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Link to Problems for Discussion - Plant Poisonings
Link to Problems for Discussion - Strychnine
Link to Problems for Discussion - Mushroom
Link to Problems for Discussion - Colchicine-containing plants
Link to Problems for Discussion - Herbals
Link to Problems for Discussion - Volatile Oils

Plants and Animals - Section 4 - Poisonous Plants

This sections aims to cover the toxicology of the following important poisonings:

  • 1. Plants that contain gastrointestinal and systemic toxicity
  • 2. Plants that contain cardiac glycosides
  • 3. Proconvulsant plants
  • 4. Anticholinergic and Hallucinogenic plants
  • 5. Plants that can induce muscle spasm
  • 6. Miscellaneous: ricin, mushrooms, colchicine-containing, herbal, volatile oils



  • Understand the mechanism of toxicity of these plants.
  • Discuss the clinical effects of plants with systemic toxicity.
  • Detail the assessment of a patient poisoned by a systemically toxic plant.
  • Outline the management of gastrointestinal and systemic complications following ingestion of these plants

Read: Gastrointestinal irritants and Plant dermatitis



  • List plants that contain Cardiac glycosides
  • Understand the mechanism of action of cardiac glycisides on the heart
  • Detail clinical features of cardiac glycoside toxicity
  • List predictors of toxicity
  • List prognostic markers
  • Describe in detail the process of resuscitation of a patient with cardiac glycoside toxicity
  • List the investigations that should be carried out
  • Describe the management of acute poisoning and cardiac complications
  • Detail the clinical effects of nicotinic alkaloid plant poisoning.
  • Discuss the management of nicotinic alkaloid plant poisoning.


  • Eddleston M, Ariaratnam CA, Sjöström L, Jayalath S, Rajakanthan K, Rajapakse S, Colbert D, Meyer WP, Perera G, Attapattu S, Kularatne SA, Sheriff MR, Warrell DA. Acute yellow oleander (Thevetia peruviana) poisoning: cardiac arrhythmias, electrolyte disturbances, and serum cardiac glycoside concentrations on presentation to hospital. Heart 2000;83(3):301-6
  • Eddleston M, Rajapakse S, Rajakanthan, Jayalath S, Sjöström L, Santharaj W, Thenabadu PN, Sheriff MH, Warrell DA. Anti-digoxin Fab fragments in cardiotoxicity induced by ingestion of yellow oleander: a randomised controlled trial. Lancet 2000;355(9208):967-72
  • Eddleston M, Juszczak E, Buckley NA, Senarathna L, Mohamed F, Dissanayake W, Hittarage A, Azher S, Jeganathan K, Jayamanne S, Sheriff MR, Warrell DA; Ox-Col Poisoning Study collaborators. Multiple-dose activated charcoal in acute self-poisoning: a randomised controlled trial. Lancet 2008;371(9612):579-87
  • Roberts DM, Southcott E, Potter JM, Roberts MS, Eddleston M, Buckley NA.Pharmacokinetics of digoxin cross-reacting substances in patients with acute yellow Oleander (Thevetia peruviana) poisoning, including the effect of activated charcoal. Ther Drug Monit 2006;28(6):784-92
  • Ozhan H, Akdemir R, Yazici M, Gündüz H, Duran S, Uyan C.Cardiac emergencies caused by honey ingestion: a single centre experience. Emerg Med J 2004;21(6):742-4 (PMID15496712)


Plants containing nicotinic alkaloids lead to sympathetic over stimulation. In severe cases these patients can develop coma, seizures, cardiovascular collapse followed by respiratory paralysis. Tobacco and Poison Hemlock are well known plants that contain nicotinic alkaloids.


