Toxicology Facts

Castor beans

The castor bean (Ricinus communis)

Castor beans (Ricinus communis) are grown for ornamental uses such as for beads in necklaces, and other types of jewellery, beads on costumes, and for other decorative purposes. For commercial purposes, castor oil is extracted from the castor bean. The dust from the "grinded" bean can cause sensitivity reactions and poisoning in very small amounts. Castor beans contain ricin, a toxic type of albumin. Note that we have the protein albumin in our body and it is used as a protein store and for transporting other substances. Ricin is a different albumin, and is extremely dangerous. The consumption of only one castor bean can be fatal. The bean usually has to be chewed to release the ricin. However, seed coatings may not be intact and bacterial digestion may cause release of ricin. Ricin, in extremely small amounts causes hemolysis (breakdown) and agglutination (clotting) of red blood cells. Chewing castor beans and swallowing guarantees release of ricin. Parents should be very careful having these "attractive" ornamental beads around chidren. Babies find these colours interesting and like to put them in their mouths. It is surprising how little many parents know about the danger of castor beans and others such as jequirity beans and fava beans. You can go to many markets and buy cheap necklaces with these beans (rosary beads, etc). Of course, they are not harmful unless consumed. However, one such be aware, since children can easily pull beans off and ingest them. Adults should also be careful, as sometimes we unknowingly put objects in our mouths as well. I've seen a few people unawaringly "sucking" on their castor bean necklaces. The problem here is if any of the seed coatings on the beans are damaged. I would't want any ricin to find its way into mine or anyone elses metabolism. Ricin is very potent in small amounts and historically, it has been used to assissinate a few politicians from a simple "poke" of the skin and introduction of ricin under the skin. The poison starts to work and is usually fatal within 24-48 hours. Pathological findings in those unfortunate enough to be poisoned by castor beans are haemolysis, GI oedema, and kidney damage.

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