A Chicago-area mother is warning others after her 22-year-old transgender daughter died after ingesting deadly “pong pong” seeds that she purchased online.
Natosha Anderson, of Calumet City, told ABC news her daughter, Lucia McCalip, bought the rare seeds for $5 which originate from a plant called cerbera odollam, also known as the suicide tree, found in southeast Asia.
“I’m pretty sure [she] thought it was going to be easy, but it wasn’t. [She] died in pain. It was slow, and it was painful,” said Anderson, referring to Lucia who had recently changed her name from Bernard.
Anderson said she found McCalip in bathroom rolling around in agony and admitted to intentionally swallowing one of the seeds.
“The police, the paramedics, they didn’t even know. No one knew,” she said.
McCalip died Feb. 15. Anderson told ABC news her child was struggling with the desire to live life as a woman, but wasn’t aware of any depression or suicidal thoughts.
The highly toxic seeds have been linked to hundreds of deaths in the southwest Indian state of Kerala. In 2015, the New York Times reported that one teenager died of heart failure and three others were sent to hospital in critical condition in Kerala after eating the so-called “suicide seeds.”
Lake County Medical Examiner said McCalip’s cause of death had not been established and it could be months before toxicology results come back.
Ryan Moore, a spokesperson for eBay, told Global News the company is working to update their hazardous materials policy to include the seeds.
“Our policies are often based on global or local laws,” Moore said in an email. “While Pong Pong seeds are unregulated, we have prohibited these seeds from being sold on our global marketplace out of an abundance of caution. We’re in the process of updating the enforcement of our Hazardous Materials policy to reflect this update.”
John Trestrail, a forensic toxicologist who specializes in studying criminal poisoning cases, says this is the first time he’s encountered the toxic seed causing a death in North America.
“It’s nasty stuff,” said Trestrail. “[It is] part of a class of physiologically active compounds we call cardiac glycosides… probably the one most familiar to people is digoxin extracted from foxglove.”
He said while these ccompounds, like digoxin, can be used in small doses to treat heart failure they have a “narrow therapeutic index” meaning the difference between a therapeutic dose and toxic dose is very small.
Trestrail says while there have been improvements, more needs to be done to keep track of poisons for sale online, including the creation of “national poison registry” to track sales.
Amazon has several listings for the “decorative” seeds available online. While the site prohibits the sale of plants and seeds that have been deemed “noxious” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “pong pong” seeds are not regulated by the USDA.
Cerbera odollam is also not listed on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s prohibited plant list for entry into Canada.
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