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Web and literature references on the Toxicology and effects of Hemlock on humans and animals

(For those curious about effects of Hemlock vs the reported accounts of deaths of Socrates and Seneca; and pondering whether the reported toxicology is consistent.)

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Death of Socrates

Extract from "Egypt, Greece and Rome Civilizations of the Ancient Mediterranean", Charles Freeman, 1999, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-872194-3 (pg 230)

"There is no evidence that Socrates' accusers were out to put him to death. The normal penalty would have been exile. However, Socrates was in no mood to compromise and he even argued before the jury that the city should be supporting him at public expense for his contributions to its affairs. In the version recorded by Plato he put his case clearly and consistently but seems only to have aroused greater anger among the listeners. They eventually voted for the death penalty. (There is another tradition that Socrates said little at his trial.) According to Plato, Socrates met his end calmly, sharing his thoughts while the hemlock steadily spread through his body. Plato's accounts of his last days have left one of the most enduring images of Western cultural and political history."



Hemlock toxicological information, web references and literature references

  • Conium maculatum (poison hemlock - coniine as main toxin) and Cicuta maculata (water hemlock - cicutoxin as main toxin)

  • "It was the juice of poison hemlock with which the ancient Greeks killed Socrates."

  • "The toxic effects of cicutoxin are more morbidly impressive and violent than those from coniine."

  • THE MANAGEMENT OF PLANT EXPOSURES: The Most Common, The Most Dangerous, Treatment Guidelines by Edward P. Krenzelok, PharmD, FAACT, ABAT and Terry D. Jacobsen, PhD, FLS : http://informatics.drake.edu/pth/html/frontm/section/plantexp.htm

    Lethal Hemlocks (water hemlock, poison hemlock)

    Conium maculatum (poison hemlock) and Cicuta maculata (water hemlock) were responsible for 7 of the 19 plant-related fatalities that occurred from 1985-1994.2 This is a relatively high fatality rate since the total number of reported exposures was only 582.2 Most of the fatalities are the result of improper identification of these plants. The roots are mistaken as being wild carrots or parsnips and when consumed in sufficient quantity, grave toxicity develops.

    Conium maculatum contains coniine which is a peripheral neurotoxin that produces curare-like effects on neuromuscular junctions and nicotinic effects on autonomic ganglia.31,32,33 The toxidrome consists of ascending skeletal muscle hypotonia or flaccidity that can progress to paralysis of the respiratory musculature. Initial effects may include sialorrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea followed by gastrointestinal hypotonia and dry mouth.32

    The toxicity from Cicuta maculata ingestion is attributed to cicutoxin. The toxic effects of cicutoxin are more morbidly impressive and violent than those from coniine.33-37 Early muscarinic effects are localized to the gastrointestinal tract.35,37 Systemic muscarinic effects bronchial secretions) leading to respiratory distress may occur. However, pathognomonic of severe cicutoxin poisoning are violent multiple major motor seizures.33-37 The symptoms often begin within 30 minutes after ingestion.37

    Gastrointestinal decontamination with activated charcoal may be beneficial in patients with recent ingestions. Otherwise, the cornerstone of therapy is aggressive supportive care.

    • Krenzelok EP, Jacobsen TD, and Aronis JM, "Hemlock Ingestions: The Most Deadly Plant Exposures,"J Toxicol Clin Toxicol, 1996, 34:601-2.

    • Scatizzi A, Di Maggio A, Rizzi D, et al, "Acute Renal Failure Due to Tubular Necrosis Caused by Wildfowl-Mediated Hemlock Poisoning,"Renal Failure, 1993, 15:93-6.

    • Rizzi D, Basile C, Di Maggio A, et al, "Clinical Spectrum of Accidental Hemlock Poisoning: Neurotoxic Manifestations, Rhabdomyolsis, and Acute Tubular Necrosis,"Nephrol Dial Transplant, 1991, 6:939-44.

    • Landers D, Seppi K, and Blauer W, "Seizures and Death on a White River Float Trip,"West J Med, 1985, 142:637-40.

    • Mutter L, "Poisoning by Western Water Hemlock,"Can J Public Health, 1976, 67:386.

    • Starreveld E and Hope CE, "Cicutoxin Poisoning (Water Hemlock),"Neurology, 1975, 25:730-4.

    • Mitchell MI and Rutledge PA, "Hemlock Water Dropwort Poisoning - A Review,"J Toxicol Clin Toxicol, 1978, 12:417-26.

