Can we dispense with Ayurvedic samskaras?
Crude aconite is an extremely lethal substance. However, the science of Ayurveda looks upon aconite as a therapeutic entity. Crude aconite is always processed i.e. it undergoes 'samskaras' before being utilised in the Ayurvedic formulations. This study was undertaken in mice, to ascertain whether 'processed' aconite is less toxic as compared to the crude or unprocessed one. It was seen that crude aconite was significantly toxic to mice (100% mortality at a dose of 2.6 mg/mouse) whereas the fully processed aconite was absolutely non-toxic (no mortality at a dose even 8 times as high as that of crude aconite). Further, all the steps in the processing were essential for complete detoxification.
Aconite is an extract obtained from the Aconitum family of plants. Though all parts of the plant are poisonous, the root is the most poisonous and contains a highly toxic alkaloid- aconitin (acetyl-benzoyl aconin) along with other less toxic alkaloids. When taken orally, the toxicity manifests in the form of tingling, numbness of mouth and throat, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, hypothermia, loss of muscle power, visual and auditor disturbances and finally clonic convulsions. Death ensues from myocardial depression or respiratory paralysis. If we scan the pages of history, we come across the mention of the use of aconite as a therapeutic entity in Ayurveda. Aconite forms an important constituent of Ayurvedic formulations and is prescribed as an antipyretic, appetiser, digestive and general tonic. However it is not the crude aconite that is utilised in these preparations. Crude aconite undergoes certain processes (samskaras) before being therapeutically used.
The present study was undertaken to ascertain whether these samskaras truly reduced the toxicity of aconite and further whether each process mentioned in the Ayurvedic texts is essential in the process of detoxification of crude aconite.
Gross behavioural studies were carried out in Swiss-Albino out bred mice of either sex weighing between 18-25 gms. These animals were divided into 4 groups as per the form of aconite received. To each of these groups, the following compounds were administered orally as suspensions in distilled water:
1. Crude aconite (crude).
2. Processed aconite (compound A) - The root of the plant was boiled with two parts of cow's urine for 7 hours per day for two consecutive days. The root was then thoroughly washed with water and boiled with two parts of cow's milk for the same duration. The root processed in such a fashion was then washed with lukewarm water, cut into pieces, dried and ground.
3. Aconite processed only in cow's urine for 7 hr per day for 2 consecutive days (compound B).
4. Aconite processed only in cow's milk for the same duration (compound C).
These compounds were supplied by Ayurveda Rasashala, Pune.
The therapeutic dose range mentioned in Ayurvedic texts is 1-10 g. Hence this particular dose of 2.6 mg/mouse was chosen which corresponded with a dose of 1 g. in human beings. Four doses (2.6, 5.2, 10.4 and 20.8 mg/mouse) were selected for each compound. Each dose was administered to a group of 6 mice. Lower dose ranges (1.3 mg-2.275 mg/mouse) were studied for crude aconite.
The mice were observed before the experiment and at ½ hour, 1 hour, 2 hours, 4 hours and 24 hours, after the administration of a particular compound with special reference to the muscle tone and balance. These parameters were assessed by noting the ability of the mice to hold on to the string, tied to 2 poles set at a fixed distance (normal mice can maintain their balance for more than 10 minutes).
At a dose of 2.6 mg of crude aconite/mouse, 2 animals died at ½ hour. The ones that survived had very poor muscle tone and balance. At the end of 1 hour all 6 mice died, preceded by clonic convulsions. The mortalities at the doses of 2.275 mg/mouse, 1.95 mg/mouse and 1.3 mg/mouse (all in logarithmic proportions) were 3/6, 2/6 and 1/6 respectively. The surviving animals had a striking loss of muscle tone, balance and co-ordination even after 24 hours of administration of crude aconite. When compound C (aconite processed in only cow's milk) was administered in the dose of 2.6 mg/mouse, none of the 6 mice died in the 24 hours' observation period. There was however a reduction in muscle tone and the ability to co-ordinate movements and maintain balance on a string were impaired. The same results were obtained when the dose was increased to 5.2 mg/mouse. At the doses of 10.4 and 20.8 mg/mouse, 1 out of 6 mice died at 24 hours in each group with a loss of muscle tone and balance in the remaining mice.
Compound B (aconite processed in only cow's urine) produced no mortality at any of the doses tested. However there was slight reduction in muscle tone and the ability to maintain balance.
Compound A (aconite processed in cow's urine followed by cow's milk) appeared completely non-toxic to the mice even at the highest dose level studied i.e. 20.8 mg/mouse. There was no impairment of muscle tone, power and co-ordination.
[Table - 1] below presents these results at a glance.
The results of the above study show that crude aconite was toxic to the mice even at a dose as low as 1.3 mg/mouse. 100% mortality resulted when 2.6 mg of crude aconite was administered to each mouse.
When crude aconite was processed in cow's milk (compound C), the toxicity was significantly reduced with no mortality occurring at a dose of 2.6 mg/mouse. At both the doses of 10.4 and 20.8 mg/mouse, the percentage mortality was 16.66. The remaining mice had impaired muscle tone and power. This finding is in agreement with that of Sen and Khosla who reported that though a reduction in toxicity was observed after administering crude aconite processed in cow's milk, the compound did not become absolutely non-toxic.
Processing in cow's urine alone (compound B) also rendered crude aconite less toxic. No mortality occurred at any of the dose levels studied. However, some reduction in muscle tone and the ability to maintain balance was still present.
The completely processed aconite (compound A) was found to be absolutely non-toxic. Apart from the fact that none of the mice died even at a dose as high as 20.8 mg/mouse, the muscle tone, power, co-ordination and balance were all normal.
This shows that aconite becomes safe after undergoing samskaras. Further, all the steps in the processing are essential for complete detoxification; as indicated by the residual toxicity of intermediate compounds.
It would be interesting to study the chemical composition of the aconite root after subjecting it to various samskaras to ascertain the exact effects of samskaras.