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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

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Monday 30th April 2012

The May edition of ‘Addiction’ contains a ‘For Debate’ article offering possible policies for legalizing Cannabis sativa, marijuana. The piece was published online in October 2011 but events on 20th April, or that should be non-events, have rendered it out of date already.

In a section on the proposals but forward in 2010 under Proposition 19, the authors state ‘Although Proposition 19 was defeated, the support was so strong that a redesigned initiative is likely to be on the 2012 ballot in California, and possibly other states.’ That will not be the case...more

Sunday 29th April 2012

On 20th April, the Huffington Post, in its comedy section, gave a guide to Cannabis sativa, marijuana, featuring stock photos of dogs looking weird though the piece stressed that there was no reason to believe the dogs had consumed pot1.

It would be easy to get side-tracked by looking into the reported effects of marijuana on dogs because there’s been quite a lot written about it, including a splendid ‘Paragraph 19’ story from Denver2. A ‘Paragraph 19’ story is one where the impression given by the headline is completely debunked lower down the story. In this case ‘pot can kill your dog’ in the headline becomes ‘none of the dogs treated for marijuana toxicity at Aspen Meadow have died’ actually in the fifteenth paragraph, of sixteen...more

Saturday 28th April 2012

Everywhere is looking very yellow at the moment. In the fields it is the flowers of Brassica napus, oilseed rape, giving a golden sheen to large swathes of countryside, especially in the brief moments when the sun comes through between the rain clouds.

And, on the roadside verges, it is Taraxacum officinale, dandelion, replacing the yellow Narcissus, daffodils. I can’t claim to have made a careful study, but it does seem that there are an unusually high number of dandelion flowers this year. The question, for me, is – does dandelion count as a poisonous plant?...more

Friday, 27th April 2012

Every generation thinks it has discovered everything and, frequently, looks back to previous generations with some degree of derision for what they did not know. The truth, of course, is that whilst we may have got much better at finding things out than our ancestors from hundreds of years ago we have not necessarily applied our new found techniques to every aspect of life.

A press release from University College London1 says that not enough is known about the effect of prescribed medication on a developing foetus. One reason for this is that pregnant women are usually not selected to take part in clinical trials and, once a drug is approved, there is not always research into this area...more

Thursday 26th April 2012

Like everyone, I’ve heard quite a lot about Afghanistan starting with the Soviet invasion on 27th December 1979 and increasing since the November 2001 invasion to overthrow the Taliban. In addition, since 2005 when my interest in Papaver somniferum, opium poppy, started, I read a lot of reports from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) detailing poppy cultivation throughout the country.

But, until recently, I’d only read one book about Afghanistan and that a very short one with many photographs and fairly brief text. Now, however, I’ve just finished reading ‘Opium Nation’ by Fariba Nawa and I can thoroughly recommend it to anyone who wants to get beyond the news stories and governments’ perspectives of what is going on in that country and the effect of poppy cultivation and trafficking...more

Wednesday 25th April 2012

Though there are still people who say there is no ‘war on drugs’ even they could not deny that a lot of money is spent trying to reduce the use of drugs. Prohibitionists would say the trouble is that not enough money is spent whereas I would argue that much of it is spent on impossible goals.

To illustrate my general point I want to write about one particular instance where money was spent with the specific intention of reducing drug use...more

Tuesday 24th April 2012

The Homes Affairs Select Committee (HASC) inquiry into drug policy is becoming the gift that keeps on giving. I’ve written three times before  about the written evidence submitted to it; 28th March, 30th March and 8th April. And I’ve written about the hearings themselves a couple of times; 24th January and 5th March.

Today, the HASC held a further session of taking evidence from live witnesses. It began with Russell Brand and Chip Somers from the charity Focus 12 that helped Brand recover from his addiction. As usual with these celebrity appearances, it was all about anecdote rather than evidence with Brand clearly believing that what happened to him is the general experience of drug users. Calling in ‘celebs’ may help to keep the committee in the public eye but I hope their contributions don’t distort the final report...more

Monday 23rd April 2012

Chinese medicine is in trouble, again. This time, however, it is not Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) but all forms of medicine in China. I’ve written a number of times about Aristolochia species in TCM (visit the plant page for links to those blog entries) and, most recently, 15th april about other substances found in TCM preparations that either weren’t declared on the packaging or are banned from use.

The latest story, however, is not about what is in TCM but what is on both TCM and conventional medications and supplements. There is concern that many manufacturers of gel capsules for medical use are supplying products with high levels of chromium...more

Sunday 22nd April 2012

I’ve been thinking about coke. Thinking is not case sensitive so I didn’t need to tell myself I was thinking about Coke and coke but when I write about thinking, I do. It’s another one of those times when two entirely separate things collided in my brain.