    • Applefeld JJ and Caplan ES, "A Case of Water Hemlock Poisoning,"J Am Coll Emerg Phys, 1979, 8:401-3.


  • Physician's desk reference to pesticide health hazards : http://www-aes.tamu.edu/doug/MED/PGPHH.HTM

    "Toxicology comes from the polysynthetic union of two Greek words, toxicon and ologos. Toxicon comes from the Greek verb meaning "bow or to bend" or sometimes meaning "bow and arrows," and ologos means "to study." The ancient Greeks drew the descriptive term toxicon from their observations of human poisoning. Socrates poisoning by hemlock produced the symptoms actively described by the Greek term. Hemlock contains the potent toxin, coniine, that produces the bending described by the Greek term toxicon without convulsions so characteristic of cicutoxin in the water hemlocks. "


  • Plant Poisoning, Hemlock from Emergency Medicine/Toxicology: http://www.emedicine.com/emerg/topic875.htm

    Pathophysiology: Poison hemlock contains several alkaloid toxins that are structurally similar to nicotine. Initially, nicotinic activation from poison hemlock may lead to early CNS stimulation, headache, and ataxia. Nicotinelike effects at autonomic ganglia may cause tachycardia, salivation, mydriasis, and diaphoresis. In severe cases, the stimulation phase is later followed by a severe depressant phase characterized by bradycardia, ascending motor paralysis, CNS depression, and respiratory paralysis from nondepolarizing blockade at neuromuscular junctions.

    Water hemlock contains cicutoxin, a potent toxin. A single bite of the root, which contains the highest concentration of cicutoxin, has been purported to kill an adult. Ingestion of water hemlock produces GI symptoms (eg, salivation, nausea, emesis) within 15 minutes, rapidly followed by CNS effects (eg, excitation, convulsions, seizures, coma). The mechanism is unclear, but hypothetically, cicutoxin induces overstimulation of central cholinergic pathways (basal ganglia and brainstem).



"Poison Hemlock":


Extracts of Hemlock relevant publications from: "U.S. Food & Drug Administration: Center for Food Safety & Applied Nutrition : Office of Plant and Dairy Foods and Beverages: Poisonous Plant Database"

