CROTON OIL (Crotonis Oleum), an oil prepared from the seeds of Croton Tiglium, a tree belonging to the natural order Euphorbiaceae, and native or cultivated in India and the Malay Islands. The tree is from 15 to 20 ft. in height, and has few and spreading branches, alternate, oval-oblong leaves, acuminate at the point, and covered when young with stellate hairs, and terminal racemes of small, downy, greenish-yellow, monoecious flowers. The male blossoms have five petals and fifteen stamens; the females have no petals but a large oblong ovary bearing three bifid styles. The fruit or capsule is obtusely three-cornered, and about the size of a hazel-nut; it contains three cells each enclosing a seed. The seeds resemble those of the castor-oil plant; they are about half an inch long, and two-fifths of an inch broad, and have a cinnamon-brown, brittle integument; between the two halves of the kernel lie the large cotyledons and radicle. The ocular distinction between the two kinds of seeds may be of great practical importance. The most obvious distinction is that the castor-oil seeds have a polished and mottled surface. The kernels contain from 50 to 60 % of oil, which is obtained by pressing them, when bruised to a pulp, between hot plates. Croton oil is a transparent and viscid liquid of a brownish or pale-yellow tinge, and acrid, peculiar and persistent taste, a disagreeable odour and acid reaction. It is soluble in volatile oils, carbon disulphide, and ether, and to some extent in alcohol. It contains acetic, butyric and valeric acids, with glycerides of acids of the same series, and a volatile body, C 6 H 8 O 2 , tiglic acid, metameric with angelic acid, and identical with methylcrotonicacid, CH 3 -CH:C(CH 3 )(CO 2 H). The odour is due to various volatile acids, which are present to the extent of about i %. A substance called crotonal appears to be responsible for its external, but not its internal, action. The latter is probably due to crotolinic acid, C 9 H 14 O 2 , which has active purgative properties. The maximum dose of croton oil is two minims, one-fourth of that quantity being usually ample.
Applied to the skin, croton oil acts as a powerful irritant, inducing so much inflammation that definite pustules are formed. The destruction of the true skin gives rise to ugly scars which constitute, together with the pain caused by this application, abundant reason why croton oil should never be employed externally. Despite the pharmacopoeial liniment and the practice of a few, it may be said that this employment of croton oil is now entirely without justification or excuse.
Taken internally, even in the minute doses already detailed, croton oil very soon causes much colic and the occurrence of a fluid diarrhoea which usually recurs several times. It is characteristic of this purgative that it is a hydragogue even in minimal dose, the fluid secretions of the bowel being most markedly increased. The drug appears to act only upon the small intestine. In somewhat larger doses it produces severe gastro-enteritis. The flow of bile is somewhat increased. Such effects may all be produced", even up to the discharge of blood, by the absorption of croton oil from the skin.
The minuteness of the dose, the certainty of the action, and the large amount of fluid drained away constitute this the best drug for administration to an unconscious patient (especially in cases of apoplexy, when it is desirable to remove fluid from the body), or to insane patients who refuse to take any drug. One drop of the oil, placed on the back of the tongue, must inevitably be swallowed by reflex action. A dose should never be repeated. The characters of this drug obviously centraindicate its use in all cases of organic disease or obstruction of the bowel, in pregnancy, or in cases of constipation in children or the aged.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)