A fatal case of self-poisoning through the ingestion of oleander leaves

J Forensic Leg Med. 2019 Jul:65:133-136. doi: 10.1016/j.jflm.2019.05.016. Epub 2019 May 22.


Background: Benefits and even dangers of plants are known since time began. The ancients used plants and herbs because of their effects on the human body. Poisoning is a logical consequence of their use: history is full of episodes of plants and herbs poisoning, whether intentional or accidental.

Aim: Oleander poisoning is generally accidental; an intentional assumption of its leaves to commit suicide is uncommon because the population is not aware of the harmfulness of its cardiotoxic glycosides, therefore we report a fatal case of self-poisoning through the voluntary ingestion of oleander leaves.

Methods: A diagnosis of oleander self-poisoning was highly suspected on the basis of the circumstantial evidence and the autopsy findings. Toxicological investigations were performed on the samples collected during the autopsy and aimed at confirm the presence of oleandrin at a toxic level.

Results: The autopsy revealed a piece of oleander leaf on the posterior third of the tongue's body and several plant residues, similar to the one recovered on the tongue, into the gastric content; petechiae on the deep surface of the scalp, multi-organ congestion, and pulmonary edema were also observed. The histological study corroborated the pulmonary edema macroscopically observed but did not provide any other information. The detection of oleandrin in biological cadaveric samples revealed high, fatal, concentrations.

Conclusions: Cases of voluntary ingestion of oleander with a suicidal intent prove to be uncommon: in the case reported the victim was aware about the possibility to commit suicide through the ingestion of oleander leaves.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Brain Chemistry
  • Cardenolides / analysis
  • Female
  • Gallbladder / chemistry
  • Gastric Mucosa / chemistry
  • Gastrointestinal Contents / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Kidney / chemistry
  • Liver / chemistry
  • Lung / chemistry
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerium / poisoning*
  • Plant Leaves / poisoning*
  • Pulmonary Edema / pathology
  • Spleen / chemistry
  • Suicide*


  • Cardenolides
  • oleandrin