Ricin Poisoning

What ricin is

  • Ricin is a poison found naturally in castor beans. If castor beans are chewed and swallowed, the released ricin can cause injury. Ricin can be made from the waste material left over from processing castor beans.
  • It can be in the form of a powder, a mist, or a pellet, or it can be dissolved in water or weak acid.
  • It is a stable substance under normal conditions, but can be inactivated by heat above 80 degrees centigrade (176 degrees Fahrenheit).

Where ricin is found and how it is used

  • Castor beans are processed throughout the world to make castor oil. Ricin is part of the waste "mash" produced when castor oil is made.
  • Ricin has been used experimentally in medicine to kill cancer cells.

How you could be exposed to ricin

Comment on this
  • It would take a deliberate act to make ricin and use it to poison people. Unintentional exposure to ricin is highly unlikely, except through the ingestion of castor beans.
  • If made into a partially purified material or refined into a terrorist or warfare agent, ricin could be used to expose people through the air, food, or water.
  • In 1978, Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian writer and journalist who was living in London, died after he was attacked by a man with an umbrella. The umbrella had been rigged to inject a poison ricin pellet under Markov's skin.
  • In the 1940s the U.S. military experimented with using ricin as a possible warfare agent. In some reports ricin has possibly been used as a warfare agent in the 1980s in Iraq and more recently by terrorist organizations.
  • Ricin poisoning is not contagious. Ricin-associated illness cannot be spread from person to person through casual contact. However, if you come into contact with someone who has ricin on their body or clothes, you could become exposed to it.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/9/2013

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Ricin - Signs and Symptoms Question: Symptoms of exposure to ricin mimic other illnesses. Have you ever suspected you've been exposed to ricin?
Ricin - Protection Question: What are your fears and concerns about ricin exposure? How would you protect yourself?
Ricin - Experience Question: Please describe your experience with ricin poisoning.

Identifying the Symptoms of Ricin Poisoning

Ricin can take many forms: It can be a powder, a mist, a pill or pellet, and can be dissolved in water and other liquids. This means that a person can contract ricin poisoning via inhalation or ingestion; the initial symptoms of ricin poisoning depend upon both the degree and route of exposure. Accidental exposure to ricin unrelated to the ingestion of castor beans would be extremely unlikely to occur.

STAY INFORMED

Get the Latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!