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Chemical Warfare - What Is Ricin?

Updated on February 8, 2019
Diana Grant profile image

I'm a retired lawyer interested in thuman rights, current affairs, psychology, law, justice, criminology, philosophical & ethical questions

Ricin (Ricinus Communis)


Where Ricin Comes From And The Effects Of Ricin Poisoning

On April 16th 2013 and April 17th 2013 suspicious letters addressed to Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi and President Barack Obama respectively were intercepted at Washington’s off-site mail facility and tested positive for traces of the lethal poison, ricin.

What Are The Symptoms Of Ricin Poisoning?

About three to twelve hours after initial exposure, the victim’s symptoms would include stomach pains, fever and coughing.

If ricin is eaten, the victim would suffer vomiting, stomach ache, bloody diarrhoea, and gastroenteritis within hours, and, over the next few days, would be likely to suffer dehydration and low blood pressure.

If ricin is inhaled, it would cause damage to the lungs and pulmonary oedema (swelling and fluid in the lungs).

The victim might also suffer seizures and problems related to the central nervous system.

A lethal dose would probably cause the victim to die within five days. Recovery may be possible if the victim survives that period.

Ricin Seeds or Beans


The reason I have written this article is because many people must be wondering precisely what ricin is, and what the effect of ricin poisoning is.

Ricin is a slow acting poison derived from the Castor Oil Plant (Latin name Ricinus Communis). A few grains of ricin powder (1 milligram) is enough to kill an adult if it is inhaled or ingested and just 500 micrograms would be lethal if injected. Ricin works by irrevocably damaging/inactivating the ribosomes which synthesise protein in cells, and, being very powerful, can seriously harm major body organs. If ricin comes into contact with the skin or eyes, it would cause pain but is not normally life-threatening.

The Castor Oil Plant also known as Castor Bean Plant is a fast-growing half-hardy ornamental shrub, normally grown from its large seeds. In its native tropical climate it will grow into a tree about 25 ft – 40 ft high, with attractive reddish leaves and red pom-pom flowers. It is these seeds which are highly poisonous. Castor oil is derived commercially from the seeds and ricin is derived from the mash which is left after the oil is extracted. Ricin is a serious danger because it is so easy to obtain.

At present there is no known antidote to poisoning by ricin, which can be delivered by powder, pill or a mist.

Georgi Markov Was Assassinated

Famous Poisoning Cases:

In 1978, Georgi Markov, who was an outspoken Bulgarian dissident journalist working in London, was assassinated by Bulgarian secret police because he was criticizing the Bulgarian government. He reported feeling a sharp pain after someone with an umbrella knocked into him in the street. He became ill and died a few days later. Suspecting foul play, his body was taken to the British Ministry of Defence where it was examined in an autopsy at the special poison branch and it became clear that the umbrella had been modified with compressed gas to fire a small pellet, which had been contaminated with ricin, into his leg. The Russian KGB were also implicated.

Earlier, in 1971 the great writer and Soviet dissident, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, suffered poisoning symptoms, believed to be from ricin. Fortunately he survived his encounter with the KGB.

Another poisoning case with Russian connections was that of an ex-KGB spy, Alexander Litvinenko, who was working for the BBC and living in Muswell Hill, London, at the time of his death in 2006. On this occasion the death was caused not by ricin but from polonium-210 radiation poisoning.

Biological Warfare:

The USA and Canada have considered and experimented with the use of ricin as a biological weapon, either as a toxic dust or as a coating for bullets and shrapnel, but have not used it in war because it’s use is contrary to The Hague Convention 1899.

Russia is suspected of using ricin as a weapon, and of being involved in assassinations abroad, using ricin.

Al Qaeda is also suspected of experimenting with ricin for use in biological warfare. There was a false alarm in London in 2002, when newspapers reported wrongly that there had been an al Queda conspiracy to use it in the underground. Later, when the suspects' home in Wood Green was raided, no traces of ricin were discovered, but this was not disclosed to the public for several years, and the pervading sense of tension and anxiety was conveniently used used as political propaganda to justify war in Iraq

CNN News April 18 2013

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More Information in This Popular YouTube Video About Deadly Poisons

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Diana Grant

Why can't people live in peace and express their opinions in a reasonable way? What do you think about Ricin?

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    • Angela Blair profile image

      Angela Blair 

      8 years ago from Central Texas

      Ricin is another horrible weapon the world must face today. You've definitely expanded my knowledge of this killer product and I thank you. Best/Sis

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 

      8 years ago from West By God

      I never knew about this poison and I am so glad you wrote about it and explained it. I did learn lots. Now they have done the bad side as in trying to use it in warfare, but there has to be a good side to it also and I do hope they try to use it to squash some nasty diseases that we have going around the world. Thanks for this hub. I voted it up and useful and interesting. I will spread it to my contacts for you.

    • dilipchandra12 profile image

      Dilip Chandra 

      8 years ago from India

      Informative hub on Ricin, i really do not know much about the same. Thank you for the knowledge.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      8 years ago from England

      HI diana, I had obviously heard about Ricin, but had no idea where it came from. To think it is such a simple little bean is terrifying really, and I had heard about the umbrella incident before but didn't realise that they had discovered ricin in a pellet pumped into his leg. we have seen this on tv over the last few days, scary stuff, and thanks for the info, at least now I understand what it means when someone gets it in the post, horrible, and yes why can't we all just live in peace?


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