THE POISON GARDEN website      Arum maculatum berries on a Cannabis leaf 


This free script provided by JavaScript Kit

Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Sunday 18th December 2011 

I decided to go looking for a quotation about joy to begin today’s entry and the one closest to how I feel comes from Mark Twain; ‘Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of a joy you must have somebody to divide it with’.

So, what is this joy that I want to get the full value of by dividing it? It is actually, a double joy. I came across a number of new papers about ricin, from Ricinus communis, that, overall, tell the truth about it and, joy becomes double joy, they are in an open access publication so the full details are freely available to anyone interested enough.

I’ve written before about the problems of only being able to read part of a paper because the full detail is behind a paywall. So it was a real delight to find that the journal ‘Toxins’ allows free access to all its papers especially as the November 2011 issue contains a ‘special issue’ entitled ‘Ricin Toxin’.

There are ten papers in all and I won’t claim to have read all of them. Eight of the ten are concerned with aspects of the biochemistry of ricin that are not related to my interest in this toxin. But there are two ‘Understanding Ricin from a Defensive Viewpoint’ by Gareth D Griffiths from the UK’s Porton Down laboratory and ‘Ricinus communis Intoxications in Human and Veterinary Medicine—A Summary of Real Cases’ by Worbs and others from institutions in Germany and Switzerland.

*CBRN is the acronym given to weapons classifed as Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear.

Griffiths’ paper is concerned with ‘the knowledge of the toxicity from ricin poisoning by the likely routes’ plus ways to detect ricin so as to make a speedy diagnosis of any cases of intoxication. In the introduction he cites an article entitled ‘Cooking Up Trouble’ by Major René Pita (PhD) and Major Juan Domingo of the Spanish NBC Defence School. The article was published in 2008 by ‘CBRNe* World’ and says ‘the procedures for obtaining ricin from castor plant seeds included in these publications [jihadi publications] are copies from the ones included in the “cookbooks” but are not capable of achieving a good product for causing a large number of casualties by any exposure route, mainly because of the low content of toxin of the final extracts’.

Griffiths goes on to look at work on inhalation of ricin and finds that very small particle sizes are required to cause fatal poisoning even when animals are forced to breathe a ricin rich aerosol. He points out that animals given larger particles or a non-lethal dose recover completely within fourteen days. All of the reported work has been done on animals because, as Griffiths says, ‘There are no human cases of inhaled ricin to report’.

He also notes that ‘Much more ricin is required to achieve lethality by the oral route’ when looking at experiments with ingested ricin in mice and rats. He points out that injected ricin, even in an impure form, is the most effective way of achieving a fatal outcome but notes that this means of achieving poisoning is mostly found in suicides or, in one case, murder/suicide.

Ricinus communis, castor oil plant

Ricinus communis

Worbs and associates are primarily concerned with poisoning in animals as a result of the use of castor bean mash as a feed or fertilizer but, as part of a full survey, look at human poisonings.

An important point is made; ‘Fatalities after uptake of seeds mainly occurred in the pre-modern medicine era without effective supportive care’. When someone is citing instances of fatal poisoning, whether from Ricinus communis or any other substance, it is worth considering whether the outcome would still be fatal today.

As a counter to the often stated ‘one bean will kill a child’, the review cites a Sri Lankan study of 46 cases of accidental poisoning of children by castor bean ingestion (from 1984 to 2001) that found none of them to have a fatal outcome. Back in the 1960s, a study found 57 cases in India, again, with none proving fatal.

A 2011 paper looked at the 45 fatalities from over 2 million plant poisoning cases reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers from 1983 to 2009. Only 1 of the 45 was the result of Ricinus communis poisoning.

On human poisonings the review concludes ‘Overall—among all plant poisonings reported—human cases of ricin poisoning are rare. With modern supportive care the fatality rate is low, except in suicide cases where a ricin-containing extract is injected, reflecting the higher toxicity after parenteral application’.

Wouldn’t it be nice if future writings about ricin, of all descriptions, cited these papers to give a proper view of the poison? We’ll have to wait and see.


