August 1978

Jamaica Ginger ParalysisForty-seven-Year Follow-up

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Pharmacology and Toxicology (Dr Morgan), Internal Medicine (Dr Morgan), and Neurology (Dr Penovich), University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, Rochester, NY.

Arch Neurol. 1978;35(8):530-532. doi:10.1001/archneur.1978.00500320050011

• In 1930, thousands of Americans were poisoned by an illicit extract of Jamaica ginger ("jake") used to circumvent the Prohibition laws. A neurotoxic organophosphate compound, triorthocresyl phosphate (TOCP), had been used as an adulterant. The earliest reports were of peripheral neuritis, but later it was evident that an upper motor neuron syndrome had supervened. This TOCP poisoning apparently involved various cell groups and tracts in the spinal cord; the lesion was not peripheral at all.

We interviewed 11 survivors of the illness residing in eastern Tennessee. Four were carefully examined. The principal findings showed the spasticity and abnormal reflexes of an upper motor neuron syndrome. One patient had mild disease, despite typical findings, and had lived a normal life.