Ricin Poisoning Facts

Fact Sheet about Poisoning from Ricin Toxin

Castor beans are the source of the poison called ricin, but also of castor oil and other products.
Anne Helmenstine

Ricin is a potent toxin extracted from castor beans. There is a lot of fear and misinformation associated with this poison. The purpose of this fact sheet is to help separate fact from fiction regarding ricin poisoning.

What Is Ricin?

). It is so powerful a poison that the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate the lethal dose in humans is about the size of a grain of salt (500 micrograms injected or inhaled).

How Is Ricin Used as a Poison?

What Are the Symptoms of Ricin Poisoning?

Inhalation
Symptoms from ricin inhalation would include coughing, shortness of breath, and nausea. Fluid would begin to accumulate in the lungs. Fever and excessive sweating would be likely. Low blood pressure and respiratory failure could lead to death.

Ingestion
Eating or drinking ricin would produce cramping, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea leading to extreme dehydration. Bleeding from the stomach and intestines would occur. The victim may experience hallucinations, seizures, and bloody urine. Eventually (usually after several days) the liver, spleen, and kidneys could fail. Death would result from organ failure.

Injection
Injected ricin produces swelling and pain in the muscles and lymph nodes near the site of the injection. As the poison worked its way outward, internal bleeding would occur and death would result from multiple organ failure.

How Is Ricin Poisoning Detected and Treated?

How Does Ricin Work?

What Should You Do If You Suspect Ricin Poisoning?

If you believe you have been exposed to ricin you should move away from the location of the poison. Seek immediate medical attention, explaining to the medical professional that you believe you were exposed to ricin and the circumstances of the event. Remove your clothing. Cut off clothing rather than pulling it over your head, to minimize further exposure. Remove and discard contact lenses. Glasses may be thoroughly washed with soap and water and re-used. Wash your entire body with soap and water.