Skip to comments.'Suicide tree' toxin is 'perfect' murder weapon
Posted on 11/26/2004 4:14:56 PM PST by aculeus
A plant dubbed the suicide tree kills many more people in Indian communities than was previously thought. The warning comes from forensic toxicologists in India and France who have conducted a review of deaths caused by plant-derived poisons.
Cerbera odollam, which grows across India and south-east Asia, is used by more people to commit suicide than any other plant, the toxicologists say. But they also warn that doctors, pathologists and coroners are failing to detect how often it is used to murder people.
A team led by Yvan Gaillard of the Laboratory of Analytical Toxicology in La Voulte-sur-Rhône, France, documented more than 500 cases of fatal Cerbera poisoning between 1989 and 1999 in the south-west Indian state of Kerala alone. Half of Keralas plant poisoning deaths, and one in 10 of all fatal poisonings, are put down to Cerbera.
But the true number of deaths due to Cerbera poisoning in Kerala could be twice that, the team estimates, as poisonings are difficult to identify by conventional means.
Using high-performance liquid chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry to examine autopsy tissues for traces of the plant, the team uncovered a number of homicides that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. This also suggests that some cases put down to suicide may actually have been murders, they say.
Although the kernels of the tree have a bitter taste, this can be disguised if they are crushed and mixed with spicy food. They contain a potent heart toxin called cerberin, similar in structure to digoxin, found in the foxglove.
Digoxin kills by blocking calcium ion channels in heart muscles, which disrupts the heartbeat. But while foxglove poisoning is well known to western toxicologists, Gaillard says pathologists would not be able to identify Cerbera poisoning unless there is evidence the victim had eaten the plant. It is the perfect murder, he says.
Three-quarters of Cerbera victims are women. The team says that this may mean the plant is being used to kill young wives who do not meet the exacting standards of some Indian families. It is also likely that many cases of homicide using the plant go unnoticed in countries where it does not grow naturally.
Journal reference: Journal of Ethnopharmacology (vol 95, p 123)
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An antidote for those suffering from P.E.S.T.?
Sssshhhhhh!!!!!! There's enough spin-offs as it is.
Sounds something like a heart attack - perhaps? Maybe less painful - I'm not sure.
So you lie on a 911 call then refused to testify. That way you can convict someone without risk of purgering yourself.
Wrong thread, backed up too far before I posted...
Yassir, it's a perfect poison!
Gorgeous pic! Belladona (Atropa beladona L.) will get the job done without harming any Foxglove plants ;)
I didn't realize that Digitalis was a product of the Foxglove. I have been on that stuff. No worries about it- I am just a little surprised.
FR is an educational resource. :-)
AWWWWWWW....that is cute!!! Beautiful but deadly....hmmmmm......hahaha...
It's not nearly as conspicuous as bride burning
(That is, earth.)
I wouldn't be surprised if it is used in female infanticide as well. Rural women in India sometimes smear a poison on their nipples to kill their newborns.
"...kill their newborns."
Dear God in Heaven.
Yes, foxglove are lovely, and yes, the perfect posion plant. You dont need a gun anymore, only a syringue, loaded with some deadly digitoxin, PUMP PUMP!!
Maybe with a catchy sitar piece for the opening theme...
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