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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Popular Uses and Toxicity of Calabar Beans

Calabar beans are indigenous to the Efik people of “Old Calabar,” located in the South-South area of modern-day Nigeria.

The leguminous seed grows well in several tropical African countries, including Ghana and Cameroon. The seeds are black in color, oval in shape, contained in a brown pod, and very toxic.

The ‘Calabar Beans’ Stories

The beans/seeds gained great appeal as early as 1895. It was a period when Calabar’s indigenous people subjected anyone suspected of witchcraft, evil spirit possession, or other misdeeds through harsh experiences in order to establish their innocence. This is referred to as “trial by ordeal.”

They accomplish this by giving the accused the toxic Calabar bean.

That is where the bean earned its other name, ordeal beans.

As a result, if the accused dies after swallowing the seeds, he or she is presumed to have perished due to the ordeal of poison.

The Toxicity of Calabar Beans

Calabar beans contain Physostigmine, a parasympathomimetic alkaloid reversible cholinesterase inhibitor.

Calabarine is another recognized poison found in it. It is also an alkaloid that is related to Physostigmine.

What effect does the poison have on the human body?

Physostigmine damages the nerves and muscles of humans. It, like nerve gas, interrupts communication between the central nervous system.

As a result, nerves may struggle to send messages to essential organs such as the heart and brain.

Therefore, the heart muscles will constrict, resulting in respiratory paralysis or cardiac arrest. Suffocation, convulsions, hyper-salivation, unconsciousness, anxiety, delirium, disorientation, hallucinations, and death by asphyxiation are other symptoms.

How does the poison get into the body?

The toxin in Calabar bean, like Ricin in Castor bean, is primarily released when the bean is eaten. Many do not show any toxicity when swallowed. Even if there is an indication of poisoning, it is usually milder and less dangerous than when you chew.

As a result, many people assumed that individuals who survived the “trial by experience” swallowed the bean rather than chewing it.

More intriguingly, the same culprit, Physostigmine, is also responsible for the Calabar bean’s beneficial uses. As a result, it is not just terrible and ugly, but it may also be beneficial.

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Uses and Benefits of Calabar Bean

1. Serves as an Antidote

  • It may surprise you that Physostigmine is an antidote for anticholinergic toxicity caused by Atropine.
  • It can be used to treat Atropa belladonna and Datura stramonium toxicity.

However, some research shows that Physostigmine is not as effective as an antidote and may put the user at more risk of poisoning.

Also, if you must take it as an antidote, do it under the guidance of a regular healthcare expert to ensure safety and proper dosage.

2. Treatment for Eye Condition

It works well in the treatment of glaucoma. So, how does it work? By constricting the pupils, the alkaloid helps to lower eye pressure (intraocular pressure).

  • As a result, Physostigmine is used as an active component in several eye drops.
  • It also aids in the treatment of myasthenia gravis.

This condition weakens different sections of the body. It mostly affects the facial muscles, notably those of the eyes. As a result, it can cause drooping eyelids, double vision, trouble speaking and walking, and other symptoms.

  • It may also be used to treat Alzheimer’s disease, cholera, tetanus, epilepsy, and constipation.

However, evidence of its usefulness for certain health issues is lacking.

In Conclusion

Even though Calabar beans have long been used in medicine, there is a need for further study and proof. This will aid in determining its efficacy in treating these illnesses as well as any potential negative effects.



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