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Hydrangea Highs and Cyanide Lows

Hydrangea by Tiago Fioreze

Hydrangea by Tiago Fioreze (CC BY-SA 3.0)

This has to be one of the dumbest things I’ve read in a while: “French hydrangea thieves search for the high life.”

One, stealing someones plants, or those from a public garden or arboretum, is low.  People spend time taking care of them so that others may enjoy them.  And two, stealing them to get high.  Seriously?  Smoking dried hydrangea in an attempt to get a marijuana-like buzz?  Really.  I’ve heard of this before many years ago.  It went about like this:

“Dude, I dried some hydrangea flowers and smoked it.  It was killer.  I was so buzzed I almost passed out.”
“Dumbass, go buy some weed before you kill yourself.”

But now it’s come back.  Maybe we’re aware of it more now because of increased social media and 24/7 news, or maybe our gene pool really is being polluted and people really are that dumb.  But why is it so dumb?  Let’s start at the source, with hydrangeas themselves.

The genus Hydrangea is composed of about 70 species that grow practically worldwide.  Originally from Asia and the Americas, the deciduous hydrangeas are typically bush-like in shape and grow from 1 meter in height up to 3 meters.  Their distinctive pop-pom like flower heads come in an assortment of colors, but the most common ones are the blues and whites (from my experience here in the US, at least).  For an amateur tip: the blue color can be enhanced by having a more acidic soil, around pH 6, which can be achieved in part by adding spent coffee grounds to the soil.



Now the the poisonous part.  It’s why you’re reading this, right?  The buds, flowers, and leaves all contain the glycoside amygdalin.  Amygdalin can be broken down in any number of ways to produce cyanide, the same chemical used in old gas chambers and the poison of choice of many real life, cinema, and literary villains.  Amygdalin is also the reason why raw almonds and peach pits are poisonous.

Acute cyanide poisoning is due to cytochrome c oxidase inhibition, which leads to histotoxic hypoxia.  In less geek-speak, your cells are starved of oxygen.  Trust me, it’s bad.  Inhaled cyanide, in sufficient doses, can cause coma, cardiac arrest, or death within minutes.  In non-lethal, yet still toxic doses, symptoms are loss of conciousness, fatigue, breathing difficulties, and light headedness.  This is because you are depriving yourself of oxygen.

These types of poisonings are actually quite common.  The combustion of many plastics and polyurethanes gives off cyanide gas, which can poison not only the fire victims but emergency responders as well.  Factories, theaters, mobile homes, and even burning plastics outside are sources of cyanide.  And because it is so deadly, some have tried to use it for terrorism and mass murder.  Scumbags.

So back to hydrangeas.  Smoking dried hydrangea leaves can give you a (presumably) sub-lethal dose of cyanide, via amygdalin, that would deprive your body of oxygen and leave oneself light headed and a feeling of being “high.”  I’d rather call it “low”, as in low oxygen.  Low IQ.  Low ability to score some weed.  Do we have a category in the Darwin Awards for this type of behavior?  Can we get one?

The part that irks me is the stealing of someone’s hydrangeas.  Hell, if I had known they wanted them so bad I would have given them mine.  I ripped three huge ones out of my front yard last summer.

8 thoughts on “Hydrangea Highs and Cyanide Lows

  1. I retort that tobacco also produces cyanide during combustion. How much cyanide is being ingested? Can you suggest to me that our potheads in question aren’t inhaling significantly more cyanide than that of an average cigarette?

    I agree that cyanide poisoning is a no-no. Quit smoking, kids. But you’re comparing hydrangea flowers to a gas chamber. I raise my hand at this.

  2. Probably you need more research. I found an interesting information in the document published from the government where I live. According to the document, most of people think Hydrangea contains cyanide because of the paper published in 1920. But It was wrong and corrected in the other paper published in 1963. I couldn’t find an access to both papers so I’m really not sure but I got a reference for these two papers. Take a look at these papers if you’re interested in this issue.

    Bruce, E. A. Hydrangea poisoning. J. Am. Vet. Med.
    Assoc., 58, 313315 (1920).

    Palmer, K. H. The structure of hydrangin. Can. J.
    Chem., 41, 23872389 (1963).

    In fact, I always doubt “Hydrangea contains cyanides” theory after one of my friend told me she’s drinking a traditional tea called “ama-cha”. It’s the tea of “Hydrangea macrophylla var. thunbergii” so it made me surprised at first. I thought the tea have a long history in my country so if it’s contains a toxic substances people must realize that for long time before. Or maybe, maybe it’s just a odd strain which is especially low concentration of cyanides. I really don’t know but curious about this.

  3. Pingback: Plant lovers, keep an eye on your 'highdrangeas' -

  4. Pingback: Plantenliefhebbers, houd je 'highdrangeas' in de gaten

  5. Pingback: ¿Son las hortensias tóxicas para las mascotas y los humanos? Sí, he aquí por qué - Tu Casa Ideas

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