- President Trump recently touted the botanical compound oleandrin as a potential treatment for the coronavirus, although there’s no evidence of its effectiveness.
- The substance is derived from the oleander plant, a highly poisonous shrub known for its use in real-life homicides as well as fictional murders.
- Oleandrin has been recommended as a “cure” by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who has a financial stake in the company developing the oleandrin product.
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President Trump’s latest recommendation for combating the pandemic is an unproven coronavirus “cure” called oleandrin, a botanical extract that can be fatally toxic in both humans and animals.
Oleandrin has been touted as a potential treatment by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, as well as MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. Lindell has a financial stake in a company developing an oleandrin product to treat coronavirus.
One study from that company has reportedly shown oleandrin can inhibit the coronavirus in lab tests, appearing to reduce measures of infection in kidney cells derived from monkeys.
It has not yet been peer-reviewed or published, and the treatment has not been widely studied. Experts have also raised serious questions about its safety.
Oleandrin is derived from a flowering shrub common in warm regions worldwide, and is popular as an ornamental plant in places like southern California and Texas. Its leaves, stems, and flowers contain compounds, including oleandrin, that are extremely toxic, and can cause side effects even in small amounts.
Oleander is so poisonous it’s been used in real-life murders as well as mystery stories
Oleander’s main claim to fame is that it has featured prominently in both fictional and real-life murders.
It was used to poison a cheating lover in the novel (and film) “White Oleander.” It was also infamously involved in a 2000 murder in which a woman named Angelina Rodriguez allegedly poisoned her husband with oleander leaves and antifreeze. Rodriguez wasn’t convicted for his death until three years later, and detectives on the case said the autopsy results didn’t detect the poison, according to the Pasadena Star News.
A decade earlier, a funeral home employee went on trial for allegedly using oleander leaves to poison a rival mortician. The victim had reportedly threatened to expose the poisoner’s misconduct, which including stealing body parts and removing gold teeth from cadavers.
Both of these cases have contributed to a cultural mythos of oleander as a mysterious and “undetectable” poison, making it a popular choice in murder mystery stories, artistic symbolism, and folklore.
There are medical uses for oleandrin, but dangerous misuse is well-documented
When extracted from the plant, oleandrin has been used in experimental medical therapies, but is still potentially deadly if used incorrectly.
Oleandrin has been explored as a possible treatment for cancer, since it seems to have some effect on cancer cells in lab experiments, but there’s no evidence in clinical trials that it can safely help treat cancer patients, according to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
It also has a long history of use as a method of suicide by intentionally ingesting the leaves and seeds, and there are several documented cases of people accidentally poisoning themselves while trying to use oleander as an herbal treatment
Even tiny amounts of the plant can be dangerous, with reports of people hospitalized after indirect exposure to the plant, like cooking food on an oleander branch or eating snails that had consumed oleander.
Symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and heart problems, including irregular heartbeat, and eventually death, if untreated.
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