What is ricin? - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

What is ricin?

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It's widely grown as an ornamental plant, but the castor oil plant's seeds can be used as a deadly weapon.

Ricin is made from the castor plant, which grows wild, including here in Northwest Louisiana.

"If you take castor beans themselves, and you swallow the beans, they have a rather tough outer shell, so they're not digested well," says Dr. Mark Ryan, Director of the Louisiana Poison Control Center.

If ricin comes into contact with intact skin, health experts say it probably won't cause much of an issue.

But made well, ricin can be a deadly poison.

"Once ricin gets into your body, that's where the problems begin."

Ryan says once ingested, ricin prevents cells from making proteins, causing cell death and organ failure.

A dose the size of a few grains of table salt can kill an adult human. Symptoms usually appear within 24 hours of exposure.

"You can lose large amounts of fluid, even enough to potentially die from the fluid loss."

Amateurs attempting to use castor beans to make ricin usually produce a much less potent version.

But the major reason ricin is a public health threat is that it is easy to obtain.

"The castor plant grows wild, and it grows very prolific in this area so it is a very common plant," Ryan says.

If inhaled, ricin can cause a burning sensation, discomfort, severe cough and fever.

If exposure continues, the body will produce excess fluid in the lungs, making it even more difficult to breath.

Right now, there's no antidote available for ricin poisoning, only symptomatic and supportive treatment options.

In severe cases, death typically occurs between 3 to 5 days of the initial exposure.

If you think you've come into contact with ricin, health experts recommend seeking medical attention immediately.

Don't wait until symptoms become severe.

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