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Abrin (also known as agglutinin and toxalbumin) is an extremely poisonous protein which is found in the seeds of the rosary pea (Abrus precatorius). The chemical is toxic because it inhibits protein synthesis. Abrin's function as a poison is almost identical to that of ricin, but abrin's toxicity in mice is 75x greater. It was formerly used to treat some chronic eye disorders and it is currently being researched as a potential chemotherapy drug.

Unfortunately, abrin can also be used as a biological warfare agent. When abrin is inhaled, it causes respiratory distress, fever, cough, nausea, tightness in the chest, profuse sweating, the buildup of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema), blueness of the skin (cyanosis), and dangerously low blood pressure. If left untreated, it can cause respiratory and cardiovascular failure.

If poisonous amounts of abrin are eaten, it causes nausea, diarrhea, and can cause hemorrhaging in the stomach and intestine and can cause the death of tissues (necrosis) in the liver, spleen, and kidneys.

In the following case, an individual attempted to commit suicide by the ingestion of a massive amount of Jequirity seeds.

In this case, the person ordered the seeds online by mail order. The order was through a online mail-order site for ordering plants and seeds that could be received by mail. The subject ordered five packets of approximately 36 seeds (about 180 seeds). The seeds (completely red except for the black narrowed tip of the seed) were received in packets and were stored in a drawer for approximately three months: "Abrin is a stable substance, meaning that it can last for a long time in the environment despite extreme conditions such as very hot or very cold temperatures."

The indicated party had never been known to have attempted suicide before, and according to my source, the individual never displayed suicidal tendencies or verbally expressed a wish to commit suicide.

The suicide attempt apparently occurred as follows. The shells of about 100 seeds were cracked open into a plastic cup using small needle nosed pliers. Once the seeds had been breached, the resulting fragments of the seeds and their poisonous contents were poured onto a table. The outside seed fragments and the poisonous contents contained inside were separated, and the outer shells of the seeds were dumped into the trash. Having disposed of the shells the individual proceeded to orally ingest the inside contents of the seeds, and nothing else was ingested during or after the ingestion of the seeds. For approximately three hours no side effects or symptoms of any kind were experienced. A little while later the subject grew nauseous and vomited into a toilet. According to the memory of the subject, inside the toilet along with the vomitus was a red substance thoroughly throughout the toilet. The subject vomited only the once, and experienced no further symptoms that day. In addition the subject experienced no further symptoms even months later. The individual made no attempt to eject the substance he had ingested through an emetic or other substance. He did not seek medical attention.

Although the exact reason for the lack of death or serious side effects I have developed a few laymen type ideas as to how the patient evaded severe consequences. The person's body may have correctly recognized the substance ingested as a "foreign invader" and appropriately responded by rejecting the poison through emesis. It is possible that the seeds that the man received were not in fact Jequirity seeds. It is also possible that the substance ingested was polluted or otherwise rendered weak by some other means.

Jequirity is native to Indonesia but have migrated into Florida and other areas. The seeds have popularly been used to manufacture jewelry and ornaments. It has been used to make prayer/rosary beeds and even in musical instruments such as maracas. The seeds can be in many colors such as red and black, black, orange, and white.

Online I have been able to find two cases of individuals attempting to commit suicide by abrin ingestion:

In one case a 27-year-old man "intentionally ingested the powder of 10 ground Abrus precatorius seeds in a suicide attempt approximately 30 minutes prior to ED arrival." The man had taken the powder and added water, and then proceeded to drink the concoction. Shortly after drinking the mixture he re-decided his wish to die and ingested 50 grams of activated charcoal (which is close to one of the CDC suggested emergency actions for first responders responding to abrin poisoning). When he was brought to the ER he was treated with intravenous fluid boluses and anti-emetics. The patient was medically cleared after 8 hours.

In a second case a 20-year-old man was admitted to the ER admitting to symptoms of vomiting and watery diarrhea for about 6-8 hours before he was admitted. The patient's vital signs were normal and he was diagnosed with viral gastroenteritis. Pending a psych evaluation the man's father brought in a box of red seeds he believed his son had ingested to kill himself. Thanks to an e-mail from the NYC Poison Control Center the seeds were positively identified as Abrus Precatorious seeds. After a second interview the man admitted he had chewed and swallowed 10 seeds. According to the patient, he ordered the seeds online from Asia after reading about their use as a suicide method. The patient gradually improved over 2 days and was eventually released.

It should be noted that both men contaminated or hindered the poisoning process. The 27-year-old mixed his abrin with water and self-administered activated charcoal after deciding not to follow through with the suicide. The 20-year-old man did not ingest pure abrin, instead choosing to both chew and swallow the seeds, thus ingesting the outer shell of the seeds along with the abrin itself.

EY Laboratories, Inc have developed a "InstantChek Ricin Abrin Detection Kit" available to "established" firms and institutions.






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