Monday, April 16, 2012

Medical Mondays: Me and My Poisonous Baubles

(Source)
Hello bloggites and writerly creatures.

This week's Medical Mondays is both personal and random, so here we go.

A few weeks ago, I went to visit Slam Dunk's blog (such an interesting blog!) and read about these beads that, in fact, are actually quite toxic. Here's the post.

I think my insides might have actually flipped. Because only weeks before that post, I'd worn those very beads. 

Last year on a trip to a medical conference in Toronto, I found this beautiful necklace. The beads were real seeds with a vibrant red-orange hue, a prominent black dot, combined with tiny coconut beads. It was gorgeous. That's a picture of me wearing them at the wedding in March.

So of course I freaked out. And then, I researched. 

Well, the inside part of the beads (the shell is thick and nontoxic) contains a compound called abrin, a highly toxic compound even more dangerous than ricin, the toxin found in castor beans and well known for its potential and past use as a poison and biological chemical offensive.

How toxic is abrin? The median lethal dose is 3 micrograms. (One microgram is one millionth of a gram). It's particularly dangerous for the laborers who drill the beads to make into decorative jewelry. A single prick of the finger from a contaminated needle can kill.

What's the name of the seeds/plant? It has so many names. Precatory bean, jequirity seed, love bean, rosary pea (commonly made into rosaries), Buddhist rosary bead, John Crow Bead, Indian Licorice, Akar Saga, Giddee Giddee, Jumbie Bead, crab's eye, Gunga, Ratti, bead vine, black-eyed Susan, prayer beads, weather plant, lucky bean, amongst many others.

The formal name for the plant is Abrus precatorus. 

Where does it come from? It's native to Indonesia and is sometimes considered a weed.


What are the symptoms of poisoning? If inhaled in a large enough dose, the person would suffer coughing, shortness of breath, fluid in the lungs, followed by death within 8 hours of exposure.

If ingested, the person would suffer vomiting, diarrhea, hallucinations, seizures, followed by multiple organ failure and death within a few days.

The good news is that if the person doesn't die after 3-5 days, they usually recover. Yay.

Are there antidotes? No. When someone is affected, they must be supported until they recover.

BUT. 
And this is a Big But. (har har). I did more research. The seed of Abrus precatorus has the hilum (where the seed attaches to the plant) located in the black-colored area. The beads on my necklace have the hilum on the red part. And, I think my beads are bigger than the Abrus species. So after all this fact-finding, it turns out that my beads are not in fact from Abrus precatorus, but instead the Ormosia species (either Monosperma or Nobilis), which is a plant that grows in the Caribbean and tropical Americas.

Hooray ! My necklace wasn't so bad after all! Or so I thought. My happiness lasted all of two seconds, because it turns out that Ormosia seeds are toxic too. 

:(

The bad news is, I can't find out details on the nature of the Ormosia toxin. I'm certainly never going to wear this necklace again.

The good news? I hope this experience was possible fodder for the upcoming poisonings in your future novels!

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at
  All I ask is that you become a follower and post a link on your blog when I post your answer. This is for fictional scenarios, only. Please check out the boring but necessary disclaimer on my sidebar ---> Also, don't forget to stop by Laura Diamond's Mental Health Mondays and Sarah Fine's The Strangest Situation for great psychiatric and psychological viewpoints on all things literary. :)

59 comments:

Old Kitty said...

Oh but the seeds of both plants make pretty pretty pretty (deadly) beads! And they go with anything! Yay!

Take care
x

Shelly said...

Yikes- who knew jewelry could be so hazardous! Thanks for the info, and I'm off to check on one of my necklaces that is similar looking-

Em-Musing said...

I can see a plot for a novel now. :)

Scarlet Wilson said...

Such a shame as the necklace is beautiful Lydia, but certainly not worth dying over!

Natalie Aguirre said...

How weird that you wore the necklace at your wedding. Too bad you can't wear it anymore.

