Ricin – Another Weapon of Terror

It’s often said that fact is stranger than fiction, so I pose thisMH900382649 seemingly ridiculous question to you– What do a martial arts instructor, an Elvis impersonator and the deadly chemical agent ricin have in common?

The answer has been in the news recentlyAll three are linked to the attempted murders of a U.S. senator and the President.

Earlier this month, an envelope addressed to Senator Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi, allegedly contained the deadly substance ricin. And just a day later, a similar letter addressed toMH900427811 President Obama was discovered and it also allegedly contained a white granular powder that was later identified as ricin. Fortunately, both letters were opened off-site and they never got close to the intended targets.

As the investigations progressed, it was revealed that an Elvis impersonator was connected to the crime. Further evidence indicated that the accused might have been the target of a frame that resulted from a long-standing feud with a martial arts instructor. It’s MH900412606now believed that this second person may be the real perpetrator and is being charged with developing and possessing ricin, and then attempting to use it as a deadly weapon. If convicted, this martial arts instructor could face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

Ricin is one of the most poisonous chemicals on Earth. It’s a highly lethal poison found naturally in castor beans and there is no known antidote.

The chemical Ricin is a naturally occurring protein from the castor oil plant. It’s extracted from the waste matter (called the “mash”) left over from processing castor beans into castor oil. Ricin can be made in the form of a powder, a mist, a pellet, or it can be dissolved in water.

It’s important to point out that commercial castor oil contains none of the toxic proteins from the mash and is a safe product to use.

The medium lethal oral dose of ricin is a little over 3mg. That meansMH900422326 a dose of pure ricin about the size of a few grains of table salt can kill an adult human. If the chemical is injected or inhaled, the dose is even lower, about 1.5mg to kill a 150-lb adult.

As with most chemicals, various factors determine how sick a person will become when exposed, and if it will be fatal. These include how much ricin a person is exposed to, how long the exposure lasts, and what exposure method is used. For instance, inhalation and injection are almost always fatal, but ingestion may only make a person extremely sick, especially if medical support is rapidly provided.

The purity of ricin can also significantly affect how lethal a dose is. When the chemical is purified by special, technically advanced processes, the substance is much more deadly than “back kitchen” processing.

Ricin kills by infecting our cellular structures and blocking their ability to synthesize their own proteins. When a cell cannot make protein, key bodily functions shut down and progressive organ failure usually results in death. Even when a person survives ricin poisoning, permanent organ damage often results.

The progression to death is extremely unpleasant. Usually, humans exposed to a lethal oral dose will experience severe vomiting and diarrhea within six hours of exposure and this results in serious dehydration. Eventually, the kidneys, liver and pancreas fail. Death follows soon after.

Inhalation of ricin, on the other hand, produces different effects since the poison interacts with other body parts. Inhaled ricin causes a vicious, bloody cough and the lungs fill with fluid. Eventually, the lungs become so fluid filled that the victim loses the ability to breathe. In effect, the person drowns in the body’s own fluids.

MH900308894Lethal doses of ricin that are injected usually result in intense flu-like symptoms, swelling around the injection site, and eventual progressive organ failure as the poison circulates throughout the body.MH900295297

Death from inhalation or injection occurs in about three to five days after contact, but it could be as rapid as 36 to 72 hours. And the death is an agonizing one.

Unfortunately, various techniques for making this poison are readily available on the Internet, and periodically this method of murder is used in terror plots against government or corporate personnel. Therefore, murder by ricin can be categorized as a murder “ripped from the headlines”, making it an interesting and often used lethal weapon on TV, in the movies and in novels.

Of course, if you’ve been reading my past blogs, there are much more imaginative methods for killing off characters in your novels, and I’ll discuss some of them in future blogs.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

About James J. Murray, Fiction Writer

With experience in both pharmaceutical manufacturing and clinical patient management, medications and their impact on one’s quality of life have been my expertise. My secret passion of murder and mayhem, however, is a whole other matter. I’ve always loved reading murder mysteries and thrillers, and longed to weave such tales of my own. Drawing on my clinical expertise as a pharmacist and my infatuation with the lethal effects of drugs, my tales of murder, mayhem and medicine will have you looking over your shoulder and suspicious of anything in your medicine cabinet.
This entry was posted in About James J. Murray, About Medications/Pharmacy, Bloodless Death Scene Writing, Bloodless Death Scenes, Death by Ricin Poisoning, Drug Poisoning, Murder by Ricin, Ricin, Ricin as a Deadly Poison, Ricin as a Weapon of Terror, Ricin in Letters, Ricin in the Mail, Ricin in the News and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Ricin – Another Weapon of Terror

  1. Arlee Bird says:

    This is some scary stuff. Is this the same thing that was used in a Japanese subway attack years ago?

    Tossing It Out

  2. Onisha Ellis says:

    You had me worried for a couple of seconds. I thought my mama must have been trying to kill me with all the castor oil she made me drink. Well, at the time I really did feel like I was gonna die.

  3. Pingback: My brother Jim Murray over at “Prescription For Murder” with a chilling article on one bad-ass drug…RICIN! | Thomas Rydder

  4. Ol' Big Jim says:

    Eureka! You’ve given me a lovely idea for one of the characters who’s “gonna get it” fairly soon. Yep, and I’ll bet you 10 dinars they’ll never find the injection site! Thanks, Jim!

  5. Omar Bagasra says:

    I just became familiar with your blog. I teach forensic science at Claflin University in Orangeburg, SC. Have you ever heard of a novel called “Kill Khalid”? This is a great blog.

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