ipecac (ĭpˈĭkăk) [key], drug obtained from the dried roots of a creeping shrub, Cephaelis (or Psychotria ) ipecacuanha, native to Brazil but cultivated in other tropical climates. There are three varieties of the root, brown, red, and gray, varying according to the age of the plant, its place of growth, or the method of drying. Emetine, the active principle of ipecac, is obtained from the bark of the root. It is a powerful poison that produces vomiting and is sometimes prescribed to relieve the stomach of some other poison. Ipecac is used as an expectorant in the treatment of bronchitis or croup, stimulating bronchial secretions to make coughing easier. Brazilian Native Americans used ipecac for centuries to treat amebic infections. Its use became more widespread in the 17th cent., and the pure substance emetine is still used in the treatment of amebic dysentery and amebic hepatitis, as well as some parasitic infestations. Ipecac must be used with great caution and only under medical supervision.
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