Everyone wonders what the most deadly poisons they hear on the news can actually do to the human body. After watching several documentaries, I wanted to write an article about Top 10 Most Deadly Poisons Known to Mankind and expand on the aftereffects.
This article would not be a real top 10 article without proper research. No Wikipedia was used, just books, scholarly journals and other resources (i.e. newspapers, magazines etc.)
Cyanide is a mitochondrial toxin that is among the fastest lethal poisons known to mankind. Used in both ancient and modern times as a method of execution, cyanide causes death within minutes to hours of exposure, just look at Hitler for example. Though significant cyanide poisoning is uncommon, it must be recognized quickly to ensure prompt and proper administration of life-saving treatment.
Arsenic, element 33 on the Mendeleev chart, has a long and wicked history; its very name has become tantamount with poison. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the Italian family of Borgias used arsenic as their favorite poison for political assassinations. Some even have suggested that Napoleon was poisoned by arsenic-tainted wine given to him while he was in exile.
The metal was described as the instrumental agent in an epidemic of food-borne illness after a church gathering in which the coffee urn was apparently criminally polluted with arsenic. This highlights the need for an index of suspicion when multiple individuals present to an emergency department temporally related and with similar symptoms and conditions.
Arsenic is indeed considered a heavy metal and shares many toxic characteristics with the other heavy metals, like lead and mercury. Arsenic is also omnipresent in the environment. It ranks 20th in abundance in the earth’s crust, 14th in seawater, and 12th in the human body.
3. Zyklon B
Zyklon B was used in Germany before and during the World War II for fumigation and pest extermination on ships and inside buildings and machinery. In the Auschwitz concentration camp, it was initially used solely for the purposes of sanitation and pest control until the summer of 1941. After the end of August 1941, Zyklon was used in the camp, first experimentally and then routinely, as an agent of mass annihilation. Zyklon B contained diatomite, in the form of granules the size of fine peas, saturated with prussic acid. In view of its volatility and the associated risk of accidental poisoning, it was supplied to the camp in sealed metal canisters.
BAYER used to be a much bigger German chemical company, IG Farben. IG Farben operated in the Auschwitz death camp where it used prison labor in the production of synthetic rubber and oil. However, their most ghastly act was in the sale of Zyklon B – the poison used in the Nazi gas chambers. During the Nuremburg trials, 24 IG Farben executives were indicted and charged with 5 counts including “slavery and mass murder.” 25,000 of the 35,000 slave laborers who worked for IG Farben at Auschwitz died there.
Cutaneous exposure to this poison can kill, but the most lethal, panic-driven form of anthrax is inhaled. It starts as a flu and does not get better and then all of the sudden your respiratory system collapses.
Anthrax is produced by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis. This bacterium is most commonly found in agricultural regions because it occurs principally in animals. The most commonly affected areas include South and Central America, Southern and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and the Middle East.
When anthrax affects humans, it is usually due to an occupational exposure to infected animals or their products. Workers who are exposed to dead animals and animal products from other countries where anthrax is more common may become infected with B. anthracis (industrial anthrax).
5. Sulfur Mustard:
This chemical warfare agent is a class of related cytotoxic and vesicant chemical warfare agents with the ability to form huge blisters on the exposed skin and in the lungs. Scientists Wilhelm Lommel and Wilhelm Steinkopf, developed a method during WWI for large scale production of mustard gas for the Imperial German Army. The consequence of usage is worse than death.
Polonium is a radioactive element, essentially poison, a slow killer with no cure. Discovered by Marie and Pierre Curie, 1g of vaporised polonium can kill about 1.5 million people in just a couple of months. The most famous case of polonium poisoning is that of ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko and Yasser Arafat. Polonium was found in Litvinenko’s tea cup – a dose 200 times higher than the median lethal dose in case of ingestion. He died just 3 weeks later.
Strychnine is a white, odorless, but bitter crystalline powder that can be administered orally, breathed in, or mixed as a solution and given intravenously. It is a strong poison; only a small amount is needed to have severe effects in people. Strychnine poisoning can cause extremely serious adverse health effects, including death.
The primary natural source of strychnine is the plant Strychnos nux vomica. This plant is found in southern Asia (India, Sri Lanka, and East Indies) and Australia. The extent of poisoning caused by strychnine depends on the amount and route of strychnine exposure and the person’s condition of health at the time of the exposure.
Low levels of mercury, especially the mercury found in fish, are not toxic to adults who eat and digest it. However, inhaled mercury vapor (the metal starts turning to a gas at room temp) are known to attack the brain and lungs, shutting down the central nervous system. Daphne Zuniga, a lover of sushi, once experienced mercury poisoning and it was not pretty.
This is considered the most poisonous plant in the world. Despite being used for decorative purposes, it is most poisonous to animals and humans. A single ingested oleander leaf can kill a child. It results in diarrhea, vomiting and abnormal stomach pain and drowsiness amongst other symptoms. First 24 hour survival is crucial.
This is a deadly nerve gas. Symptoms initially include a runny nose and tightness in chest. Breathing can become constricted soon after coming into contact and nausea does set in. You then loss control of all your body functions and become comatose. Your body at that point convulses and spasms while you suffocate.