Curare was used as a paralyzing poison by many South American indigenous people. Since it was too expensive to be used in warfare, curare was mainly used during hunting. Due to its popularity among the indigenous people as means of paralyzing prey, certain tribes would create monopolies from curare production.
How was curare used by Central American people?
Curare is specifically a non-depolarising neuromuscular blocking agent (NMBA). It blocks neuromuscular transmission – a process that allows the central nervous system (CNS) to control the movement of muscles – at the neuromuscular junction, which is the junction between a nerve cell and a muscle cell.
As a potent muscle relaxant, curare can cause death quickly by inducing asphyxia due to rapid relaxation of diaphragmatic muscles. According to one source, death from respiratory arrest can take place within a few minutes in birds and small prey, and up to 20 min in larger mammals.
A neurotoxin, curare blocks nerve impulses from reaching muscles when it enters the bloodstream, immobilizing the victim—a bird, monkey, or other small animal. But it’s harmless when ingested, so the meat of curare-stricken prey is safe to eat.
Curare is the historical prototype of nondepolarization neuromuscular blockers, but it is no longer used clinically. Curare (also called D-tubocurare) was the first paralytic used in anesthesia, but it has been replaced by newer agents.
It is harmless if taken orally because curare compounds are too large and highly charged to pass through the lining of the digestive tract to be absorbed into the blood. For this reason, people can safely eat curare-poisoned prey, and it has no effect on its flavor.
The crude curare was investigated in their laboratories. Oscar Wintersteiner and James Dutcher in 1942 were the first to isolate the alkaloid d-tubocurarine from biologically authenticated samples of Chondrodendron tomentosum12.
In addition to inducing skeletal muscle relaxation under general anesthesia, certain curare alkaloids are widely employed as relaxants to facilitate endotracheal intubation (the insertion of a tube into the windpipe to keep the upper airway open in a person who is unconscious or unable to breathe on his or her own).
The source of curare in the Amazon was first researched by Richard Evans Schultes in 1941. Since the 1930s, it was being used in hospitals as a muscle relaxant. He discovered that different types of curare called for as many as 15 ingredients, and in time helped to identify more than 70 species that produced the drug.
Curare acts as a neuromuscular blocking agent that induces flaccid paralysis. This poison binds to the acetylcholine (ACh) receptors on the muscle, blocking them from binding to ACh.
It plays a vital role in the Sussex Vampire, one of the 56 short stories. It is no surprise that Conan Doyle incorporated poisons into several of the Sherlock sagas because he was a medical doctor. But it seems he didn’t have any practical experience with curare,or he would have noted that it has no smell.
Its vapors are not poisonous, although natives believed they were. In 1811, Sir Benjamin Brodie noted that during curare poisoning the heart continues to beat, even after breathing stops, which means that heart function is not stopped by curare.
The classic poisons all work on the cutting off oxygen theme. Some alkaloids (plant-derived poisons), like strychnine and curare, attack the body’s ability to breathe. Strychnine, of rat poison fame, wrecks the “off switch” on nerve cells that cause muscle contractions.
Curare acts as a neuromuscular blocking agent by binding to the acetylcholine receptor (AChR) at the neuromuscular junction and preventing nerve impulses from activating skeletal muscles (Bowman, 2006).
Curare, a South American poison, has its effect because it inhibits the action of an enzyme, cholinesterase. The effects of curare are muscular and respiratory paralysis. You may infer then, that the voluntary muscles and the lungs are controlled by the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, abbreviated ACh.