http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/~djw/readme.html

  • Aggio 1907-368 Aggio, C. (1907) Hemlock poisoning - two outbreaks. Am Vet Review 32(Dec):368
  • Anonymous (1913) Poison hemlock, other names, habitat, description, collection, uses, and prices. Dept Bull #26:11-12
  • Anonymous (1951) Unusual case of hemlock poisoning in swine. California Vet 5(2):26
  • Anonymous (1954) Hemlock. Econ Bot 8:47
  • Anonymous (1958) Reducing livestock losses from water hemlock poisoning in the Western states. USDA PA-330(Apr):3pp
  • Anonymous (1966) Water Hemlock Death. Natl Clearinghouse Poison Control Centers Bull 1966(Jan-Feb):3-4
  • Anonymous (1967) Water hemlock in production ponds. Prog Fish Cult 29:181
  • Applefeld, J. J.; Caplan, E. S. (1979) A case of water hemlock poisoning. JACEP 8(10, Oct):401-403
  • Baidala; Rodina (1966) [Favorable outcome after acute water hemlock poisoning.] Klin Med 44(5):146-148
  • Bailey, W. W. (1891) Hemlock and parsley. Am Naturalist 25:784-786
  • Ball, M. J.; Flather, M. L.; Forfar, J. C. (1987) Hemlock water dropwort poisoning. Postgrad Med J 63:363-365
  • Bowman, W. C.; Sanghvi, I. S. (1963) Pharmacological actions of hemlock (Conium maculatum) alkaloids. J Pharmacy Pharmacol 15(Jan):1-25
  • Buckingham, J. L. (1936) Poisoning in a pig by hemlock (Conium maculatum). Vet J 92:301-302
  • Carlton, B. E.; Tufts, E.; Girard, D. E. (1979) Water hemlock poisoning complicated by rhabdomyolysis and renal failure. Clin Toxicol 14(1):87-92
  • Case, A. A. (1969) Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum). Missouri Vet 19(2):12-14
  • Case, A. A. (1969) Poison hemlock. Missouri Vet 19:18-19
  • Cederstam, R. (1976) [Water hemlock (Cicuta Virosa) poisoning.] Svensk Vet 28(24):1114-1116
  • Copithorne, B. (1937) Suspected poisoning of goats by hemlock (Conium maculatum). Vet Record 49(33):1018-1019
  • Costanza, D. J.; Hoversten, V. W. (1973) Accidental ingestion of water hemlock. Report of two patients with acute and chronic effects. California Med 119(2):78-82
  • Cromwell, B. T. (1956) The separation, micro-estimation and distribution of the alkaloids of hemlock (Conium maculatum L.). Biochem J 64:259-266
  • Dyson, D. A; Wrathall, A. E. (1977) Congenital deformities in pigs possibly associated with exposure to hemlock (Conium maculatum). Vet Record 100(12):241-242
  • Edmonds, L. D.; Selby, L. A.; Case, A. A. (1972) Poisoning and congenital malformations associated with consumption of poison hemlock by sows. J Am Vet Med Assoc 160(9):1319-1324
  • Egdahl, A. (1911) A case of poisoning due to eating poison-hemlock (Cicuta maculata). Arch Internal Med 7:348-356
  • Ely, W. (1814) Venomous qualities of the water hemlock or Cicuta maculata. Med Repository 2:303-304
  • Fairbairn, J. W.; Ali, A. A. (1968) The alkaloids of hemlock (conium maculatum). 3. The presence of bound forms in the plant. Phytochemistry 7:1593-1597
  • Fairbairn, J. W.; Ali, A. A. (1968) The alkaloids of hemlock. 4. Isotopic studies of the bound form of alkaloids in the plant. Phytochemistry 7:1599-1603
  • Fairbairn, J. W.; Challen, S. B. (1959) The alkaloids of hemlock (Conium maculatum L.). I. Distribution in relation to the development of the fruit. Biochem J 72:556-561
  • Fairbairn, J. W.; Suwal, P. N. (1961) The alkaloids of hemlock (Conium maculatum L.). II. Evidence for a rapid turnover of the major alkaloids. Phytochemistry 1:38-46
  • Fitzgerald, P.; Moss, N.; O'Mahony, S.; Whelton, M. J. (1987) Accidental hemlock poisoning. Br Med J 295(6613):1657
  • Fleming, C. E.; Peterson, N. F.; Miller, M. R.; Wright, L. H.; Louck, R. C. (1920) The poison parsnip or water hemlock (Cicuta occidentalis). A plant deadly to live stock in Nevada. Nevada Agr Exp Sta Bull #100(Dec):23pp
  • Frank, A. A.; Reed, W. M. (1990) Comparative toxicity of coniine, an alkaloid of Conium maculatum (poison hemlock), in chickens, quails, and turkeys. Avian Dis 34(2):433-437
  • Frank, A. A.; Reed, W. M. Conium maculatum (poison hemlock) toxicosis in a flock of range turkeys. Avian Dis 31(2):386-388