Yes, this is an interesting tidbit that might find it's way into a story. Thanks.

Susan Fields said...

How interesting! I could definitely see this in a murder mystery or something.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Now that is just too unnerving!!

Laura Pauling said...

Holy cow! Talk about freak out. Just looking at the plant makes me think poisonous but as a necklace? Who would think?

SA Larsenッ said...

That is disturbing! I would never have guessed that. So interesting.

Justine Dell said...

Note to self: never buy a necklace (or anything) made with seeds. You might die.

Got it. ;-)

~JD

Mark K said...

Just looking at them without reading your post made me think, 'Hmmm - don't look good' - so maybe my inner caveman is still alive and kicking somewhere inside?

Nice photo, btw :)

Coleen Patrick said...

And here I thought lead was the only thing to watch out for in jewelry! So interesting--perfect for a story.

Stephen Tremp said...

Good thing they are red. Most people recognize that red means not to eat it if you don;t know what it is.

mooderino said...

Wow, that read like a murder mystery novel (thankfuly with no deaths though). Glad you made it out alive.

mood
Moody Writing
@mooderino
The Funnily Enough

Clarissa Draper said...

I would be freaking out too! Yikes. I read slam dunk's post and it scared me at the time. I'm glad I don't own that jewellery. However, I can think of a great murder mystery...

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Wow, in this case beauty is indeed a curse! Those poor workers who risk so much to create pretty necklaces. They are probably paid very little and risk their lives to earn it. It saddens me. Great post as always, Roland

Munk said...

My Aunt makes a killer bean salad.

Tamara Narayan said...

Okay, where was the warning label?? Usually we scoff at such things, but holy cow, how do people sell this stuff legally?

It certainly would come in handy for killing a character. When I think of how toddlers love to chew on anything, it just gives me the chills.

Matthew MacNish said...

Dang! That's pretty exciting.

Linda Gray said...

Wow, I would NEVER suspect toxicity in a piece of jewelry. Perfect for murder mysteries. Horrible for real life! Thanks for sharing, and yes, put that necklace in a lead-lined box somewhere it will never be found!

Barbara Watson said...

How interesting! But completely freaky at the same time.

Kimberlee Turley said...

Laughing to myself because, yes, I was thinking this was some awesome fodder for an upcoming novel.

How scary would it be if you were a mom and had a young child who made the habit of teething on your jewelry all the time?

I don't know if I could ever throw out something that pretty. Maybe someone could make a duplicate using wooden beads?

Deb Salisbury said...

Eek! It never occurred to me that seeds in jewelry might be poisonous!

Jay Noel said...

Thank God your necklace wasn't deadly.

This is great stuff, Lydia. I might have to use this in a future book. Taking notes right now.

Joshua said...

I think that necklace needs to be re-gifted to a mortal enemy. Just package it up nicely, drop it, then ship.

I kid, of course.

Karen Lange said...

Wow. Now that's an unexpected jewelry surprise. I guess it doesn't surprise me that they still use them to make jewelry. Makes me really thankful for my cheap plastic necklaces...:)

Annalisa Crawford said...

They are pretty. I'd really hope they'd be treated to make them less deadly, but maybe not...

Ghenet Myrthil said...

Wow! I'm glad you found this out before you could have been poisoned!

Cold As Heaven said...

Great disclaimer. Haven't been aware of it before you pointed to it. And quite shocking, since I've used your blog as my only source of medical advice for a long time now >:)))

PS: I'm still alive and healthy >:)

Cold As Heaven

Bathwater said...

I think that is too much fodder for some of us.

Krispy said...

I'm so sad that you can't wear your necklace anymore because it really is very pretty! But better safe than sorry, right? How scarily toxic! Things like this often make me wonder why certain things in nature have to be so damn powerful (e.g. cyanide spitting centipedes, like seriously?). :P

Anyway, this was definitely interesting and useful! I think I've got a poisoning somewhere in my fictional universe where this info could be useful. :)

Carrie Butler said...

