Are Cactus Thorns Poisonous?

Kelvin M. Kelvin Mwathi on

To start off with, they’re not really thorns. They’re a special kind of leaves called spines. 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, 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 spines poisonous? Are cactus thorns poisonous?

The straight up answer is no. But depending on the type of cactus that came in contact with your skin, effects could be far reaching than you can imagine. That means, spine stabs have 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 thorns?

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

Cactus Thorns— Spikes 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? Yikes!

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 would with bandages if you’d like.

How to take out spines in your skin from a cactus

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

First thing is removing that spine piece. If it’s protruding, try pulling it out with a pair of 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 in getting it out. 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.

Glochids— How To Pull Them Out

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.

And…

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

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.

Want to learn more?

Are Cactus Thorns Poisonous?