Everything to know about Alkaloids - WorldOfChemicals

Everything about Alkaloids



Alkaloids are the class of chemical compounds generally having nitrogen atoms. This class of compounds also have compounds with neutral and weakly acidic properties. Few synthetic elements with similar structure are also called as alkaloids. Along with carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen, alkaloids can also constitute oxygen, sulfur and rarely other compounds like chlorine, bromine and phosphorous.


The terminology “alkaloids” is coined by German chemist Carl Friedrich Wilhelm Meibner in 1819. Alkaloid term got its derivation from the Latin word alkali which means “ashes of plants” and got it suffix from Greek word “οειδ?ς” meaning alike.

There is no distinct way of naming alkaloids, the majority of names are made by adding the suffix word “ine” to the species name.

Alkaloids Properties

  • Nearly all alkaloids constitute oxygen in their chemical structure, and these compounds are usually colorless at ambient conditions.

  • Alkaloids which are oxygen free like nicotine and coniine are liquids which is volatile, colorless and oily. Few alkaloids such as berberine and sanguinarine are colored.

  • Majority of alkaloids are weak acids, apart from some such as, theobromine and theophylline which are amphoteric.

  • Most of the alkaloids get dissolver poorly in water and gets readily dissolved in organic solvents.

  • Most of the alkaloids are bitter in taste and are not poisonous when in taken.

  • Alkaloids are mostly crystalline solids.

Distribution in Nature

Alkaloids are extracted from various living organisms, mainly through higher plants. Thus, the term “alkaloids” was linked with plants in the past. Apart from plants, alkaloids are also present in certain types of fungi, like the fungus of the genus Psilocybe have psilocybin alkaloid and also present in animals, such as the skin of toads have bufotenin. Various marine organisms also have the presence of alkaloids.

Alkaloids Applications:

  • In medicine:

Alkaloid-containing plants have very early stage history in medicinal usage. Many alkaloids are used in medicines production, generally in the form of salts. Examples of alkaloids and their action in medication are as below:

  • Ajmaline used for Antiarrhythmic

  • Atropine, scopolamine, hyoscyamine is used for anticholinergic.

  • Caffeine for stimulant and adenosine receptor.

  • Colchicine as the remedy for gout, codeine in antitussive.

  • Nicotine as the stimulant and as nicotinic acetylcholine receptor agonist etc.

A lot of synthetic and semisynthetic drugs are alkaloids structural modifications designed to augment the effect of the drugs and lessen the unwanted side effects.

  • In homeopathy:

The cyclobuxine steroidal alkaloid is used by extracting it as tea for fighting rheumatism, HIV and fever. This tea is consumes still in Turkey for purpose of antihelminthic, diaphoretic and cholagogue and is known as “Abi simsir” and leaf of B. sempervirens were used as hair dye.

  • In agriculture:

Some alkaloids such as salts of nicotine and anabasine were used as insecticides but, due to higher toxicity to humans, it stopped. Wide range low toxic synthetic alkaloids are used as pesticides.

  • Used as psychoactive drugs:

The plant containing alkaloids and their extracts have been utilized as psychoactive substances since long. Cocaine, caffeine and other such alkaloids are used as central nervous systems stimulants. Morphine and codeine are used as narcotic pain killers. Many alkaloids are there which do not have direct strong psychoactive effects but acts as precursors for semi-synthetic psychoactive drugs.

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