by addition of hydrochloric acid and hydrogen sulphide, a copious yellow precipitate was obtained. The yellow precipitate of arsenite of silver was gotten by the use of an aqueous solution of the powder and silver nitrate with a small quantity of ammonium hydrate.
Insoluble in water and dilute hydrochloric acid was a black powder, now entirely free from white particles, having the appearance and properties of charcoal; on ignition this left only a trace of ash.
Another experiment was made to prove the presence of both carbon and arsenious oxide; this was to introduce a small quantity of the sample into a small bulb-tube, and heating a metallic mirror and a ring of small crystals formed beyond the part heated.
The sample was now examined quantitatively as follows:
A weighed quantity was dried at 100° C. Loss due to moisture, 0.99 per cent. The residue was digested with three consecutive portions of hydrochloric acid, filtered through a weighed filter and thoroughly washed into a tared beaker. The insoluble portion on the filter consisted of a purified charcoal amounting to 26.07 per cent.
The solution in the beaker was evaporated to dryness, in doing so the arsenious oxide was volatilized, possibly as arsenious chloride. The residue, which was free from arsenic, equaled 10.75 per cent., of which 6.40 per cent. was extractive and 4.35 was ash. The amount of arsenic was taken by difference.
The result of the analysis is that the powder contains
In a number of books examined, I found no mention of charcoal containing or yielding organic matter to solvents, so I thought it of sufficient interest to examine this point. Some willow charcoal was exhausted with dilute hydrochloric acid, and, on evaporation was obtained a residue of a brown color, agreeing with the one gotten in the above analysis. This residue amounted to several per cent., and on ignition yielded a white ash.
REMARKS BY THE EDITOR.—Years ago we had heard of this cancer cure, but did not succeed in obtaining the powder, until Dr. Pursell placed a small quantity in our hands. The quantitative results obtained by Mr. Moerk's analysis, render it probable that the powder is made by mixing two parts of arsenious acid with one part of wood charcoal, and that the deviation from this proportion is simply the result of the difference in the specific gravity of the two ingredients favoring a partial separation of the heavy arsenic. This proportion gives arsenic far in excess of that contained in the arsenical powders of Swediaur, Cosme, Dupuytren, Pluckett and others. The letter of Dr. Pursell from which we quote below, gives some particulars which are of general interest.
BRISTOL, PA., OCT. 8th, 1887.
The history of this powder is interesting inasmuch as it has undoubtedly cured many cases of epitheliome and other cancerous growths, and now has great reputation in the upper part of New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. I am informed that considerable amounts of money have been offered for the secret of its composition but constantly declined. The first case of which I have direct knowledge of its use was in a man over sixty, who had a rapidly growing epitheliome on the lower lip. I had attended the funeral of his brother, who had died from a precisely similar ailment, a few years before, and had but little doubt the result of this would be the same. It, however, was effectually and permanently cured by the application of this powder, the man dying some years later of another disease. It may be interesting to know that he was a great smoker of a short clay pipe.
A more prominent case is referred to and illustrated in Prof. Gross' Surgery, sixth edition, second volume, page, 138. I am very well acquainted with this man, and his disease and treatment. Prof. Gross states he diagnosed the ailment epitheliome; he operated upon it and it returned when (that is before he published the sixth edition), he lost sight of the case. Subsequently, however, this man returned to Prof. Gross, who again removed the growth by the knife, and this time seared the surface with the actual cautery. I saw the patient frequently and the healing process was never completely established. In a few weeks it became evident the sore was enlarging and getting worse. The powder was applied for about a month, a large eschar separated, healing was induced by emollient applications, the cure was complete and he remains well to this day, although fully five years have elapsed. I could cite a number of other cases, four that I now recall, here in Bristol. I have not known of any case in which the powder has been applied where there has not been a cure; of course, there may be mistakes in diagnosis, but Dr. Gross will hardly be charged with making one.
The mode of application has been to lightly cover the surface with the powder; apply over it, to protect the powder and keep it in place, a piece of black silk, somewhat larger than the ulcer and made adhesive by egg albumen. Considerable pain is, of course, produced; but the first application, and all subsequent ones, is allowed to remain until the pain leaves, which will be in five or six days. A new one is then applied in the same way and repeated from time to time until an eschar is detached without force. A poultice of elm bark is applied and the ulcer allowed to heal. It may be the charcoal found by analysis is from sheep sorrel, as the person using it was known to collect that plant on different occasions. While the use of arsenious acid for external application has long been made, yet every writer emphasizes the danger in using it where the cuticle is removed, and I imagine most physicians like myself have feared to so use it.
H. PURSELL, M.D.
The American Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. 59, 1887, was edited by John M. Maisch.