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Toxicol Rev. 2003;22(1):65-70.

Ricin poisoning.

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  • 1National Poisons Information Service (Birmingham Centre), West Midlands Poisons Unit, City Hospital, Birmingham, UK.


Ricin is a naturally occurring toxin derived from the beans of the castor oil plant Ricinus communis. It is considered a potential chemical weapon. Ricin binds to cell surface carbohydrates, is internalised then causes cell death by inhibiting protein synthesis. Oral absorption is poor and absorption through intact skin most unlikely; the most hazardous routes of exposure being inhalation and injection. Features of toxicity mainly reflect damage to cells of the reticuloendothelial system, with fluid and protein loss, bleeding, oedema and impaired cellular defence against endogenous toxins. It has been estimated that in man, the lethal dose by inhalation (breathing in solid or liquid particles) and injection (into muscle or vein) is approximately 5-10 micrograms/kg, that is 350-700 micrograms for a 70 kg adult. Death has ensued within hours of deliberate subcutaneous injection. Management is supportive. Prophylactic immunisation against ricin toxicity is a developing research initiative, although presently not a realistic option in a civilian context.

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