I’ll start with Coke and then turn my attention to coke and, hopefully, bring them together at the end...more

Saturday 21st April 2012

One of the questions asked after this week's talk threw me; it was entirely gardening related. The questioner was surprised to hear that I have little or no gardening knowledge or ability.

That lack of awareness means I'm sometimes childlike in my wonder at how nature works so I thought I'd share a few pictures showing how some of my plants are progressing...more

Friday 20th April 2012

For a long time I’ve believed that the only person in the USA talking sense about ricin, the poison obtained from the castor beans produced by Ricinus communis, the castor oil plant, was George Smith aka Dick Destiny.

Now, however, comes a report1 from a body established by the US Congress under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991. The Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) report, authored by Brian Michael Jenkins and Joseph Trella, ‘examines 13 terrorist plots against public surface transportation that were uncovered and foiled by authorities between 1997 and 2010 and two failed attempts to carry out attacks’...more

Thursday 19th April 2012

An email from a visitor to the site set me thinking about the potato. I’ll return to that email later but I thought I’d start by looking at plant names to see how useful they are.

The botanical name for the potato is Solanum tuberosum; in other words it is in the same genus as Solanum dulcamara, woody nightshade, a well-known poisonous perennial. And, though it has a different botanical name, it is very similar to Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade...more

Wednesday 18th April 2012

Well, that’s my ‘season’ over. The next talk in my diary is for September when the nights will be starting to draw in and the summer colours will be beginning to fade.

I finished with quite a little rush; three events in eight days. Two full-length talks, today and last Wednesday, and a short, after dinner, no PowerPoint talk of about fifteen minutes followed by the same time for questions. If I could find a way to be in two places at once I could have added a fourth because someone else asked me to speak tonight...more

Tuesday 17th April 2012

Cyanide is back in the news as part of the investigation into the death of British businessman, Neil Heywood, in China in November 2011. Though now produced chemically, cyanide can be obtained from quite a few plants.

I should really have said speculation about cyanide is back in the news because, so far, there is very little official information about what was originally reported to have been a death due to an alcohol overdose...more

Monday 16th April 2012

Though it has been long-trailed, today is officially the start of a government consultation about forcing tobacco companies to use plain packaging on cigarettes and their other products.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been spotting a number of stories about this and other aspects of tobacco control so this seems like the right time to run through some of them...more

Sunday 15th April 2012

In the past week, I’ve written twice about how aristolochic acid (AA) from plants in the Aristolochia genus has been shown to cause upper urinary tract cancer. The continuing presence of AA in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) remedies, in spite of its being banned both in Taiwan and many importing countries, has broadened the debate about potential harm to include the full range of herbal preparations.

By coincidence, this week also saw the publication of a ‘Research Article’ from Australia looking at a wider range of TCM preparations...more

Saturday 14th April 2012

I’m engaging in a little introspection today; thinking more about how I write than what I write. This comes about from the email correspondence I’ve had, in recent days with Professor Arthur Grollman, lead author of the research into Aristolochia that I’ve blogged about twice this week.

Without intentionally setting out to do so, Arthur has become something of a mentor for me in the way I write this blog and the rest of this website. I’m very grateful to him for the time he has spent politely steering me to telling my stories more precisely and, I hope, more clearly...more

Friday 13th April 2012

Just so you don’t have to read between the lines to get to it, I’ll say, quite clearly, that I’m feeling a little smug today. Now that’s said, I hope it will make me concentrate on the useful stuff rather than making the whole of this blog about how clever I am.

I’m mentioned before, on too many occasions to link to, that I have a number of Google Alerts bringing me daily information on a variety of topics and specific plants of interest. If you have a particular interest, or hobby, I recommend using an Alert as another way of keeping up to date..more

Thursday 12th April 2012

About thirty years ago, there was a saying about the three biggest lies in the world. That sort of thing gets permanently circulated by email these days but, back then, it was just word of mouth. The three lies were; ‘The cheque is in the post’, ‘Of course, I’ll respect you in the morning’ and ‘I’m from head office and I’m here to help’.

The passing of time means that cheques have all but disappeared from the business world and attitudes to casual sex are very different. But, it seems, the last, or anyway the final part of it, still applies. Someone saying they want to be helpful may be anything but...more

Wednesday 11th April 2012

I’ve written about the harm arising from the aristolochic acid found in Aristolochia clematitis, birthwort, and other species within the genus several times.  As well as an extensive discussion on the plant page in the A to Z section, I’ve blogged about it on 25th November and June 25th 2011.

Monday saw the online publication of the latest paper on the subject from Prof Arthur Grollman and his colleagues. Happily, after Monday’s blog, the full paper is available online.  It has some pretty complex chemistry in it but the discussion and conclusions are clear enough...more

Tuesday 10th April 2012

This is Homeopathy Awareness Week. In fact, today is World Homeopathy Day. I’ve written about homeopathy before but I thought I should do my bit for awareness by making as many people as possible aware that homeopathy has no scientific basis and that any effects seen are either a result of the placebo effect or simply a disease running its natural course.

