Toxicological Reviews

, Volume 25, Issue 2, pp 73–78

Veratrum Poisoning


    • National Poisons CentreUniversity of Otago
  • David M. Schmierer
    • School of PharmacyUniversity of Otago
  • John S. Fountain
    • National Poisons CentreUniversity of Otago
Review Article

DOI: 10.2165/00139709-200625020-00001

Cite this article as:
Schep, L.J., Schmierer, D.M. & Fountain, J.S. Toxicol Rev (2006) 25: 73. doi:10.2165/00139709-200625020-00001


Several species of the Veratrum genus are associated with toxicity in humans and animals. The principal toxins are steroid alkaloids; some have a modified steroid template, whereas others differ in their esterified acid moieties. These alkaloids act by increasing the permeability of the sodium channels of nerve cells, causing them to fire continuously. Increased stimulation, associated with the vagal nerve results in a reflex that causes the triad of responses known as the Bezold-Jarisch reflex: hypotension, bradycardia and apnoea. Clinically, various Veratrum extracts were marketed for clinical use as antihypertensive drugs, but because of their narrow therapeutic index were withdrawn from the market. Following the ingestion of Veratrum alkaloids, expected signs and symptoms include vomiting and abdominal pain, followed by cardiovascular effects such as bradycardia, hypotension and cardiac conduction abnormalities and death. Similar symptoms arise in other mammalian species ingesting these alkaloids; teratogenic effects may occur to the fetuses of animals that have grazed on Veratrum californicum. Treatment consists of supportive care, with an emphasis on haemodynamic stability with fluid replacement, atropine and vasopressors. The onset of symptoms occurs between 30 minutes and 4 hours, and the duration of the illness can range from 1 to 10 days; however, with prompt supportive care, patients typically make a full recovery within 24 hours.

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