Facts About Ricin, Made from Castor Beans

The highly toxic poison ricin is back in the news after the news reported that it was possibly found in a Las Vegas hotel room. Police were summoned to the Extended Stay America Motel on Thursday after a package was found there. Authorities say, however, that they don’t believe the substance was intended to be used in terrorism.

Ricin can be made from the castor bean plant (Ricinus communis), and while it does have some medical benefits, it is mainly known as one of the world’s most toxic naturally occurring poisons. The CDC has a good, plain-English fact sheet explaining what ricin is, what forms it can take as a poison, signs and symptoms of ricin exposure, and how to tell if you might have been exposed.

In general, symptoms begin within hours after being exposed to ricin and include abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea (sometimes bloody). Within several days victims may experience severe dehydration, a decrease in urine, and a drop in blood pressure.

For a more scientific explanation of how ricin acts as a poison, this article from Cornell University explains its mechanisms of action and more. It notes that just one milligram of ricin can kill an adult, and one seed of the castor bean plant can kill a child.

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