Monday, January 26, 2015

Liza Investigates the Poison: Cyanide

Today, we discover more about the poison Cyanide.

Plants love to create cyanide in their seeds so the #*@! animals will stop eating their future.

Apples, cherries, plums, peaches all have cyanide in their future progeny (seeds, stones, or whatever they call their potential seedlings.)

Normally, there is just enough to make grazing animals regret eating them, but not enough to kill them. So if you swallow an apple seed, don't worry. However if for some reason you decided to eat a bowl of apple seeds, you probably won't be doing that second time. Cyanide poisoning is pretty fast.

Other plants, such as Laurel are more concerned about themselves and put cyanide into their leaves.

In ancient times, Middle Easterners discovered if you distilled laurel leaves, you could get rid of those that annoyed you. And since that is always a popular reason to distill something, the recipe not only was passed down, but improved throughout history.

The first suggested murder of historical note using cyanide was in AD 14, Rome. Tacitus and Cassius Dio (great names, right?) accused Livia of murdering Augustus by soaking his figs in distilled laurel leaf cyanide.

Now figs also have cyanide in their seeds, and their seeds aren't segregated, so your only choice is to eat fig seeds along with your fig, or not eat figs at all. However, Augustus would have had to eat a huge quantity of figs to kill himself naturally. But if he were a fig addict + a Roman glutten, it might have happened. But Tac & Cas claimed Livia, his wife, of soaking the figs in distilled Laurel leaves, aka cyanide.

Upon reading about Livia, she was a very powerful woman and several people in her family, who annoyed her, died early in life, and the rumors had it she was behind the deaths. So while we don't know for sure, it seems possible. 

Later, she was deified as Augusta. 

Perhaps as the Goddess of Cyanide.

Enough ancient history. Let's discuss some famous people who have used cyanide to say
"So Long and thanks for all the fish!"

Starting of the list: ADOLF HITLER, and his girlfriend Eva Braun, Hermann Goering, and the father of computers: Alan Turing.

Alan Turing was a brilliant man who happened to love another man. He was brought to trial on the latter and given the horrific choice of prison or chemical castration. He chose the later. 

Over a year later, he was found dead with a half eaten apple by his bed. Test indicated it was cyanide poisoning. The coroner declared it a suicide. His case was reassessed in 2002. It is now believe there was insufficient evidence to have ever claimed suicide and this was more likely an accidental poisoning during one of Turings experiments with gold plating, which uses cyanide in the process. It is possible he breathed in too much vapors during the electrolysis process.

From that point on, Cyanide was on the mind of everyone. Both Russia and the US began to stock pile it.

So let's talk details.
Cyanide has an odor of almonds. However the strength of the odor you detect will depend upon your genes. Some people can smell it easily, others cannot smell it all. Some claim it a 'bitter' almond smell. (Since when has 'bitter' become an description of an odor). Others claim it 'sickly sweet almond smell." (again that's a taste description, not a smell description.)

So it has an almond smell which you may or may not be able to smell.  This is starting out well....

Symptoms in case of chronic poisoning:
Rapid breathing
Nausea & Vomiting
Irrational behavior,
Headaches, and
Possible seizures.

Smoking cigarettes is one of the main exposure sources outside of working with cyanide chemicals for chronic poisoning. (It contains arsenic too.)

Symptoms of Large dose poisoning:
Loss of consciousness,
Low blood pressure,
Slow Heart Rate,
Lung injury,
Respiratory Failure.

Survivors of Severe Cyanide poisoning may incur brain, heart, & nerve damage.

Breathing in cyanide fumes is the most common means of poisoning.

If exposed to cyanide, call 911, put all your clothes and contacts if you wear them, shoes a double garbage bag, (Do this quickly or do it after the shower), then take a shower with soap as you wait for help to arrive. 

If you have help, start with the shower and have them call 911. If they bag the cloths, have them wear gloves while double bagging.

Now for good news: There is an antidote! 
But for it to be effective, it must be taken soon after the poisoning. Go directly to the hospital where they should provide antidote before getting test results for cyanide poisoning. If they wish to wait for the tests to come back, assure them your children will sue the hospital for gross negligence, because by the time they get the tests back, you will be dead.

50mg of Cyanide causes death in five minutes.

So don't be chatty on the phone...

And thus concludes the favorite author poison in the 1960's.

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