I wrote, yesterday, that ‘when it comes to the psychoactive substances, that there is a huge amount of new material being generated’ but I didn’t know at the time how true that would prove.
Today, a total of 848 pages of information were published in just three documents that have come to my attention. Luckily, one of them is a paperback book so I can defer trying to digest that until Amazon delivers but that only buys me a day or two...more
As the first anniversary of starting this blog moves closer, I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned by writing it.
I’ll save a full review of what it has been all about for the actual anniversary because there were a number of reasons for doing it but the one about learning is worth looking at on its own...more
I haven’t, yet, paid for a year’s subscription to the British Newspapers Archive although it is nearly three weeks since I said I would. It is very likely that I will subscribe soon because, after looking at some of the material I downloaded during my short-term trial, I’ve been left with a question.
I only found three items related to Dr. Robert Buchanan and that is interesting in itself. Two of them are largely similar, probably, meaning they were re-workings of the same agency report. All three are from July 1895 and report on Buchanan’s execution...more
Today, for a change, a numbers puzzle. Can you work out the significance of the numbers in the following piece?
Since I started this blog, nearly a year ago, I have often written about ricin (1) the toxic (2) component found in the seeds of Ricinus communis, castor oil plant. I’ve said that it usually gets mentioned in connection with an allegedly planned Al Qaeda (3) inspired terror (4) attack (5)...more
At this time of year I start to see the same plant appearing regularly for my Google Alerts including the word poison. The reason I mention this is because it is not a poisonous plant.
Rhus radicans, also known as Rhus toxicodendron or Toxicodendron radicans, is usually referred to by its common name, poison ivy. Contact with the plant transfer an oil called urishiol to the skin and, in the majority of cases, results in the symptoms of dermatitis; itching, blistering and pigmentation change. Repeated exposure can produce sensitization so that the effects become much worse..more
You wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you knew how infrequently they did.
I don’t know who first had that thought. It seems that, worded differently, it is attributed to Olin Miller but no-one seems to know who Olin Miller was nor be able to cite any written works other than a few other ‘wise old sayings’ that get attributed to him.
It came to mind, yesterday, when someone told me they had heard that I was ‘vehemently opposed’ to alcohol. I know the person who said this and I can’t recall he and I ever having a discussion specifically about alcohol so I don’t know if someone else has told him and he has believed them or if something I said in a general conversation has given that impression...more
I received such a strongly positive reaction to yesterday’s contribution to Sciencegeist’s ToxicCarnival that I thought I’d have a look for another chemical from plants with an interesting story.
In the interests of full disclosure I’d better say that what follows is very largely based on a page that I wrote for this website soon after I first set it up in 2008. But, the ways in which what should be definitive science have been manipulated to suit interest groups seemed to me to be a good example of what started the ToxicCarnival...more
There’s been quite a lot about chemicals on the Internet, recently. I don’t know where or when it started but I know when it came to my attention. That was when Deborah Blum wrote a piece about New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and a column he wrote, the latest in a line of writings about how chemicals are bad.
That led me to an interview with the CEO of Dow Chemical in which he says that the company is trying to stress the ‘Dow’ even though ‘Chemical’ is still in the name because of the negative images conjured up these days by the word ‘chemical’. At one point in the interview, he says ‘95 percent of all products out there have chemistry in them’. This led to a number of science bloggers speculating about what that other 5% could be made of...more
For a brief period, this morning, I thought I’d found a website dealing sensibly with Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort, and its effect on horses. Sadly, it didn’t last.
It concerned an incident where a number of horses in the same stable became very ill after being fed hay contaminated with ragwort and, unlike nearly every other ‘horsey’ website, it pointed out that horses will not graze on living ragwort unless they are actually starving and that the problem comes when ragwort is cropped along with grass for hay...more
I spoke too soon. When I said Wednesday that my talks ‘season’ had ended I reckoned without getting a fairly short notice request to talk to a Rotary Club later this week.