  • List plants that contain nicotinic alkaloids
  • Describe the mechanism of action of nicotinic alkaloids
  • Identify clinical features of nicotinic alkaloid plant poisoning
  • Outline the management of nicotinic plant toxicity


  • P Davies, S Levy, A Pahari, D Martinez Acute nicotine poisoning associated with a traditional remedy for eczema Arch Dis Child 2001;85(6):500-2
  • McKnight RH, Spiller HA Green tobacco sickness in children and adolescents. Public Health Rep 2005;120(6):602-5 (PMID16350329)
  • Arcury TA, Quandt SA, Preisser JS.Predictors of incidence and prevalence of green tobacco sickness among Latino farmworkers in North Carolina, USA. J Epidemiol Community Health 2001;55(11):818-24 (PMID11604438)
  • Ingestion of cigarettes and cigarette butts by children–Rhode Island, January 1994-July 1996 MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 1997;46(6):125-8 (fulltext)



  • Understand the mechanisms of hallucinogenic plants.
  • Understand the usual patterns of abuse of hallucinogenic plants.
  • List the most common clinical manifestations of hallucinogenic plant poisoning.
  • Understand how this helps differentiate the likely agent in a suspected hallucinogenic plant ingestion.
  • Recognise situations where the use of antidotes may be indicated.
  • Know the supportive treatment for anxiety with severe visual hallucinations.


  • Richard h. Schwartz, md marijuana: a decade and a half later, still a crude drug with underappreciated toxicity. Pediatrics 2002;109(2):284-9
  • Fisher BA, Ghuran A, Vadamalai V, Antonios TF. Cardiovascular complications induced by cannabis smoking: a case report and review of the literature. Emerg Med J 2005;22(9):679-80
  • Leslie Iverse. Cannabis and the brain. Brain 2003;126(6):125270
  • J. R. Unwin. Illicit drug use among Canadian youth. II. Can Med Assoc J 1968 Mar 2;98(9):449-54
  • Spina SP, Taddei A. Teenagers with Jimson weed (Datura stramonium) poisoning. CJEM 2007;9(6):467-8 (PMID18072995)
  • A Ballantyne, P Lippiett, and J Park Herbal cigarettes for kicks. Br Med J 1976;2(6051):1539-40


Strychnine poisoning was a common pharmaceutical poison in the past. Plants containing strychnine give rise to similar clinical manifestations. Strychnine inhibits glycine, an important inhibitory neurotransmitter in the spinal cord. This leads to generalized muscle contractions.


  • List causes of muscle spasms/ muscle rigidity encountered in clinical practice
  • Describe the clinical features of strychnine poisoning
  • Describe the evaluation of a patient with strychnine for complications
  • Describe the management of strychnine poisoning


  • David Michael Wood, Emma Webster, Daniel Martinez, Paul Ivor Dargan and Alison Linda Jones Survival after deliberate strychnine self-poisoning, with toxicokinetic data. Critical Care 2002;6:4569 (Fulltext)
  • J R Lambert, R J Byrick, and M D Hammeke. Management of acute strychnine poisoning. Can Med Assoc J 1981;124(10):1268-70 (PMID7237316)




  • Identify clinical features of ricin toxicity
  • Describe the management of ricin poisoning


  • Mouser P, Filigenzi MS, Puschner B, Johnson V, Miller MA, Hooser SB. Fatal ricin toxicosis in a puppy confirmed by liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry when using ricinine as a marker. J Vet Diagn Invest 2007;19(2):216-20
  • Audi J, Belson M, Patel M, Schier J, Osterloh J. Ricin poisoning: a comprehensive review. JAMA 2005;294(18):2342-51 (Fulltext)
  • Bradberry SM, Dickers KJ, Rice P, Griffiths GD, Vale JA. Ricin poisoning. Toxicol Rev 2003;22(1):65-70 (PMID14579548)


Unintentional ingestion of mushrooms is still an important problem with deaths occurring in some parts of the world. Toxic mushrooms can present various clinical presentations due to the differing toxins present. Cyclopeptides ( e.g. Amanita phalloides), glyromitrin ( e.g. G. californica), Muscarine (Clitocybe dealbata), Coprine e.g. C. atramentarius) and Psilocybin (e.g. C. cubensis) are some of the toxins present in this group of mushrooms.


