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Poisonous plants and fungi 

Poisonous plants and fungi

Chapter:
Poisonous plants and fungi
Author(s):

Hans Persson

DOI:
10.1093/med/9780199204854.003.090301
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date: 26 March 2017

Plant poisoning

Many plants contain toxic substances heterogeneous in their chemical composition and diverse in their toxic effects. When classifying plant poisonings, a pragmatic approach is to look at the main clinical effects, but it should be emphasized that few plant toxins produce just one type of symptom, and symptomatology is often multiple, although some features predominate.

Ingestion of, or contact with, poisonous plants is common, but serious plant poisoning is rare worldwide because most plant exposures are accidental: they occur in small children, the ingested dose is usually minimal, and no treatment is required.

Severe plant poisoning is usually the result of intentional exposure. Toxic plants are ingested deliberately as suicidal agents in certain regions, e.g. in Sri Lanka and South India, where cardiac glycosides of yellow oleander Thevetia peruviana are responsible for much morbidity and mortality. Other intentional and serious poisonings occur with e.g. Aconitum and Colchicum spp., and plants with psychotropic and hallucinogenic effects, e.g. Datura and Cannabis spp., are abused as recreational drugs. Considerable morbidity and mortality results in some regions from the use of herbal medicines or foods containing plant toxins, e.g. aconitine in China and cyanide (cassava) in Africa.

Treatment of severe plant poisoning includes cautious decontamination and symptomatic and supportive care. Specific antidotes are available only for poisoning by plants containing belladonna alkaloids, cardiac glycosides, cyanogenic agents, and colchicine.

Fungal poisoning

Most fungi are nontoxic and most fungal poisonings are not severe. However, in certain regions such as Russia and other Eastern and Central European countries, morbidity and mortality is high. In most places, mushrooms cannot be considered as indispensable for nutrition and so it remains an unacceptable paradox that self-harvested mushrooms, enjoyed as a delicacy, still kill people in the 21st century. Thus, the priority in fungal poisoning is prevention.

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