It is an after dinner event with the request being for twenty minutes with no visual aids and I’m still trying to decide what to pick out for inclusion. The real skill, that I’m not sure I possess, is to say just enough to whet appetites so that there are plenty of questions at the end..more
Two reports, one from each end of the story of heroin, raised further concerns about the falling quality of newspapers in the UK. I thought I’d detected a common problem with the two but that turned out not to be the case.
The Guardian website also carries content from The Observer, the paper owned by the owners of the Guardian but, at the moment, produced by a separate editorial staff. When the two reports appeared, yesterday, my first assumption was that they both came from the Observer and their failings could not be laid at the door of the Guardian...more
Although, yesterday, you wouldn’t have believed it possible today saw the start of ‘open garden’ season, the time of year when people allow the public to look round their gardens as a means of raising funds for a local or national cause.
Luckily, however, today turned out to one of those times when the north/south divide works in reverse. Listening to the cricket commentators from Lords in London complaining about how cold and gloomy it was it didn’t seem possible that we were having our best day, so far, this year...more
Saturday 12th May 2012 A week ago, I wrote (OK, ranted if you prefer) about a bizarre email I received from someone who used the contact form to get in touch. In late April, I received what might also be described as a bizarre enquiry but this time it was bizarre in a very good way.
I’ve waited until now to write about it because I wanted to have the full story to tell...more
Two different stories illustrating problems with press reporting caught my attention, today. I’ve said before that there is little point in trying to point out every error on the Internet but these two struck me as particular examples of newspapers happily passing on incorrect information and perpetuating myths as a result.
Another trip to Edinburgh, yesterday, just twelve days since the previous one, offered the chance to see just how quickly Heracleum mantegazzianum, giant hogweed, grows and to see if there was any indication of control measures being taken.
I thought I'd try and take some pictures from the same spots as last time so as to be able to get a clear comparison of the plants...more
The Scottish government has announced its intended minimum alcohol price and has set the level at 50p per unit. When I wrote about Scotland’s plans for a minimum price Wednesday 2nd November I used 50p per unit to illustrate a point but for some time it was thought that the move would be to a 45p minimum.
The UK government, now considering minimum pricing as one arm of a new alcohol strategy is thought to be looking at 40p so the 50p move in Scotland is somewhat more extreme than expected...more
There are times when I wish I could have been a journalist, or, at least, been able to think and behave like a journalist. It must be very liberating to not have to behave consistently from one day to the next but, instead, to be able to take your overall prejudices and apply them to contradictory situations.
This blog is going to be about the Daily Mail, undoubtedly the worst example of this ability to ignore logic, but I’ll begin by explaining what I mean with an example from Private Eye, not a publication many would think of as committing the same sins as the mainstream media...more
Usually when I write about ricin, the highly toxic lectin found in Ricinus communis, castor oil plant, it is to do with yet another reference to it as a bioterrorism weapon. I point out that there is no practical route for causing large scale fatalities using ricin and, even as a one on one weapon, it has a low success rate.
But, of course, a low fatality rate is not the same as a zero fatality rate and a newly reported case from Saudi Arabia illustrates that ricin can kill...more
I said, on Friday, that I would have a look at the most recent appearances of Laburnum in the British Newspapers Archive to see if I could detect a change in the reporting of any poisoning incidents from the early 19th century.
Immediately, I came across a problem that I’ve had in other circumstances but, it seems to me, to adopt the cliché, that this problem was really an opportunity to look at attitudes to this tree..more
Usually, when I receive an email from someone who has completed the contact form on the website, I try and reply immediately. That is very easy to do if the correspondent has just been kind enough to say they’ve enjoyed visiting the site or if their question is straightforward.
Occasionally, I may need to take a bit of time thinking about how to word my reply so as not to give offence. For example, if someone emails to say that their daughter insists on having poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima, in the house at Christmas in spite of being told that, if the grandchildren eat just one leaf, they will die and can I please suggest how to get her daughter to appreciate the danger, I try to reply truthfully without suggesting that the emailer is really stupid to believe complete rubbish...more
I thought I should put thoughts of murder to one side, today,
and see instead if one of my other suspicions could be proved or
the British newspapers archive.
