Old Methods of Treating Snakebite


Here are a few outdated methods of treating snakebite. These are being posted for their historical interest, and SHOULD NOT be considered medically feasible. Attempts to use these in the treatment of snakebites could result in permanent injury or death.


"Mr. Heliodoro Ruiz of Opin, in Colombia, New Granada, informs the Government of that country that he has been successful in treating snake bites by cauterisation. The province abounds with snakes of a deadly character, and he has treated seventy cases of bites. He simply drops melted sealing-wax on all the fang marks, and he considers the result is due less to cautery than to the complete exclusion of the air by the adhesion of the wax. At first he administered internally a few drops, but he has discontinued it, not finding it necessary."

- Nature, Vol. 4, p. 287. (Aug. 10, 1871)

Tobacco & Whisky:

"Authentic cases of the successful treatment of snake bites are of some interest. Dr. Bell supplies two in his "New Tracks in North America." On the Rio Grande, in October, 1867, two horses were bitten by the same rattlesnake, while grazing. A few hours afterwards the submaxillary, parotid, and all glands situated around the head and neck were greatly enlarged; from the nostrils and gums, a clear mucous discharge ran down; the eyes were glair, with the pupils greatly dilated, and the coat ws rough and staring. To each animal Dr. Bell gave half-a-pint of whisky wih a little water, and half an ounce of ammonia, while the wounds were fomented with a strong infusion of tobacco, and afterwards poulticed with chopped tobacco leaves. Both horses recovered. One, although reduced in flesh, and thrown out of condition, was fit for work in a week, but the ther only just escaped with his life, becoming a perfect skeleton, and only commencing to mend at the end of three months. Dr. Bell added that a little weed, common throughout the Western States (called by Engelmann, Euphorbia lata, and by Torney, E. dilatata), is said to be a specific for the bite of the rattlesnake, but at the very time the plant was wanted it could not be found, although continually met with elsewhere, along the route, so that the experiment could not be tried."

- Nature, V. 1, p. 268. (Jan. 6, 1870)


"The Pioneer of Allahabad contains a communication on snake bites. The writer is inclined to believe there is no antidote, but he thinks it useful to put on record and experiment. Almost three years ago he saw a bullock which had been bitten by a snake and was lying prostrate on the ground retching. Having heard from an old Brahmin that aniseed soonf was a remedy, he was induced to try it. He mixed aniseed 2 chittacks, pepper 1/4, aniseed eaves 1, aniseed bark 1. This was administered internally with great difficulty down the bullock's throat and externally. In a few minutes the bullock lifted his head, in an hour he stood up and began to chew, and in two hours was all right."

- Nature, V. 4, p. 74 (May 25, 1871)

Carbolic Acid:

"We learn from the Journal de Mél, de l'Ouest, and Bull. Génér. de Thér. that Dr. Weir Mitchell, from observations on the bite of the rattlesnake, and M.M. Giequain and Viaud Grand-Marais, from observations on that of the viper, have arrived at the conclusion that the application of carbolic acid immediately on the receipt of the injury prevents both local and general poisoning. The pure acid however, if applied in too great quantity, is liable to produce sloughing, and even dangerous symptoms; hence it is best used in the proportion of two parts of acid and one of alcohol. Given internally, or applied to the wound at a late period, it produces no effect. It is believed to act, not by neutralising the poison, but by causing contraction of the small vessels, and thus preventing its absorption."

- Nature, V. 4, pp. 229-230 (July 20, 1871)


"Professor Halford, of the University of Melbourne, in a paper read before the Medical Society of Victoria, has reviewed at length the history of twenty cases of snake-bite treated by his method of injecting liquor ammoniae into the veins during the last eighteen months. These cases were all in the hands of different practitioners in the colony, who have each reported on them. Recovery followed in seventeen cases. In thirteen of these the practitioners in attendance expressly report that the patients were in a dying condition, and, in their belief, would soon have died, but for the employment of this remedy in the manner prescribed. The method employed was that introduced by Dr. Halford, and first brought to the knowledge of the profession here by him, in the pages of the British Medical Journal, through Mr. Paget; viz. by injecting dilute ammonia - say, at the least, thirty minims of the liquor ammoniae B.P., specific gravity 959 - into a superficial vein; the vein being first exposed, and its coats pierced with the nozzle of a hypodermic syringe. Dr. Dempster, Dr. Rae, Dr. Lngford, Mr. Dallimore, and Dr. Meyler, each in his own words, and from the observation of separate cases, describe the curative effect as being immediate, and the recovery from collapse to be so rapid and startling as to be "almost magical." This method of treatment, of which such remarkable effects are detailed, has been sharply criticised; but Prof. Halford successfully vindicates the claim of the snakes to be considered highly venomous - almost as much so, he intimates, as some of his London critics. They included the tiger-snake, the brown and black snake of Australia, which are affirmed to be as deadly as the cobra and rattle-snake of India. Strong testimony to the efficacy of the treatment in saving life was borne by Australian practitioners who took part in the discussion, and vindicated Prof. Halford's claim to be considered as the discoverer of a means of rescuing many from an otherwise inevitable death."

- Nature, Vol. 2, p. 381 (Sept. 8, 1870)