The Myth About Learning How to Make Ricin from the Internet

Castor beans (seeds from Ricinus communis)
USDA-ARS
 

As the story unfolds about the man associated with the ricin found in the Las Vegas hotel room, questions arise as to what he was doing with the ricin and the castor beans. The answers to those question are unknown. It is not even certain the man knew about the ricin in the room. Since he remains in a coma, those questions will have to wait.

What We Know

So far we know the occupant of the hotel room who was hospitalized for respiratory problems was a 57-year-old-man.

There were three pets found in the room. One pet is deceased, apparently due to lack of food and water and not from ricin poisoning. The other two animals are fine. According to a CNN report, in addition to a vial containing ricin, the room also contained castor beans, guns, and an "anarchist type textbook".
 

Bad Advice

When I started writing about the chemistry behind AMC's "Breaking Bad" tv show, I learned that it really is true you can learn how to make crystal meth from instructions freely available on the Internet. Would anyone want to use those instructions? I'd hope not... I tried to describe all the reasons making meth is dangerous to yourself and others. The question has arisen as to whether a person could learn to make ricin from information freely available on the internet. I'm not going to give you a definitive 'no' since I didn't follow every single link on the subject, but I will say the top links that supposedly tell you how to purify ricin using lye and acetone contain many factual errors.

Probably the only good advice given in the instructions is to remove the coat from the seeds. Also, any website that tells you ricin can be obtained from castor oil is wrong. Castor oil is essentially free from the toxin. If you are a terrorist or looking to purify the toxin for other purposes, you're a stupid terrorist if you think instructions posted on the web by an anonymous source are reliable or that duplicating erroneous instructions across multiple websites magically makes the instructions correct.

Can you learn how to make ricin from a Google search? I didn't see any accurate instructions. Can you poison yourself with castor beans? You could, but you can poison yourself with rhubarb or death cap mushrooms, too. In my opinion, ricin is sensationalized because it's so very toxic. Would I stay in the Las Vegas hotel room after they clean it up? No. Am I worried about wackos suddenly making ricin because it's newsy? No. Even if they wanted to, the instructions are not readily available.

Update on Ricin in Las Vegas
Ricin Found at a Las Vegas Motel

Ricin & RCA from Castor Beans | What You Need to Know about Chemical Weapons