Are Cactus Thorns Poisonous If They Prick Your Skin?

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To start off with, they’re not really thorns. They’re a special kind of plant leaf called ‘spine’. And they’re a common sight for lots of cacti. Anyway, since this isn’t some academic write-up, let’s just stick with cactus thorns.

You may have done your best to avoid them, but then again, here you are. You’ve had to bear their sharp ends. Apart from the apparent punctured skin and the accompanying irritation, you’re wondering if there is any venom involved.

Are cactus thorns poisonous?

The straight-up answer is no. But depending on the type of cacti that came in contact with your skin, the effects could be more far-reaching than you can imagine. That means, spine stabs can cause varying degrees of severity from just causing minor wounds that heal with time to opening avenues to serious infections, especially when left lodged in the skin for long.

So, how do you tell apart the mild from the vile cactus spines?

Are Cactus Thorns Poisonous?
Macro shot of mini cactus @prof.michelematteucci

Cactus Thorns Types: Spines and Glochids?

Cactus thorns could be grouped into two, depending on their sizes.

For a larger part, they range from long to medium, well-attached to the plant and occur singly. For these ones, the only way of getting them off is by breaking them. And they’re the ones commonly referred to as spines.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have the small, hair like structures occurring in clusters of hundreds. A slight nag at the plant will send them off. These are the glochids, common on prickly pears (Opuntia genus).

The impact of these two is inverse of their size. The bulk of their destruction lies in their individual build.

Spines have bare shafts which makes them a bit tender to the skin as compared to their smaller counterparts. Glochids, though small, can cause the most damage on your skin due to their barbed shafts and their sheer numbers. A single brush with a prickly pear could mean hundreds of them getting clamped into your skin. Ouch!

Don’t worry though. Depending on which cactus thorns you’ve had the unfortunate encounter with, the remedies below will go a long way.

Dealing With Spine Stabs

If you ever experience getting pricked, spines are better cactus thorns to get pricked by. Yeah, there is the whole issue of discomfort but it’s nothing compared to what you’ll go through in an encounter with glochids.

For most spines, dislodging from the plant isn’t very common. This really makes things easy for you if you happen to bump into them. What you’ll be left with will be a few open holes on your skin. No big deal right?

In that case, the standard procedure for taking care of an open wound applies. Keeping the injuries clean would suffice. That’s all you’ll need to do to dodge any infections. Further, protect the wound with bandages if you’d like (pro tip: fabric bandages work best, like these fabric bandages from Band-Aid).

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How To Get Cactus Spines Out Of Skin

But in the case of a spine breaking off in your skin, you’ll need to take a different route.

The first thing is removing that spine piece. If it’s protruding, try pulling it out with a pair of tweezers. You can get a pair of these specialty cactus tweezers by Wittex Germany, or you can just use a general set of surgical-grade tweezers. This is an easy process. Make sure to position the tweezers perpendicular to your skin surface to avoid breaking the spine any further. If you succeed in getting the intruder out, keep the wound clean and watch it heal.

What if the spine is buried too deep in the skin? A sterilized needle will do a fantastic job of getting it out. Is anyone getting queasy yet?

Treat it as you would a splinter stuck in you. After that, as usual, keep it clean.

If the worse comes to worst and you’re unable to remove the spines, consider visiting a doctor or a first aid practitioner for professional assistance. They’ll definitely be in a better place to know what to do with them spines. Sometimes it’s easier to get someone else to pull them out too if you’re a bit queasy with these types of scenarios.

Dealing With Cactus Glochids

These are the cactus thorns you should really fear. Yes, fear.

Remember the barbs? They grip on your muscle fibers tightly making it nearly impossible to bring them out. And of course, there is some serious accompanying irritation. They’re described as “barbed” for a reason, being closely similar to how barbed wire functions.

Before having a look at how to pull of the glochids, taking the following precautions:

  • Never try to pull out the barbed hairs with your teeth. It’s a no-brainer, actually. You might succeed in uprooting them from wherever they are but then you’re going to plant them in worse places – your tongue, gums, throat.
  •  Avoid scratching the part of incidence, whatsoever. Yeah, this is a gut reaction but for your own good, trying resisting it. It works negatively in two ways. First off, you’re going to drive the glochids further into the skin. Secondly, you could spread these little agents of discomfort to lots parts which isn’t a very good thing, it only makes your situation worse.

