What Is Wolfsbane Poison, As Seen In 'YOU' Season 3? Effects and Antidote Explained

The third season of hit Netflix drama YOU sees Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) and Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti) attempt to kill one other with wolfsbane.

The couple move to the fictional Californian town of Madre Linda where Joe gets a job at a library and later develops an obsession with his boss Marienne (Tati Gabrielle).

When Love realizes her husband is in love with Marienne, she poisons the dinner she made for Joe with wolfsbane. As it seeps into Joe's bloodstream, Love confesses she'd accidentally killed her first husband James (Daniel Durant) in the same way. (Side note: Joe and Love say they "wolf" each other, instead of "I love you." Coincidence? We think not!).

However Joe, who pre-empted his wife would try to kill him, takes a shot of adrenaline before dinner, which counteracts the poison. When she goes at him with a butcher's knife, Joe injects Love with the poison, which seemingly kills her.

But what is wolfsbane and is it deadly in real life?

What Is Wolfsbane?

Wolfsbane (aconitum napellus) is a wild plant, also commonly known as monkshood, conite, leopard's bane, women's bane, Devil's helmet or blue rocket.

It is native to western and central Europe where it is deemed one of the most poisonous plants.

While its vibrant blue/dark purple flowers see it often grown as an ornamental plant, all parts of this perennial herb, including its flowers, are poisonous as they contain toxins, especially at the roots.

The most dangerous of these toxins is aconitine, which is known as a heart poison as well as potent nerve poison, says the U.S. National Capital Poison Center (NCPC).

Poisoning can occur even simply by picking its leaves without wearing gloves, as aconitine toxin is easily absorbed through the skin, the American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC) explains.

How Is Wolfsbane Used?

Wolfsbane has been used on spears and arrows for hunting and in battle since ancient times. It was believed to "repel werewolves" and real wolves, while Ancient Romans used it as a method of execution, according to the NCPC.

Wolves and criminals were previously poisoned with an extract from the European species of wolfsbane (acontium lycoctonum), while in China Aconitum poisons were also used in warfare and hunting, according to the AACC.

The herb has also been used for its alleged therapeutic benefits, but the NCPC warns: "There is a very low margin of safety between therapeutic and toxic doses of aconitine."

Some of the alleged therapeutic uses of wolfsbane include the treatment of joint and muscle pain. It has also been claimed that applying it to the skin slows the heart rate in cardiac patients, while it is also alleged that the plant can reduce fevers and cold symptoms.

Raw aconite plants are highly poisonous and are used in medication only after their toxicity has been reduced by boiling or steaming, according to the NCPC.

A 2009 study published in Clinical Toxicology, a peer-review medical journal, explained: "Soaking and boiling during processing or decoction preparation will hydrolyze aconite alkaloids into less toxic and non-toxic derivatives.

"However, the use of a larger than recommended dose and inadequate processing increases the risk of poisoning," the study warned.

Victoria Pedretti in "YOU" on Netflix.
The Love Quinn character (played by Victoria Pedretti) seen in Season 3 of "YOU" on Netflix. Netflix

What Are the Effects of Wolfsbane Poisoning?

The NCPC explains the severity of the poisoning is down to a "rapid onset of life-threatening heart rhythm changes." An abnormal heart rhythm and respiratory paralysis can lead to death.

Following ingestion of the plant, symptoms can include a slow or fast heart rate, numbness and tingling as well as gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

Chest pains, dizziness, weakness and defective color vision have also been previously reported, with some patients collapsing following the onset of various symptoms.

Symptoms can occur within minutes to a few hours of swallowing the plant.

Wolfsbane poisoning occurs most commonly in Asia due to the widespread use of herbal medicines across the region, such as in Hong Kong, where aconitine is accounts for the majority of serious poisonings from Chinese herbal preparations.

In North America, where wolfsbane poisoning rarely occurs, it generally happens due to confusion with an edible plant or unintentional ingestion by children.

The NCPC warns that with the rising popularity and availability of herbal medicines containing the herb, aconitine poisoning can potentially occur more frequently.

Purple flowers seen on a wolfsbane plant.
Vibrant purple flowers seen on a wolfsbane plant (Aconitum napellus). iStock/Getty Images Plus

How Is Wolfsbane Poisoning Treated?

The NCPC says treatment for wolfsbane poisoning is "symptomatic and supportive" but "there is no specific antidote."

Treatment has usually entailed resuscitation efforts to restore a regular heart rhythm via electrical shocks to the patient's heart.

Leave and flowers on a wolfsbane plant.
Leave and purple flowers seen on a wolfsbane plant (Aconitum napellus). iStock/Getty Images Plus