Ricin – Tools of Terror

Ricin – Tools of Terror

The Tools of Terror are hardware, technology, or even a tactic, a technique, or a procedure that can be used either individually or in concert by malignant forces to spread terror and cause damage to civil society beyond the capability of the individual weapon or technique.  Remember that like most tools, many of the Tools of Terror can often be used for completely legitimate and benign reasons even a poison like Ricin has potential medical uses.  As we saw this past week, the poison ricin is a Tool of Terror and will be the topic of today’s contribution to this periodic series on the Tools of Terror.

Knowledge is power and developing an awareness of Tools of Terror may give you the power to survive and help those around you to survive.

Tools of Terror

Poison is a cowardly weapon.  Some lost soul chose to use the poison, Ricin to attack our government this past week by mailing Ricin laced letters to our President and Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi.  Thankfully, no one appears to have been injured or killed by those or other letters sent by the alleged poisoner.  Ricin isn’t the most effective Tool of Terror but it is definitely worth learning more about in case you are unfortunate enough to become exposed.

I have to admit that I was a little bit rusty when it came to my knowledge of Ricin.  I remember reading a chapter in The Poor Man’s James Bond as a teenager about how Ricin is made from castor beans but that was about all I could recall so it was time to read up…here’s what I found:

Ricin is:

What Ricin Is:

  • Ricin is found naturally in castor beans and is a waste component of processing castor beans into castor oil.
  • Ricin processed from castor beans can be a powder, mist or pellet.
  • Ricin is water soluble.
  • Ricin is extremely toxic with doses of .2mg and less causing death.

Ricin Exposure:

What Ricin Does:

  • Ricin poison works differently depending on whether Ricin is inhaled, ingested or injected.
  • Ricin poisoning interferes with your cell’s ability to make proteins which leads to the cellular death.

Symptoms of Ricin Exposure

  • The symptoms of Ricin exposure vary based on the dosage and mechanism of poisoning.  Symptoms occur from 4 to 24 hours after exposure but generally within 10 hours.
  • If you suspect exposure to Risin then seek medical care immediately


  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Nausea
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Heavy sweating
  • Pulmonary Edema (lungs fill up with fluid) followed by skin turning blue.
  • Low blood pressure
  • Resperatory Failure


  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea (may be bloody) leading to severe dehydration
  • Low blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Blood in the urine
  • Organ failure and death within several days


  • Ricin poison can lead to death within 36 to 72 hours of exposure depending on level of exposure and mechanism of exposure.

How is Ricin Treated:

  • There is no antidote
  • Avoid exposure if possible.  If exposure occurs then get “the Ricin off or out of the body as quickly as possible” according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
  • Supportive care for Ricin poisoning varies depending on the poisoning mechanism but may including help to alleviate breathing difficulties, IV fluid support, anti-seizure medications, regulation of blood pressure and irrigation of exposed areas.
  • Very Recent ingestion can be treated with activated charcoal.

Immediate Actions if Exposed to Ricin:

According to the CDC take the following actions if your are or believe you may have been exposed to Ricin then seek immediate medical attention:

  • Get out to the area/building and seek fresh air
  • Remove clothing and wash your entire body with large amounts of soap and water.  Do not put contaminated clothing back on.
    • Cut off any clothing that can’t be removed without pulling it over your head
    • Avoid touching contaminated areas to the extent possible
    • Place clothing in a sealed plastic bag if possible to avoid further exposure or exposure to others.  Place anything that has touched contaminated clothing in the bag as well.
    • Make sure to tell authorities what you did with your clothes so that they can be properly disposed of.
  • If your eyes have been exposed you may experience burning eyes or blurred vision.  Rinse eyes with water for 10-15 minutes.  Place any contact lenses with your clothing as described above.
  • For more information on decontamination read Chemical Agents: Facts About Personal Cleaning and Disposal of Contaminated Clothing.
  • Do not induce vomiting or give fluids to drink if Ricin has been ingested.

Additional Reading:

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