Alkaloids are the secondary metabolites of plants. They are internal constitutes of plant’s so-called biomolecules.
The uses of alkaloids are based on their toxic effects on the body.
Their toxicity is seen by changes in body physiology when administered or consumed.
But some of these toxic effects are useful in terms of health when used in the right doses. Excess doses will be definitely poisonous and harmful to man.
The alkaloids are mainly obtained from plants, which are shrubs and herbs.
5 Uses of alkaloids
- As medicines.
- As Euphoric & addicting drugs
- As pesticides or insect repellents.
- For research and scientific study.
- To catch animals.
- In plants
|Sl. No||Alkaloid||Medical Uses||Plant source|
|1||vincristine||For cancer treatment||Vinca rosea|
|2||Codeine||Cough remedy||Opium poppy|
|3||Quinine||Anti-malarial drug||Cinchona officinalis tree bark|
|4||Ephedrine||For treatment of blood pressure||Ephedra|
Alkaloids have many pharmacological uses in health care. They act as life-saving drugs in some serious disorders like cancer, blood pressure, etc.
Atropine a derivative of belladonna is used in the treatment of muscle spasms while scopolamine is useful to inhibit secretions.
Morphine a derivative of opium alkaloid is used for severe pain relief.
Euphoric & addicting drugs
Many psychotropic substances like marijuana, cannabis, opium sort of substances are alkaloids. They have been used since the ancient period as instruments for mental excitement and euphoria.
However, they are considered as harmful as per modern medicine. They were in full-fledged use by kings and common for fun and as part of recreation. Even now, many people consume them by procuring them illegally.
Insect repellents and pesticides.
As mentioned earlier, these alkaloids are toxic in nature. They are toxic in varying concentrations.
Alkaloid pyrethrin is used as an insect repellent in mosquito coils, mosquito repellents, and even in agriculture. Lucky enough, at such concentrations, these insecticides are less toxic to humans but affect mosquitoes to leave the vicinity.
For research and scientific study
Due to their specific effects on the body, they are used in research and scientific study. For example, atropine, an alkaloid, can cause dilation of the pupil.
To test if a new substance is having similar effects or opposite effects, it is compared with atropine. So here, atropine is used as a standard for comparison in research.
To catch animals
Heavy animals, like elephants, were captured by making them immovable. For this, the hunters use arrow poison ( D-tubocurarine), which is applied to the arrow’s point and shot at the animal.
When the arrow gets stuck to the animal, the alkaloid (D-TC) will enter the muscle and cause paralysis. This is a short-term action and is reversible. These immovable animals get trapped and transported. The same can be used for deer, wild animals, etc.
Benefits to plants
Besides the above, alkaloids are also beneficial to the plants producing them. They are waste products of body metabolism. They are excreted through leaves, fruits, etc.
They are toxic and bitter in nature, so they help the plant from being grazed by animals. Thus these alkaloids save the trees and plants from being eaten (grazing) by cattle. Due to bitter taste and other poisonous effects in the body, animals do not prefer to feed on plants containing alkaloids.