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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

January 2014

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Tuesday 28th January 2014

A 2013 paper from Sweden about attitudes to Catha edulis, khat, seemed to me to have implications outside that country and not all to do just with that one mildly psychoactive plant.

The article is not based on new research but is a review of attitudes to khat in the Swedish media and how anti-khat groups work to create those attitudes. The period covered, from 1986 to 2012, seems rather a long one for drawing any conclusions given that attitudes to psychoactive substances change reasonably quickly but, it appears, khat is not a common subject for the Swedish press. The author found 33 articles in the main news database plus ‘a few’ on newspaper websites that were not in the database...more

Thursday 23rd January 2014

Writing the script for the ‘Poisonous Plants 1-2-1’ video about foxgloves (plants in the genus Digitalis) meant going through my information about Dr. William Withering. A beautifully produced facsimile of his ‘An Account of the Foxglove’ is one of the jewels of my library and Withering himself is a hero.

The study he undertook, starting in 1774 and leading to the 1785 publication, has many things that make it relevant today. Of course, you wouldn’t do a study exactly as Withering did because he did not obtain informed consent from his subjects and he did not use any sort of control group but in other respects it has a lot to tell today’s researchers..more

Friday 17th January 2014

There’s been quite a lot about gout in the media in the past few days. Rather than try wading through a selection of those stories, I recommend the NHS Choices article for a measured account.

The story made me think that this was the right time for a ‘Poisonous Plants 1-2-1’ video about Colchicum autumnale, autumn crocus, because the colchicine in the plant is used to treat gout, though care must be taken not to give an overdose...more

Wednesday 15th January 2014

A poison mystery linked to someone who died over 2,300 years ago has been back in the news but, for me at least, the mystery isn’t about the person or the poison. The person is Alexander the Great who died in 323 BC. The poison is Veratrum album, white hellebore. The mystery comes later.

This is one of those stories that has taken a time to roll out. It began on 27th December 2013 when my Google Alert took me to an abstract of a piece in ‘Clinical Toxicology’ entitled ‘Was the death of Alexander the Great due to poisoning? Was it Veratrum album?’ For the reason I’ll come to, I didn’t pay it a lot of attention...more

Monday 13th January 2014

I’ve been watching ‘Prohibition’ the three part documentary directed by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick. It was shown last year on PBS in the USA but I caught up with the Europe format DVD.  I had expected to see parallels between that period of American history and the world since the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs but I was surprised at just how many parallels there were in almost every detail.

I found that rather dispiriting but I’ll return to that later. I’m not going to attempt to detail every item that, for me, had a contemporary relevance but I thought I would pick out a few that seem to have particular resonance...more

Thursday 9th January 2014

When I began making the videos in the series ‘Poisonous Plants 1-2-1’ I realised that there would be some plants whose stories were so complex and convoluted that it would be hard to compress them into the short format. With practice, I think I’ve found how to get at the key issues without leaving too much out.

Two of the plants with the greatest amount of available myths, stories and facts were the castor oil plant and common ragwort. Having dealt with Ricinus communis last month I decided to have a go at Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort, that I would say is the more complex of the two...more

Tuesday 7th January 2014

As well as asking what is on TV, I sometimes ask why a particular programme or item is being broadcast. It’s happened twice in two days both times involving psychoactive substances though the first time the question was actually ‘Why isn’t this on?’

According to my hard copy TV listings magazine (presumably compiled before the Christmas break), BBC Three was showing a programme called ‘The Truth about Skunk’ at 2100 on Monday 6th January. When I went looking for the online listing so I could Tweet about it, I found an entirely different programme in the schedule. Further searching of other listings only produced results like ‘not scheduled within next 30 days’ or ‘no broadcast date available’..more

Wednesday 1st January 2014

Incidents of mass poisoning affecting many millions of people around the world are NOT being reported by the media, today. That’s because very few of the victims will consider themselves to have been poisoned and most would scoff at the notion if put to them.

There will even be those who attribute their ill health to a cause other than the actual poisoning agent involved. Michael Green in his 1975 book ‘The Art of Coarse Drinking’ defined a coarse drinker as someone who, waking with a hangover after a heavy night, concludes there must have been something wrong with the tonic...more

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