  • Identify clinical features of mushroom poisoning by different mushrooms
  • Describe the management of mushroom poisoning


  • Trim GM, Lepp H, Hall MJ, McKeown RV, McCaughan GW, Duggin GG, Le Couteur DG. Poisoning by Amanita phalloides (“deathcap”) mushrooms in the Australian Capital Territory. Med J Aust 1999;171(5):247-9 (Fulltext)
  • Pond SM, Olson KR, Woo OF, Osterloh JD, Ward RE, Kaufman DA, Moody RR Amatoxin poisoning in northern California, 1982-1983. West J Med 1986;145(2):204-9(PMID3765600)
  • Yamada EG, Mohle-Boetani J, Olson KR, Werner SB. Mushroom poisoning due to amatoxin. Northern California, Winter 1996-1997. West J Med 1998;169(6):380-4 (PMID9866444)
  • Erguven M, Yilmaz O, Deveci M, Aksu N, Dursun F, Pelit M, Cebeci N. Mushroom poisoning. Indian J Pediatr 2007;74(9):847-52 IndianJPediatr749847_142720.pdf [106 KB]


Colchicine cantained in plants such as Gloria superba and Colchicium autumnale inhibits microtubular formation within cells. This leads to interference with cellular mitosis and cell death. Interference of microtubular functions in all organs of the body can result in multi organ failure with the greatest effect manifesting in rapidly dividing cells such as the gastrointestinal tract.

Initial clinical presentation is in the gastrointestinal tract with nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea leading to volume depletion. In severe poisoning this initial clinical stage leads to multiorgan failure and finally death or recovery.


  • Describe the mechanism of action of colchicine
  • Describe clinical sequealae of colchicine toxicity
  • Describe predictors of toxicity
  • Outline the management of acute poisoning and resuscitation of a patient with severe colchicines toxicity
  • List the investigations that should be carried out


  • Maxwell MJ, Muthu P, Pritty PE. Accidental colchicine overdose. A case report and literature review. Emerg Med J 2002;19(3):265-7 (PMID11971849)
  • Danel VC, Wiart JF, Hardy GA, Vincent FH, Houdret NM. Self-poisoning with Colchicum autumnale L. flowers. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol 2001;39(4):409-11
  • Folpini A, Furfori P.Colchicine toxicity–clinical features and treatment. Massive overdose case report. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol 1995;33(1):71-7
  • Brvar M, Ploj T, Kozelj G, Mozina M, Noc M, Bunc M. Case report: fatal poisoning with Colchicum autumnale. Crit Care 2004;8(1):R56-9. Epub 2004 Jan 2 (Fulltext) Colchicine autumnale.pdf 340 KB]
  • Eddleston M, Persson H. Acute plant poisoning and antitoxin antibodies. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol 2003;41(3):309-15 (PMID12807314)



  • Understand the spectrum of intoxication with common herbal medications.
  • List traditional medications susceptible to interact with St John’s wort and the symptoms associated with this poisoning.
  • Describe initial evaluation, stabilisation and treatment of common herbal remedies intoxication.
  • Discuss the main difficulties in dealing with herbal remedies poisonings.
  • Describe the mechanism of toxicity of Ma Huang.
  • Describe the mechanism of aconite tachyarrhythmias.
  • Discuss steps that would be useful in preventing herbal medication poisoning from a Community Health Perspective.




  • Understand the mechanism of toxicity of individual volatile oils.
  • Understand the circumstances of volatile oil poisoning.
  • Detail the clinical manifestations of poisoning by the various volatile oils.
  • Outline the management of volatile oil poisoning.


  • Theis JG, Koren G. Camphorated oil: still endangering the lives of Canadian children. CMAJ 1995 Jun 1;152(11):1821-4 (PMID7773898)
  • Anderson IB, Mullen WH, Meeker JE, Khojasteh-BakhtSC, Oishi S, Nelson SD, Blanc PD. Pennyroyal toxicity: measurement of toxic metabolite levels in two cases and review of the literature. Ann Intern Med 1996;124(8):726-34 (Fulltext)
  • Demetriades AK, Wallman PD, McGuiness A, Gavalas MC. Low cost, high risk: accidental nutmeg intoxication. Emerg Med J 2005;22(3):223-5 (PMID15735280)
  • Hartnoll G, Moore D, Douek D Near fatal ingestion of oil of cloves. Arch Dis Child 1993;69(3):392-3 (PMID8215554)
  • Patel S, Wiggins J. Eucalyptus oil poisoning. Arch Dis Child 1980;55(5):405-6 (PMID7436478)
  • Filipsson AF. Short term inhalation exposure to turpentine: toxicokinetics and acute effects in men. Occup Environ Med 1996;53(2):100-5(PMID8777445)
wikitox/plants_animals_section_4_poisonous_plants.txt · Last modified: 2018/09/01 09:01 by

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