The roots, stems, and leaves of the plant are known to be toxic. These parts of the plant contain euphorbol (a complex terpene) and other diterpene esters. These are also known carcinogens. The plant's leaves and stems also contain beta-sitosterol, cycloartenone, octacosanol, and oxime, all of which have known medicinal as well as toxic properties.
Even minor amounts (a few drops) of the juice of the Euphorbia tithymaloides root can irritate mucosal membranes. When ingested, the irritation of the mucosal membranes of the stomach and intestines will cause nausea and vomiting. Topical application causes skin irritation, inflammation, and even blisters. If introduced topically to the eye, severe pain, keratoconjunctivitis, and reduced visual actuity occur. Ingesting even a few seeds can cause violent and persistent vomiting and extreme diarrhea.
If latex or root juice gets on the skin, the victim should immediately wash with soap and warm water. If latex or juice gets in the eye, continuous rinsing with fresh water should be the first course of action. Topical steroids are indicated for skin or eye contact. Intravenous fluids are often administered to counteract the fluid loss due to vomiting and diarrhea
The root is known to be a powerful emetic. A proteolytic enzyme known as pedilanthain can be extracted from the plant's latex, and has been shown in experiments to be effective against intestinal worms and to reduce inflammation when ingested. In 1995, a galactose-specific lectin was purified from the plant's latex, and indications are that it might be useful in combatting diabetes mellitus.In folk medicine, tea has been brewed from the leaves which has been used to treat asthma, persistent coughing, laryngitis, mouth ulcers, and venereal disease. Tea brewed from the root has been used as an abortifacient. The latex has been used topically to treat calluses, ear ache, insect stings, ringworm, skin cancer, toothache, umbilical hernias, and warts. None of these uses has been scientifically verified as effective. In the West Indies, a few drops of the latex is added to milk and used as an emetic.