I’ve written before, last October and in March, about my belief that a lot of the reputation Laburnum has for being a very dangerous plant to have around children was the result of over-hysterical reporting so I decided to see what the archives had to say on the matter even though they only go up to 1950, so far, and the problem seems to have been worst in the 1970s...more
Time for a brief update on my gardening progress for this year. This far north, it is not a good idea to put annuals out until the beginning of June, though I take that to mean when the ten day forecast reaches 1st June and there is no chance of any frost at the end of May.
That means this is the time of year when the seedlings are starting to get to a fair size and the number of pots spread around the sunroom explodes...more
Although it is only the second day and I still have about two–thirds of my credits to spend, I’m already very close to deciding that £80 for a year’s unlimited access to the British newspapers archive will be money well spent.
Because this was only a trial subscription, I thought I should research a number of different stories rather than just spending all my time on Dr. Crippen, interesting though many of the stories I’ve found, so far, are...more
My interest in poisonous and psychoactive plants falls into four, usually, discrete areas. There’s the growing of the plants and the possibilities of accidental poisoning that arise. The psychoactive substances and the policies and politics applied to the control or otherwise of their use. The use of plant derived poisons as murder weapons and the stories of the murderers who used them. And, the use of potentially harmful substances in smaller amounts where they may (or may not) be beneficial.
Today, purely by chance, those last two came together in an interesting side story to what we know about the infamous murderer, Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen...more
What killed Lenin? That question was posed at a recent halfday conference at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Harry Vinters, MD, professor of neurology and neuropathology and chief of the division of neuropathology in the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles examined the medical evidence for various possible causes of death with a noted expert in Russian history, Lev Lurie, checking the various theories against the historical record.
Apparently, the Historical Clinicopathological Conference is an annual event. I assume it is meant to be quite light-hearted but with the serious point of showing the importance of looking very carefully at all available information, including that which is not directly medical, when forming a diagnosis. As well, of course, as indicating how far medicine has advanced since the historical event chosen each year..more
I’m returning to a story I wrote about just five days ago 1st may because there has been a development. Unlike the original story, this development has not been widely reported.
Previously, I stressed that I wanted to avoid speculation but I’ve realised that this was a mistake because I cannot now say ‘I told you so’. If I claim that the latest news on the case of the seven people arrested under anti-terrorism legislation in connection with the supply of Catha edulis, khat, to the USA is exactly what I expected to happen, you’d have every right to scoff. If only I’d speculated, last time, I could crow about my insight....more
There’s an interesting discussion about peer group substance use in the latest edition of ‘Addiction’. It set me thinking about what little we really know in spite of all the time spent on research.
The notion is that the perception of peer group substance use can influence an individual’s own decision on whether and how much to use. It has been suggested, recently, that people tend to over-estimate the substance use of those around them and might, therefore, be more prone to use themselves...more
A shopping trip to Edinburgh revealed that the Heracleum mantegazzianum, giant hogweed, seems to be doing particularly well, this year.
Giant hogweed has been a frequent subject of this blog but I thought it might be worth giving some pictures that might help with identification since it may well be that you will come across on or adjacent to where you are walking..more
After what seems like weeks of hiding away from the wind, rain and cold, I ventured out into the garden and found the Polygonatum, Solomon’s seal, in bud.
I didn’t plant these perennials so I can’t be sure of the species but it is likely to be either multiflorum, common Solomon’s seal, or odoratum, angular Solomon’s seal. They come up at the very edge of the garden almost under the concrete of the next door neighbour’s path and that may explain why they don’t ever seem to do very well...more
There are a great many organisations with an interest in psychoactive substance use and they produce a great many reports either as one-offs or annually. I’m sure there are people who can read and digest every word of every one of these reports but I’m not one of them.
This means that I try and get the sense of one-off reports to determine which is worth reading in full and, with annual reports, I’ve found that some really don’t reward a full reading but are worth keeping for reference...more
This should be a very short entry today.
One of my pet hates is the way the mainstream media speculate based on zero information and create completely the wrong impression about a story. If I’m going to avoid doing that myself I’ll need to keep this quite short...more
'Is That Cat Dead? - and other questions about poison plants' is now also available in Kindle form from Amazon.