I don't know how you manage to pack so many emotions into one post, but you do. Time and time again. I was like, "Eek! ...Oh, phew. Wait. What? No!"

Great post, Lydia! :)

A Lady's Life said...

Oh Gosh ! This must be something Voodoo Magic would use.
I can't imagine wearing a necklace like that .

ladysknight said...

So nice to meet you
and will keep your link available

storytreasury said...

Damn. Well at least you found before you accidentally poisoned yourself. They shouldn't even make jewelry out of toxic seeds like that.

Sonia Lal, A to Z challenge

Jemi Fraser said...

Wow. That's bizarre! Glad the necklace didn't do any damage :)

bethchristopher.com said...

What's up with the store that sells killer necklaces? Sounds like something that needs to get worked into your next novel. They sure are pretty...

JEFritz said...

Yeesh, what an ordeal. Who thought making a necklace out of these things was a good idea?

Stephanie Thornton said...

I'm convinced Google thinks I'm some sort of secret assassin with all the poisons I've researched. I'm glad to see I'm not the only one!

(And I have a necklace like that too, only my seeds are blue. And hopefully not poisonous.)

Rachna Chhabria said...

These beads are pretty deadly. I am glad that I don't wear them, I would be petrified of their effect on my body.

Leslie Rose said...

What a bizarre coincidence. My neck started itching as I read the post. Too bad, the necklace is gorgeous.

November Rain - k~ said...

A fascinating discovery, and interesting information as always from you.

Slamdunk said...

Ha, thanks for the plug Dr.

What a scary personal experience. And, I like Em-Musings pint--a plot is developing the minds of a few creative writers.

Crystal Pistol said...

It's a lovely necklace. Worth bodily injury, I would venture to say. We suffer for beauty. :)

David P. King said...

Talk about wearing poison. What interesting facts! It's giving me a few ideas even now. :)

Jennifer Hillier said...

That's crazy! A poisonous necklace? And it's so pretty. Wow.

Catherine Stine said...

Each line of your post was like another roller coaster ride. Clever to think of using it for a novel. Why the heck not?! All of your research should be good for something.

Kelly Polark said...

That is crazY!!
I guess I'll stick to my silver necklaces!

Steph said...

Wow! It's hard to imagine something so small can be so toxic!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Oh, the story possibilities. :D

Annalisa Crawford said...

Hi Lydia - I've got a poison question, I wonder if you could help me. A homeopath friend told me bryonia was a good poison for the sympptoms I wanted my character to have. But I can't find any information about the form it would come in - powder, tablet, dried leaves etc. Would you be able to help? I've just spent the whole day trying to research before I remembered your blog! Thanks :-)

Theresa Milstein said...

Wearing jewelry shouldn't be this treacherous!

Maurice Mitchell said...

That's wild. It makes you edgy though. Just tell people, "See these beads? They could kill you with just a pin prick. I wear them all the time." Then just walk away while they gasp at your inherent toughness.
- Maurice Mitchell
The Geek Twins | Film Sketchr
@thegeektwins | @mauricem1972

Christina Lee said...

Over from Slam Dunks blog--and WHOA!

Carol Kilgore said...

And how in the world do you dispose of something so toxic?

lbdiamond said...

Scary!

DeniseCovey_L_Aussie said...

Now I understand more about beads a young friend bought on ebay. They were held by customs in Australia and kept in quarantine for a time and ended up costing her lots of money.

Denise

Jenny Woolf said...

Heck I had some seeds like this and gave them to my cousin to work into a necklace. (They were already pierced - she just restrung them)) Feel really guilty now. She is okay though.

Jenny Woolf said...

I presume you have raed this, Lyda http://wlbcenter.org/Schultes%20Publications/BotMusLeaf_21_265-284.pdf

 
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