  • Goeden, R. D.; Ricker, D. W. (1982) Poison hemlock, Conium maculatum, in Southern California - An alien weed attacked by few insects. Annals Entomolog Soc Am 75(2):173-176
  • Gompertz, L. M. (1926) Poisoning with poison hemlock (Cicuta maculata), Report of seventeen cases. J Am Med Assoc 87(16):1277-1278
  • Grundy, H. F.; Howarth, F. (1956) Pharmacological studies on hemlock water dropwort. Br J Pharmacol 11:225-230
  • Gunn, A. (1881) Hemlock poisoning in cattle. Vet J Annals Comp Pathol (Oct):233-235
  • Hannam, D. A. R. (1985) Hemlock (Conium maculatum) poisoning in the pig. Vet Record 116(12):322
  • Hansen, A. A. (1923) Beware of water hemlock. Better Crops 1(4):24-25
  • Hansen, A. A. (1928) Cicuta or water hemlock poisoning. North Am Vet 9(6):34-39
  • Hill, R. K. (1958) Stereochemistry of the hemlock alkaloids. II. Pseudoconhydrine. J Am Chem Soc 80(Apr 5):1611-1613
  • Hill, R. K. (1958) Stereochemistry of the hemlock alkaloids. I. Conhydrine. J Am Chem Soc 80(Apr 5):1609-1611
  • Hollman, A. (1988) Hemlock poisoning. Br Med J 296(6618):361
  • Jacobson, C. A. (1915) Water hemlock (Cicuta). Nevada Agr Exp Sta Tech Bull #81(Mar)
  • James, L. F. (1984) Poisonous plants: The hemlocks. Rangelands 6(3):128-129
  • James, L. F.; Ralphs, M. H. (1986) Water hemlock. Utah Science 47(2):67-69
  • JeanBlain, C. (1978) Hemlock, Conium maculatum. Notes Toxicol Vet 5:271-272
  • Jessup, D. A.; Boermans, H. J.; Kock, N. D. (1986) Toxicosis in tule elk caused by ingestion of poison hemlock. J Am Vet Med Assoc 189(9):1173-1175
  • Ladd, E. F. (1900) Water hemlock poisoning. North Dakota Agr Exp Sta Bull #44:563-569
  • Landers, D.; Seppi, K.; Blauer, W. (1985) Seizures and death on a white river float trip. Report of water hemlock poisoning. Western J Med 142(5):637-640
  • Laskowski, S.; Matyjek, J.; Koppicz, M.; Pohorski, A. (1973) [Hemlock poisoning.] Pol Arch Med Wewn 50(11):1237-1239
  • Leete, E; Olson, J. O. (1972) Biosynthesis and metabolism of the hemlock alkaloids. Am Chem Soc J 94(15):5472-5477
  • Lkhagvazhav, K.; Biambasuren, C.; Maslov, A. V. (1980) [Group poisoning by water hemlock.] Sud Med Ekspert 23(3):51-52
  • MacDonald, H. (1937) Hemlock poisoning in horses. Vet Record 49(38):1211-1212
  • Mack, R. B. (1985) Keats, Socrates, and fool's parsley - Water hemlock poisoning. North Carolina Med J 46(Mar):163-164
  • Majerus, T. C.; Schwartz, W. K.; Odera, G. M. (1978) Accidental ingestion of water hemlock - Report of a case and review of the literature. Am Assoc Poison Control Centers Mtg Abstr :34
  • Markham, K. (1985) Hemlock poisoning in piglets. Vet Record 116(1):27
  • Marsh, C. D.; Clawson, A. B.; Marsh, H. (1917) Cicuta (water hemlock) as a poisonous plant. USDA Bur Anim Indust Circ A-15:1-4pp
  • Marsh, C. D.; Clawson, A. B.; Marsh, H. (1914) Cicuta, or water hemlock. USDA Bull #69:1-27pp
  • Miller, M. M. (1933) Water hemlock poisoning. J Am Med Assoc 101(11):852-853
  • Mitchell, M. I.; Routledge, P. A. (1978) Hemlock water dropwort poisoning: A review. Clin Toxicol 12(4):417-426
  • Mitchell, M. I.; Routledge, P. A. (1977) Poisoning by hemlock water dropwort. Lancet 1(8008):423-424
  • Muratova, L. M. (1981) [Providing aid before the hospital stage to children with water hemlock poisoning.] Feldsher Akush 46(5):38-40
  • Mutter, L. (1976) Poisoning by Western Water Hemlock. Can J Public Health 67(5):386
  • O'Mahony, S.; Fitzgerald, P.; Whelton, M. J. (1987) Poisoning by hemlock water dropwort. Irish J Med Sci 156:241
  • Ober, W. B (1977) Did Socrates die of hemlock poisoning? New York State J Med 77(2):254-258
  • Pammel, L. H. (1919) Poison hemlock. Am J Vet Med 14:513-514
  • Panter, K. E.; Bunch, T. D.; Keeler, R. F.; Sisson, D. V. (1988) Radio ultrasound observations of the fetotoxic effects in sheep from ingestion of Conium maculatum (poison-hemlock). J Toxicol Clin Toxicol 26(3-4):175-187
  • Panter, K. E.; Bunch, T. D.; Keeler, R. F. (1988) Maternal and fetal toxicity of poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) in sheep. Am J Vet Res 49(2):281-283
