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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Tuesday 31st January 2012

Last August, I wrote that one of my intentions in writing a daily blog was to force me to keep myself up to date with new incidents or new research and in October I mentioned that new information does give me a problem with my ‘Lethal Lovelies’ talk because I want to keep adding new stories.

Today, as I began prepping for a talk on Thursday evening I’ve been confronting that dilemma, again. But, there is a new factor to be taken into account this time.

I joke at the start of ‘Lethal Lovelies’ that I set out to give a talk telling all of the stories about poisonous and psychoactive plants but soon found that such a talk would run to about four hours and that means that the normal 45 minute time slot can only give a selection. Much as I rehearse before every talk, I always seem to find a story that my brain insists I add in on the day so my 40 minute target, expected to run to 45 minutes on the day, can get stretched to 50 minutes.

Narcissus, daffodil

Narcissus, daffodil

But, this Thursday, I need to be especially careful about timing. I’ve heard from a number of people about a recent talk given to one of the local groups that ran to over an hour and a half and consisted, mostly, of endless streams of figures being read directly from the PowerPoint presentation slides. I know that some of the people who will be in the audience for me were there for what was described as a tedious marathon so I must make sure I don’t give them a second bad experience so soon.

That means deciding what stays and what goes. I always try and give up to date information about the psychoactives so, to take just one of them, I do need to adjust what I say to take account of some recent research on the way caffeine operates in the brain. I confess to not having the full vocabulary necessary to understand that paper but this article was a big help. It seems to be showing that caffeine operates in a different way to things like alcohol and heroin but that the difference is not so great as had been thought. I think I’m still safe in saying that caffeine produces addiction but I need to acknowledge that the addiction is not so strong as for some other substances.

When it comes to poisoning by accidental ingestion I shall certainly want to include the new story about Solanum dulcamara, woody nightshade, not least because it does point up some general conclusions. To do that I’ll have to reduce the number of incidents of poisoning from Narcissus, daffodil, bulbs but, given that they are in the ground at this time of year and, therefore, must less likely to be eaten in mistake for onions, that may not matter too much.

Veratrum album, white hellebore or sneezewort

Veratrum album, white hellebore
or sneezewort

After talking about the problems caused by Heracleum mantegazzianum, giant hogweed, I will keep the story of the woman who suffered severe burns from contact with Pastinaca sativa, parsnip, and I’d like to add the story I heard during one of my talks last November 10th. The trouble is I’ve already cut the ‘Don’t Touch’ content quite a bit so I may have to drop all reference to Euphorbia plants.

Though there are a number of plants that can make you unwell from the smell, I only talk about Veratrum album, white hellebore or sneezewort, so if I include a story from November 2010 that I came across recently about the roots being mistaken for wild garlic I’ll have to find the time from another section.

I’ll probably leave out a case report about digoxin overdose in a 73-year old woman because that was the result of an accidental overdose of a prescribed medication rather than directly from the foxglove plant though it is a useful way to discuss the difference caused by dosage.

I’ll want to talk about Asim Kauser when I get around to Ricinus communis, castor oil plant. Kauser has now been sentenced to over two years in jail in spite of the judge accepting that he had no terrorist contacts and had not used the information he downloaded. I still don’t know who advised him to plead guilty but it troubles me that it appears as though he was persuaded that he would not get a fair hearing from an English court.

In ‘Lethal Lovelies’ I tend to just talk about the folklore and history of the psychoactives because there just isn’t the time to get into all the issues. Sometimes I’ll get a question about drugs and can go into a few things in answer. I always hope that comes up and my other hoped for question relates to fungi. I’m not sure whether I’ll stick to the Amanita muscaria, fly agaric, legends or bring in the recent Amanita phalloides, death cap, fatalities. I’ll certainly try and read the audience before deciding whether to talk about Kathy Gyngell’s misinformation about fly agaric.