It is easy to mock homeopathy and this week is creating plenty of good examples. Someone picked up on the homophone and said ‘Homeopathy; weak, I knew that’. More seriously, someone else asked when it will be ‘Homeopathy Beware Week’. And, of course, there have been plenty of comments about whether homeopathy awareness week should be marked by homeopaths only talking about it once in every 1030 words because that will give it greater strength...more

Monday 9th April 2012

I thought I would write about what I’m not writing about. By that I mean I’m returning to a subject I wrote about last November (30th); paywalls. The reason for doing so is related to an article in the Guardian that I’ll come to later.

Over the past few days, a number of items have caught my attention but I’ve been frustrated by only being able to access the barest details because the full information is only available to subscribers or those willing to pay anything up to £30 to get sight of it...more

Sunday 8th April 2012

I thought I’d have another look at the first batch of written submissions to the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) for its inquiry into government drugs policy. On 28th March, I picked out a few submissions from people or organisations I’ve written about before and, two days later, I looked at the number of references to Professor David Nutt.

I haven’t read all of every submission but I have gone through the whole document to get a sense of who has taken the trouble to provide written evidence and what their overall position is...more

Saturday 7th April 2012

Young people have always been inclined to take risks for excitement and those risks have always had a fashionable element to them. When I was a child, roller-skating holding onto the back of a bus or lorry was one that lots of children tried. Like a lot of fashions, it comes around from time to time as this story from 2000 (long after I ceased to be a child) shows.

I suppose you’d have to concede that, like all information, ideas for the latest craze spread faster today than was the case forty or more years ago but that doesn’t necessarily make them more dangerous..more

Friday 6th April 2012

For yesterday’s blog post about bees and pesticides I used a picture, taken last week, of a bumble bee visiting some Pulmonaria rubra 'Redstart' that I have for ground cover under some trees at the bottom of the garden.

It made me think about the Pulmonaria genus because Pulmonaria angustifolia 'Blue Ensign' was present in the Alnwick Garden Poison Garden....more

Thursday 5th April 2012

The world of poisons, not exclusively poisonous plants, extends into a wide variety of areas of interest and, just occasionally, I see a link between two of them that may not be obvious or, to be fair, valid.

In the past week or so the issue of neonicotinoid pesticides has, again, been in the news with a number of new reports being published very close together. The main issue with these pesticides is whether they can harm bees and other pollinators. I’ve written before about bees and poisoning, first on the general topic of whether toxins can get into honey and later on the specific problem of Rhododendron poisoning of bees, so I was interested in these new reports...more

Wednesday 4th April 2012

The vexed question of risk came up twice today on very different issues. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know that I think there is a lot of crying wolf about poisonous plants from all directions but they are poisonous plants so, surely, some precautions are necessary.

I received an email from someone who wanted to know if it would be safe to grow vegetables where Aconitum napellus, monkshood, had once grown providing great care was taken to remove every trace of the previous inhabitants. In reply, I pointed out that poisonous plants often grow near food plants but people don’t give that any thought. I had in mind the blackberry brambles, Rubus fruticosus, that people pick from hedgerows without even wondering what other plants grow in close proximity..more

Tuesday 3rd April 2012

For many people Oakland California is in their news today because of another campus murder outrage. Speculation is beginning to emerge as to what brought about the murder of seven people and the wounding of three others. This is, of course, a tragedy and, sadly, an all too frequent occurrence.

But, for me, the other story from Oakland, yesterday, was of equal concern. This was the federal raids on a number of premises associated with the use of Cannabis sativa, marijuana...more

Monday 2nd April 2012

Where have all the cigarettes gone? My weekly shopping took me into two large supermarkets. The first is arranged so that you walk passed the kiosk on the way out and I noticed that the tobacco displays were covered with plain white sliding doors. I made a point of looking in the second store and here also the displays had been covered with white doors carrying signs about the age restriction for buying tobacco.

I hadn’t heard anything about this new measure coming into force and when I got home I found out why. The new requirement is not, actually, compulsory until 6th April so these two stores both happen to have acted a few days before the new rules take effect...more

Sunday 1st April 2012

In my younger days, I was a regular reader of ‘Punch’. This was in its golden era under Alan Coren’s editorship. For, at least, the last fifteen years I’ve been a subscriber to ‘Private Eye’. What that means is that I’ve seen a huge number of cartoons and I couldn’t describe one in a thousand to you.

But there was a cartoon, some years ago in ‘Private Eye’ that has stayed with me and that comes to mind regularly. It is one o’clock in the morning and a man, wearing only underpants, is tapping furiously at his keyboard. His wife, in her nightdress, asks him why he won’t come to bed. ‘I can’t’, he replies, ‘something is wrong on the Internet’...more


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