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The name derives from the word alkaline and was used to describe any nitrogencontaining base. Alkaloids are produced by a large variety of organisms, including bacteria, fungi, plants, and animals and are part of the group of natural products (also called secondary metabolites). Many alkaloids can be purified from crude extracts by acid-base extraction. Many alkaloids are toxic to other organisms. They often have pharmacological effects and are used as medications, as recreational drugs, or in entheogenic rituals. Examples are the local anesthetic and stimulant cocaine, the stimulant caffeine, nicotine, the analgesic morphine, or the antimalarial drug quinine. Some alkaloids have a bitter taste.
Generally speaking, alkaloids are categorized under three main categories,depending on their biogenic origin. For those containing at least a nitrogen atom in a ring system derived from amino acids (i.e. alkaloids derived from phenylalanine are not grouped in this category), they are true alkaloids. The alkaloids derived from phenylalanine are categorized as protoalkaloids. While the remaining ones, such as steroidal alkaloids and purine alkaloids, are classified as pseudoalkaloids. Alkaloids are usually classified by their common molecular precursors, based on the metabolic pathway used to construct the molecule. When not much was known about the biosynthesis of alkaloids, they were grouped under the names of known compounds, even some non-nitrogenous ones (since those molecules' structures appear in the finished product; the opium alkaloids are sometimes called "phenanthrenes", for example), or by the plants or animals they were isolated from. When more is learned about a certain alkaloid, the grouping is changed to reflect the new knowledge, usually taking the name of a biologically-important amine that stands out in the synthesis process.[original research?]
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Pyridine group: piperine, coniine, trigonelline, arecoline, arecaidine, guvacine, cytisine, lobeline, nicotine, anabasine, sparteine, pelletierine. Pyrrolidine group: hygrine, cuscohygrine, nicotine Tropane group: atropine, cocaine, ecgonine, scopolamine, catuabine Indolizidine group: senecionine, swainsonine Quinoline group: quinine, quinidine, dihydroquinine, dihydroquinidine, strychnine, brucine, veratrine, cevadine Isoquinoline group: opium alkaloids (papaverine, narcotine, narceine, morphine, codeine, heroine), sanguinarine, hydrastine, berberine, emetine, berbamine, oxyacanthine Phenanthrene alkaloids: opium alkaloids (morphine, codeine, thebaine) Phenethylamine group: mescaline, ephedrine, dopamine Indole group: o Tryptamines: serotonin, DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, bufotenine, psilocybin
Ergolines (the ergot alkaloids): ergine, ergotamine, lysergic acid Beta-carbolines: harmine, harmaline, tetrahydroharmine Yohimbans: reserpine, yohimbine Vinca alkaloids: vinblastine, vincristine Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) alkaloids: mitragynine, 7hydroxymitragynine o Tabernanthe iboga alkaloids: ibogaine, voacangine, coronaridine o Strychnos nux-vomica alkaloids: strychnine, brucine Purine group: o Xanthines: caffeine, theobromine, theophylline Terpenoid group: o Aconitum alkaloids: aconitine o Steroid alkaloids (containing a steroid skeleton in a nitrogen containing structure): Solanum (e.g. potato and tomato) alkaloids (solanidine, solanine, chaconine) Veratrum alkaloids (veratramine, cyclopamine, cycloposine, jervine, muldamine) Fire Salamander alkaloids (samandarin) Others: conessine Quaternary ammonium compounds: muscarine, choline, neurine Miscellaneous: capsaicin, cynarin, phytolaccine, phytolaccotoxin
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Low-molecular weight alkaloids without hydrogen bond donors such as hydroxy groups are often liquid at room temperature, examples are nicotine, sparteine, coniine, and phenethylamine. The basicity of alkaloids depends on the lone pairs of electrons on their nitrogen atoms. As organic bases, alkaloids form salts with mineral acids such as hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid and organic acids such as tartaric acid or maleic acid. These salts are usually more water-soluble than their free base form.