And now, time to pull them out. Use any of the following simple methods:

  1. Use a nylon pair of pantyhose to gently brush them off. Make sure the hand you’re using is clad in a strong pair of gardening gloves.
  2. Apply a generous amount of rubber cement on the impacted area using a piece of cotton. Allow some time for the cement to dry and pull up its edges carefully. It should come off with the glochids. Keep repeating this to remove as many of them as possible.

If you can’t pull off any of the above successfully, arrange an appointment with a professional.

Cactus thorns aren’t poisonous. But leaving them inside you could invite infections from other sources. Make sure to get rid of them ASAP.

But don’t get too stuck up with removing them yourself. If they keep resisting your efforts, let a medic help you out.


Whether you’re dealing with the long spines or the deceivingly-fine glochids, be sure to keep the resultant wound clean until it heals.


Final Words

Did we clear up the myth about cactus thorns being poisonous? Let us know if you or someone else has been pricked by them and how you were able to get them out. Maybe let our members know how to get thorns or spines out from cacti in our Succulent City Plant Lounge.

Enjoyed learning about Are Cactus Thorns Poisonous? If so, you’ll really enjoy the ebook about Rare Succulents You Wish You Knew About. With this ebook, you’ll find yourself more detailed answers that’ll help your succulent grow even better! With thousands of succulent lovers enjoying our ebooks, you don’t want to miss out on what works the best to grow your succulents.

Succulent City chief editor


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Hey everyone! Welcome to Succulent City! We are all about succulents, cacti, and a bit about air plants. Ten years back, in 2013, we began the journey with succulents. It started as a simple hobby, crafting and selling charming succulent-themed pins and decorations. But as time passed, our fascination with these remarkable plants grew, and we gained extensive knowledge about them. Therefore, Succulent City is the blog as you see it is now. Enjoy your visit and happly planting!

14 thoughts on “Are Cactus Thorns Poisonous If They Prick Your Skin?

  1. Need your advice on this. While wearing gloves removed a broken cactus pad and the stingers went thru the glove and into my right hand. Was able to remove several spines but several were not visible. After a day my middle and index fingers and thumb began to throb. That was 2 weeks ago. The burning throbing pain comes and goes. Am seeing my Dr but am not confident in his procedure which is looking at nerve damage.
    Will my system eventually dissolve away the spikes which are causing this problem?
    Thank you,

    1. Hi William,

      I am not a doctor, so I won’t be able to tell you about the doctor’s procedure. You should trust your doctor as they have the relevant licenses and expertise.

      To my knowledge, the cactus spine is among the organic matter that will eventually dissolve like any organic matter. Even plastics dissolve (in 1000 years haha). But it will cause serious inflammatory symptoms, causing discomfort in your daily life. Be sure to consider that!

      I hope you are all well and healthy!

  2. 2 years ago I got spiked bad between the little finger and the next. 8 jars of drawing ointment later its still there . I can’t seem to get it all out and i try daily its a bad place to have it . Can it grow in your hand ? I just seem to be getting alot of the flesh out . I’ve It’s getting me down. And i have been sick ever since this happened any advice plz

    1. Hi Joanne,
      I am sorry to hear that. They will not grow there but the infection is real. Have you got that and been sick for 2 years? I suggest you finding a doctor right now.
      I hope you all the best,

  3. Hi, I got pricked by Pilosocereus Azureus Blue Torch Cactus on my but cheek over my clothes. I must lean back and I got pricked a little bit. I don’t see any redness or swelling or any broken skin. Is this cactus poisonous.

    1. Hi,
      As you can see, no symptom shows your skin is infected. As far as I know (as someone who got pricked by this cactus before), this cactus is not poisonous. However, if you see any symptoms of infection, it’s best to seek for medical help.

  4. I have a thorn that went into my knuckle. Its not still in but my knuckle is the size of a marble and my finger hurts bad. It went into my knuckle and hit my bone. Had hardest time pulling my finger away from cactus. The spine was massive. From a 10 foot apple cactus

  5. I got pricked about 1 and a half months ago, I just thought the spine went in and straight out.
    I have ended up with a very itchy rash all over my body.
    The doctor told me that I’m allergic to aloe vera as it was in my body wash. I have stopped using all soaps and body washes and get a special cream made from the Chemist that i use as soap and a body wash. I still have the rash , the redness has gone a little and I’m not as itchy, but its still there and I am still scratching.
    Also just in the last few day where the cactus first pricked me has flared up and it sore inflamed and swollen. there is no broken skin so I’m not sure if I should try and dig it out or just leave it and see what happens. I can’t remember what sort of cactus it was, once it pricked me I decided not to by it.

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