Full Entries


Tuesday 25th October 2016
Saturday 20th August 2016
Sunday 6th March 2016
Wednesday 3rd February 2016


Saturday 28th November 2015
Friday 27th November 2015
Monday 17th August 2015
Wednesday 15th July 2015
Friday 26th June 2015
Thursday 25th June 2015
Thursday 30th April 2015
Wednesday 29th April 2015
Wednesday 11th March 2015
Tuesday 3rd March 2015
Saturday 28th February 2015
Sunday 22nd February 2015

November 2014

Monday 24th November 2014
Saturday 8th November 2014

October 2014

September 2014

Wednesday 24th September 2014
Monday 1st September 2014

August 2014

Tuesday 26th August 2014
Saturday 16th August 2014
Tuesday 5th August 2014
Friday 1st August 2014

July 2014

Sunday 27th July 2014
Wednesday 23rd July 2014
Sunday 13th July 2014
Sunday 6th July 2014
Tuesday 1st July 2014

June 2014

Wednesday 25th June 2014
Tuesday 24th June 2014
Sunday 22nd June 2014
Monday 9th June 2014
Wednesday 4th June 2014

May 2014

Monday 26th May 2014
Sunday 18th May 2014
Wednesday 14th May 2014

April 2014

Sunday 13th April 2014
Saturday 5th April 2014
Thursday 3rd April 2014
Tuesday 1st April 2014

March 2014

Monday 31st March 2014
Tuesday 25th March 2014
Friday 21st March 2014
Monday 17th March 2014
Sunday 16th March 2014
Tuesday 11th March 2014
Tuesday 11th March 2014
Thursday 6th March 2014
Wednesday 5th March 2014
Saturday 1st March 2014

February 2014

Thursday 27th February 2014
Monday 24th February 2014
Wednesday 19th February 2014
Monday 17th February 2014
Thursday 13th February 2014
Monday 4th February 2014
Monday 3rd February 2014
Saturday 1st February 2014

January 2014

Thursday 28th January 2014
Thursday 23rd January 2014
Friday 17th January 2014
Wednesday 15th January 2014
Monday 13th January 2014
Thursday 9th January 2014
Tuesday 7th January 2014
Wednesday 1st January 2014

December 2013

Monday 23rd December 2013
Friday 20th December 2013
Tuesday 17th December 2013
Friday 14th December 2013
Thursday 12th December 2013
Sunday 8th December 2013
Wednesday 4th December 2013
Sunday 1st December 2013

November 2013

Friday 29th November 2013
Wednesday 27th November 2013
Tuesday 26th November 2013
Friday 22nd November 2013
Monday 18th November 2013
Friday 15th November 2013
Thursday 14th November 2013
Sunday 10th November 2013
Thursday 7th November 2013
Wednesday 6th November 2013
Friday 1st November 2013

October 2013

Thursday 31st October 2013
Sunday 27th October 2013
Wednesday 23rd October 2013
Monday 21st October 2013
Friday 18th October 2013
Friday 11th October 2013
Wednesday 9th October 2013
Tuesday 8th October 2013
Monday 7th October 2013
Tuesday 1st October 2013

September 2013

Monday 30th September 2013
Saturday 28th September 2013
Friday 27th September 2013
Monday 23rd September 2013
Sunday 15th September 2013
Monday 9th September 2013
Tuesday 3rd September 2013
Sunday 1st September 2013

August 2013

Sunday 8th September 2013
Tuesday 3rd September 2013
Sunday 1st September 2013

Tuesday 27th August 2013
Sunday 25th August 2013
Monday 19th August 2013
Friday 16th August 2013
Tuesday 13th August 2013
Friday 9th August 2013
Friday 2nd August 2013
Thursday 1st August 2013

July 2013

Saturday 27th July 2013
Sunday 21st July 2013
Wednesday 17th July 2013
Monday 15th July 2013
Saturday 13th July 2013
Friday 12th July 2013
Thursday 11th July 2013
Wednesday 10th July 2013
Tuesday 9th July 2013
Saturday 6th July 2013

June 2013

Friday 28th June 2013
Tuesday 25th June 2013
Friday 21st June 2013
Thursday 20th June 2013
Wednesday 19th June 2013
Saturday 15th June 2013
Sunday 9th June 2013
Saturday 8th June 2013
Saturday 1st June 2013

May 2013

April 2013

March 2013

February 2013

January 2013

December 2012

November 2012

October 2012

September 2012

August 2012

July 2012 blog

June 2012 blog

May 2012 blog

April 2012 blog

March 2012 blog

February 2012 blog

January 2012 blog

December 2011 blog

November 2011 blog

October 2011 blog

September 2011 blog

August 2011 blog

July 2011 blog

June 2011 blog


The POISON GARDEN website is not connected with Alnwick Garden Enterprises Ltd and/or The Alnwick Garden Trust.