  • Panter, K. E.; Keeler, R. F.; Buck, W. B. (1985) Induction of cleft palate in newborn pigs by maternal ingestion of poison hemlock (Conium maculatum). Am J Vet Res 46(6):1368-1371
  • Panter, K. E.; Keeler, R. F.; Baker, D. C. (1988) Toxicoses in livestock from the hemlocks (Conium and Cicuta spp.). J Anim Sci 66:2407-2413
  • Panter, K. E.; Keeler, R. F.; Buck, W. B. (1985) Congenital skeletal malformations induced by maternal ingestion of Conium maculatum (poison hemlock) in newborn pigs. Am J Vet Res 46(10):2064-2066
  • Pavonk, G. S.; Segelman, A. B. (1980) Analytical toxicology and phytochemistry of the American water hemlock, Cicuta maculata L. (Umbelliferae). Vet Human Toxicol 22(Sup 2):367
  • Payonk, G. S.; Segelman, A. B. (1980) Analytical toxicology and phytochemistry of the American water hemlock, Cicuta maculata L. (Umbelliferea). Vet Human Toxicol 22(Suppl 2):70
  • Penny, R. H. C. (1953) Hemlock poisoning in cattle. Vet Record 65(42):699-670
  • Plotti, G. B. (1900) Poisoning by virulent hemlock. Am Vet Review 23:717
  • Ray, J. (1699) Part of a letter... giving an account of the poisonous qualities of hemlock-water-dropwort. Philosoph Trans Roy Soc London 20:84-86
  • Richter, H. E. (1964) [Poisoning by hemlock, Conium maculatum.] Deut Tierarzt Wschr 51:404-407
  • Rizzi, D.; Basile, C.; Dimaggio, A.; Sebastio, A.; Introna, F. Jr; Bruno, S.; Scatizzi, A.; Demarco, S. (1989) Rhabdomyolysis and acute tubular necrosis in coniine (hemlock) poisoning. Lancet 2(Dec 6):1461-1462
  • Robson, P. (1965) Water hemlock poisoning. Lancet 2(Dec 18):1274-1275
  • Romano, E.; Russo, V.; Gullo, A.; Valenti, S. (1978) [Hemlock poisoning. Clinical contribution.] Minerva Anestesiol 44(1):45-48
  • Rubaj, B.; Zimowski, A. (1971) [Intoxication of ferrets with hemlock (Conium maculatum L.).] Medycyna Wet 27(10):622-623
  • Rudolph, G. (1985) [Amor medicabilis herbis. An attempt in the 18th century to cure oneself of erotomania by the use of hemlock] Gesnerus 42:383-398
  • Skidmore, L. V. (1933) Water hemlock (Cicuta maculata L.) poisoning in swine. Vet J 89(2):76-80
  • Smith, L. J.; Thill, D. C.; Callihan, R. H.; Lish, J. M. (1982) Poison Hemlock - A threat to man and livestock. Idaho Ext Serv Current Info Series #632:3pp
  • Starreveld, E.; Hope, C. E. (1975) Cicutoxin poisoning (water hemlock). Neurology 25(8):730-734
  • Stratton, M. R. (1919) Water hemlock poisoning. Colorado Med 16:104-111
  • Sweeney, K.; Gensheimer, K. F.; KnowltonField, J.; Smith, R. A. (1994) Water hemlock poisoning - Main, 1992. Morb Mortal Wkly Rpt 43(13):229-231
  • Teal, M. (1953) Poisonous plant plagues Oregon; unawareness of fatal consequences responsible for hemlock's growth. Oregonian Farm, Home & Garden Section (27 Sep):13
  • Tucker, J. M.; Fowler, M. E.; Harvey, W. A.; Berry, L. J. (1964) Poisonous hemlocks: Their identification and control. California Ext Serv Circ #530:4-19
  • Tudor, G.; Anton, E.; Diaconescu, G. (1969) [Conium maculatum (hemlock) poisoning in sheep.] Revista Zootehnie Med Vet 19(11):74-80
  • Undine, C. A. (1938) Poisoning with Cicuta maculata or water hemlock. Minnesota Med 21:262,296
  • VanHeijst, A. N. P.; Pikaar, S. A.; VanKesteren, R. G.; Douze, J. M. (1983) [Poisoning due to water hemlock (Cicuta virosa).] Nederland Tijdschrift Geneeskunde 127(53):2411-2413
  • Verhulst, H. L. (1966) Water hemlock death. Natl Clearinghouse Poison Control Centers Bull 1966(Jan-Feb):3-4
  • Warren, R. (1957) Water hemlock. Oregon Ext Serv Bull #767(Jul)
  • Widmer, W. R. (1984) Poison hemlock in swine. Vet Med Small Anim Clinician 79(3):405-408
  • Wilcox, E. V. (1899) Poisoning of stock by the water hemlock. Montana Agr Exp Sta Bull 22:48
  • Wilson, A. L.; Johnston, W. G.; McCusker, H. B.; Bannatyne, C. C. (1958) Hemlock water dropwort (Oenanthe crocata) poisoning in cattle. Vet Record 70:587-590
  • Withers, L. M.; Cole, F. R.; Nelson, R. B. (1969) Water-hemlock poisoning. New England J Med 281(10):566-567


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