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Abrus Precatorius (Rati) : Uses, Benefits, Poisoning, & Medicolegal Importance

Abrus Precatorius : Seeds, Distribution, Active Principles, Uses, Benefits, Poisoning, Signs, Symptoms, Treatment, Postmortem Findings, & Medicolegal Importance

Common Name: Jequirity, Rosary bead, Indian Liquorice, Gulagunchi, Rati, Gunchi, Jequirity bean, Rosary pea, Buddhist rosary bead, Rosary bead, Indian bead, Indian liquorice, Seminole bead, Prayer bead, Crab’s eye, Weather plant, Lucky bean, Ojo de pajaro, Crab’s eye, Crab’s eye creeper, Cock’s eyes, Paternoster pea, Love pea, Precatory pea or bean, John Crow Bead, Coral bead, Red-bead vine, Country licorice, Wild licorice, Jamaica wild licorice, Akar Saga, Coondrimany, Gidee gidee, Jumbie bead, Ratti, Rettee, Retty

Distribution

  • Found all over India
  • Family: Leguminosae
  • Toxic part of the plant: All parts of the plant are poisonous. However, seeds are more often used.

Identification of Seeds

  • Egg shaped
  • Scarlet in color with a black spot at one end. White seeds are also found.
  • 0.83 × 0.62 cm in dimensions
  • Weight: 105 mg
  • Tasteless
  • Odorless

Active Toxic Principles

  • N-methyltryptophan
  • Glycyrrhizin (lypolytic enzyme—the active principle of licorice)
  • Abrin (Toxalbumin): A thermolabile toxalbumin
  • Abrine : An amino acid
  • Abralin : A glucoside
  • Abric acid

Clinical Features

  • Usual Fatal Dose—60-120 mg of abrin injected or 1–2 crushed seeds orally (0.1–1 μg/kg body weight
  • Fatal Period—3-5 days
  • Toxicity Rating—5-6 (Supertoxic)

Signs and symptoms manifest only if the seed is masticated and swallowed. It can act both locally as well as remotely.

Locally

  • Dermatitis, conjunctivitis, rhinitis, asthma, etc.
  • Oral ingestion can produce abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, bloody diarrhea,  severe gastroenteritis, hemorrhagic gastritis with severe pain, weakness, cold perspiration, trembling of hands, weak pulse, rectal bleeding, tachycardia, headache, dilated pupils, hallucinations drowsiness, tetany, severe thirst and circulatory collapse seen in 6 h but may be delayed to 1–3 days. Death is reported to be due to persistent gastroenteritis.

Remotely

  • When implanted as ‘suis’ or the seed extract is injected parenterally, the person can develop symptoms resemble viperine snakebite, with the site of injection turning oedematous and haemorrhagic and as such poisoning is not suspected.
  • Victim (animal/human) then turns drowsy, unable to move, goes into coma, followed by convulsions and dies in 3–4 days. According to Seth, Lal et al abrin can lead to development of cardiac arrhythmias, convulsions and cerebral oedema.

Treatment

All cases who report within 4 hours of ingestion should be treated by usual method of decontamination (lavage, charcoal, and cathartics). The presence of spontaneous diarrhea may obviate the need for cathartics. However, following have also been found to be effective:

  • Injection of anti-abrin.
  • Oral poisoning cases give: Acid hydrochloric pepsin mixture and 10 per cent sodium bicarbonate IV. Urine is maintained at an alkaline pH.
  • Local injected cases: Needle should be dissected out.
  • Symptomatic measures as required.

Postmortem Findings

  • Findings show inflammatory changes and congestion of gastrointestinal tract.
  • GIT: Hemorrhages, edema and congestion (commonly affected on ingestion).
  • When injected, local signs of inflammation like edema at the site of injection are seen.
  • Fragments of needle may be found.
  • Petechial hemorrhages may be seen under the skin, pleura, pericardium and peritoneum.
  • Internal organs are congested and show focal hemorrhages in the intestines, brain, myocardium and pleura (on parenteral exposure).
  • Necrosis, hemorrhages and edema are also seen in lymph nodes, kidneys and intestines.

Medicolegal Importance

  • It is a commonly used cattle poison in Indian villages to get the hide or for taking revenge by injecting the seed extract in the form of fine needle-shaped structures called ‘suis’ (Sui). Suis are prepared by mixing the seed extract with opium, datura, and spirit/water and then blended into paste, shaped into fine needles and dried in the sun and used to kill cattle by driving it deep into the animal body by blowing through a hollow bamboo pipe.
  • Suis have been also used criminally and reported of homicides often in the Indian villages. It is kept in between the fingers of hand and slapped on the face of a victim, driving it deep into the skin, which releases toxic principle abrin and brings about its action.
  • Seeds are often used in rosary beeds, necklace, etc. in rural India.
  • Accidental cases: on account of the attractive color of seeds, mistaken for a peppermint, children may ingest them.
  • Indian goldsmiths used seeds for weighing silver and gold etc.
  • Seed are reported to have being used as birth control pills (abortifacient) and as arrow poison in the past in rural India.
  • Powdered seeds are used by malingerers to produce conjunctivitis.
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