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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

May 2013

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Thursday 30th May 2013

A couple of days ago, the 2013 European Drug Report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) was published. After reading the summary, I sat and wrote a piece extracting one or two points from the report and drawing conclusions from them that, it seemed to me, are generally applicable.

But, when I reread it several times, I realised that it wasn’t saying any new about the subject of psychoactive substances, the people who use them or the harms that can result from that use...more

Tuesday 28th May 2013

The one thing that keeps me fighting the constant war against weeds in the garden is the evidence I have that it is possible to achieve partial victories. When we moved here, twelve years ago, it was Rumex obtusifolius, broad-leaved dock, that dominated. I used to finish most sessions in the garden with ’10 docks’. That is, I would go around removing a minimum of ten dock plants.

After several years, I was finding that I couldn’t always find ten docks to remove - a clear sign that you can defeat the weeds. It still needs vigilance to make sure they don’t return but, to a reasonable degree, I can claim the garden to be largely dock-free...more

Monday 27th May 2013

It is a couple of weeks since I wrote about Datura stramonium, jimsonweed, being in the news because of its use as a psychoactive. A few days ago it was back in the news but for an entirely different reason.

Before coming to that, I’ll quickly follow up the earlier story by saying that I never did get a response from the American Association of Poison Control Centers to my query about whether it had said there were thousands of cases every year and whether the claim that there were hundreds of deaths had been wrongly attributed to the AAPCC..more

Saturday 25th May 2013

You will be familiar with the description of a fidget as someone having ants in their pants. This morning I found that I’d got ants in my plants. (To make that work you either need a very posh accent so that you say ‘ants’ like ‘aunts’ or else you need to be from the southern states of the USA.)

As it has in the previous couple of years, my Mandragora officinarum, mandrake, had come up early, flowered, failed to set fruit and started to die off. This morning I was surprised to see that there was soil on the floor all around the pot and that the remaining leaves were also covered in earth...more

Tuesday 21st May 2013

I’ve been having an argument with myself about Heracleum mantegazzianum, giant hogweed. If you follow that link to the plant page you’ll see that I have blogged about it on many occasions and, last year, tracked the development of a number of patches of the plant in Edinburgh. In those pieces, I expressed my concern that allowing the plants to mature and set seed would result in their proliferation. With the very nasty burns that can arise from contact with the plant, I feared that many more people could be harmed if no attempt is made to control its spread.

There is another recurring theme to this blog and that is the Jerry Maguire Test. Very early in the life of this blog I explained that I am wary of accepting the voices of doom who pronounce on the dangers of one plant or another because it is, generally, difficult to find large numbers of case reports to show that the potential for harm is being realised. And there is my internal argument. Am I doing what I condemn in others; making a fuss about a plant that, in reality, doesn’t cause a lot of harm?...more

Monday 13th May 2013

I don’t know if anyone will read this. That’s not the paranoia of the lonely blogger. I just haven’t decided whether I should publish what I’m about to write and I know I won’t be able to make a final decision until I’ve finished writing. I’m facing the conundrum about how to criticise a blatant self-publicist without adding to the publicity they are seeking.

Previously, I have written about Peter Hitchens’ shameless promotion of his own book and, on that occasion, the response I got encouraged me to write more about it the next day. But I wondered, at the time, if it was a wise thing to do and the fact that Hitchens book has been pretty much of a failure doesn’t completely allay my fears about promoting tosh when criticising it...more

Saturday 11th May 2013

There are some stories about plants that keep being told and the question, for me, is whether to respond to them every time they get repeated. Things like the claimed harmful potential from ricin, the poison found in Ricinus communis, castor oil plant, or the alleged risk to horses from Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort, regularly feature in all forms of online media.

I try, and almost certainly fail, to find a balance between simply repeating previous pieces on every occasion and making sure that spurious claims are refuted in the hope that anyone seeking information with an open mind has access to all the information. I’ll probably write more about this, as far as ricin is concerned, shortly.

Today, though, I want to write about another of the regulars; Datura stramonium, jimsonweed, thornapple...more

Friday 10th May 2013

'If drugs are harmful and kill why do people sell them and make them? It’s stupid, they’re putting other peoples’ lives at stake. By the way I’m 12 and doing it for a report at school and dads a cop, moms a lawyer.'

I received this email from someone in the USA and thought I’d reply here partly because this is a question a lot of people ask but also because I’m waiting to hear from a parent before replying directly. Obviously, I’m not going to identify the young person who sent the email so I’ll refer to them by the gender neutral Jamie..more

Wednesday 1st May 2013

I thought I should try and make these musings a little more highbrow and decided that a piece of poetry to open might achieve that enhanced sophistication.


‘Hooray, hooray, the 1st of May,
Outdoor sex begins today.’...more


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