Curare (pronounced cue-rah'-ree) is a general term for certain chemical substances found in different plants throughout the world's rainforests. These plants produce a harmless sap which for centuries the natives of the rainforests have refined into a deadly poison. The way of refining and delivering the poison from certain types of plants is similar for natives occupying equatorial regions from South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Animals are hunted with blowguns loaded with darts that have been prepared with lethal doses of the curare preparations.
The word curare is derived from woorari, a word of native American origin from the Amazon and Orinoco basins meaning poison. There are different plants used to produce the poisons for the tips of the darts used in hunting. The blowgun is particularly effective against arboreal animals, such as monkeys and birds. The hunters final curare preparation is composed of "curares" or poisons from various plants. Curares from these plants share the same chemical composition. They are all alkaloids. An alkaloid is an organic compound containing nitrogen and usually oxygen. They are found in seed plants and are usually colorless and bitter like codeine or morphine.
The plant Strychnos toxifera produces the strongest type of curare for the hunters of the rainforests. Other curare type plants, however, have been used in western medicine as anesthetics after it was discovered that curares can have non-lethal effects such as skeletal muscle relaxants. Tubocurarine, an anesthetic muscle relaxant introduced into medical practice in the early 1940s contains a curare alkaloid from the chondrodendron plant family.