Poison From Castor Beans

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Ricin, a substance found within the castor bean, is a deadly toxin.
Ricin, a substance found within the castor bean, is a deadly toxin. (Image: poison symbol image by patrimonio designs from Fotolia.com)

The castor bean plant proves useful in medicine, as fertilizer and as a lubricant in machinery. On the other hand, its seed—the castor bean—encloses one of the most deadly poisons ever discovered.

Poisonous Components

The poison in castor beans originates from the protein ricin, an extremely potent toxin historically used as a murder weapon and in warfare. This substance, poisonous to humans and other animals, is present in high concentrations in the castor bean.

Poisoning Mechanism

Ricin becomes toxic when ingested, inhaled or injected. It shuts down protein formation within cells. Proteins serve vital purposes in each cell; without protein, your body cannot function. Cells die, with the body following suit after irreparable damage to organs and body systems. While several seeds may kill an adult, a single seed can be lethal amount for a child, according to the biology department at Union County College.

Symptoms of Poisoning

Initial symptoms may occur a few hours after poisoning and include signs of digestive upset such as diarrhea and vomiting. Other symptoms do not appear until several days later. The victim subsequently may exhibit signs of serious dehydration, display low blood pressure, and produce little urine. Death may occur between three to five days. The victim most likely will recover if he or she survives beyond five days.

Treatment

Ricin poisoning has no antidote; consequently, treatment merely supports the victim’s recovery mechanisms. Patients receive intravenous supplies of fluids and dopamine, a chemical that constricts the blood vessels and increases blood pressure. Treatment for ingestion of ricin may include activated charcoal. If emergency responders reach the victim within an hour following ingestion they may attempt to pump out the content of the victim’s stomach.

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