What Should You Know about Ricin?
What Is the Medical Definition of Ricin?
Ricin is a potent toxin that has gained attention in recent years because it could be used as an agent of biological warfare or as a weapon of mass destruction (WMD). Ricin is derived from the beans of the castor plant (Ricinus communis), and is part of the waste material called "white mash" that is left over from processing castor beans into castor oil. Only a small amount of this poison can be lethal. Exposure arises when it is inhaled, ingested, or injected.
Ricin is a type of poisoning and an infectious disease, and it's not contagious (spread from person to person). Symptoms of ricin poisoning depend upon the amount of the toxin, and the method of exposure, but may include fever, vomiting, nausea, severe cough, abdominal pain, diarrhea, dehydration, and flu-like symptoms.
How Soon Do Symptoms of Ricin Poisoning Begin?
Signs and symptoms usually begin within 4-6 hours of being exposed to the toxin. Death can occur between 36 and 72 hours of exposure. The resulting symptoms depend upon the amount of the toxin and the method by which the individual was exposed.
Is There a Vaccine or Treatment for It?
There are no available antidotes or vaccines for ricin poisoning. It has no treatment or preventive vaccine.
How Easy Is It to Make?
It is easily and inexpensively produced, highly toxic, and is stable in aerosolized form. The use of this type of poison for terror attacks has been documented in both the US and other countries.
What Is Ricin, How Is It Made?
Ricin is a protein derived from the beans of the castor plant (R communis). Castor beans are used in the production of castor oil, a brake and hydraulic fluid constituent. Ricin makes up 3% to 5% of the "waste mash" that is produced during this process. Separating out this protein is not difficult. It only requires chromatography, a common undergraduate chemistry skill.