Medical sciences have come a long way. From indigenous techniques and herbs to sophisticated machines and complex medicines. Worldwide, these medicines are the only reason people live long and strong lives. But it’s not just the medicines that have developed, virus and bacteria have also stepped up in their evolutionary period.
You see, medicines and diseases go neck to neck, or let’s say they are directly proportional to each other, when one advances one step, the other makes two steps further. But today we are not going to talk about virus or bacteria, instead we will discuss about poisons.
Poisons have a historic relevance in the human history, from Charles VI, the Holy Roman Emperor to Alan Turing all died of different types of poisons. Then who could forget the aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Today we have listed 12 of the deadliest substances on the Earth, which are fatal and cause deaths all over the world. Any Dr. House fans here? If you are, don’t get surprised to see some the medical cases shown in that medical series. Enjoy.
12. Aluminium phosphide
Aluminium phosphide poisoning is one of the major causes of death and health problems, especially in Asia due to metal poisoning. Exposure to aluminium phosphide, which are commonly found in pesticides can be fatal. It can lead to myocarditis (inflammation of the heart walls), multi-organ failure and ultimately death. The LD50 (fatal dose) value of aluminium phosphide is around 0.15 to 0.5 grams.
11. Radiation Syndrome
While it’s one of the most deadly types of poising, it’s far up in the list due to its rarity. After being exposed to a deadly radioactive element, the cells start to degrade in our body due to the damages in DNA and other key molecular structures in our body. While the level of severity depends upon the exposure to the radiation, smaller quantities can cause nausea and vomiting. Longer duration can cause neurological defects, seizures, tremors and death
Cadmium is a naturally occurring metal, which is exposed to humans mostly in industrial areas, while smoking is also a major source of cadmium intake in the human body. Due to its normally low exposure to humans, over dose situations may occur even in situations where trace quantities of cadmium are found. Cadmium ingestion can quickly lead to kidney or renal failure. The bones become soft, leading to osteoporosis (degraded bone mineral density) and become weaker.
Lead exposure to the human body can cause severe damages to the brain and permanent mental problems. Early symptoms include, constipation, headaches, memory losses and potency problems. Consumption of contaminated water, spoiled food and packed consumer products are one of the major reasons of lead poisoning. Some permanent effects of acute lead poising are periodic seizures, anemia, and it could ultimately cause death.
Abbreviated as TTX, Tetrodotoxin is a highly potent neurotoxin, mostly found in pufferfish and porcupine fish. Pufferfish is the biggest source of tetrodotoxin ingestion in the human body as the Tokyo bureau of social welfare and health stated that it had nearly 7% fatality rate for those who have consumed it. Right now, there is no known antidote is available for this toxin, some preliminary researches have indicated that an antibody developed by USAMRIID can potentially be used in the future.
Ball-and-stick model of the cyanide anion
Cyanide poisoning is caused by significant exposure of cyanide to the human body. Like most of the metal poising, the diagnosis of cyanide overdose is extremely difficult. In acute cases, cells in our body are unable to create ATP, (adenosine triphosphate) much like during hypoxia.
Initial symptoms include light Lightheadedness, extremely fast heart rate and shortness of breath among many things. These are followed by seizures and low blood pressure, including cardiac arrest. In acute cases, long-term neurological problems are also recorded in patients.
Image Courtesy: AzaToth
Ricin is a naturally occurring substance that can be fatal to humans if exposed to a significant amount. If consumed in quantity of around 22 micrograms/kg of the body weight, it’s not much of a danger as much of its toxicity is neutralized in the stomach. But if consumed in greater quantities such as 1 mg/ kg of the body weight it can result in death. Although there is no official medical use of ricin, it can be potentially used to treat tumors.
Arsenic poisoning is caused due to increased levels of the element arsenic in the human body. Arsenic is an element in the periodic table with atomic number 33 and naturally occurs in minerals in combination of sulfur and other metals. While arsenic is found in almost everything we consume from rice to water, elevated exposure of this element can cause diarrhea, severe abdominal pain and brain disease. In the long term, it can also lead to cancer.
Mercury poisoning is one of the most dangerous metal poisoning known to humans. While it’s mainly caused by direct exposure to mercury element, heavy fish consumption is one of the most common sources of mercury poising in humans. Although symptoms totally depend on level of dose and duration, weakness, poor muscle coordination, numbness, severe rashes and memory losses are common.
Extremely high levels of mercury poising can cause Minamata disease (neurological syndrome) and acrodynia (skin condition). Long time Mercury exposure and lead to partial kidney failure and decreased brain functioning.
Mostly found in a particular species of frogs, birds and beetles, the Batrachotoxin is one of the most dangerous naturally occurring cardiotoxic substance on Earth. The poison dart frog, one of the most poisonous animals on the planet, caries about 1 mg of this poisonous and it is more than enough to kill about 10 -15 humans. Other than dart frog, this poison is also found on Blue-capped ifrit.
2. Snake Venom
Inland Taipan Range
All over the world, there are many kinds of vicious snakes whose poison can not not only incapacitate but can put you in a near death situation. But perhaps the most potent (ounce for ounce) venomous snake discovered till date is the inland taipan, which are exclusively found in mainland Australia.
Based on LD50 value in mice, inland taipan’s venom is the most powerful in any snake. With an average venom quantity of about 44 mg at a time, one bite of this snake is enough to kill about 100 human beings and as many as 250,000 lab rats. It is 10 times more venomous than the Rattlesnake and about 50 more powerful than the common species of Cobra.
1. Botulinum Toxin
Cartoon representation of Botulinum toxin
There are total eight known varieties of botulinum toxin, one of which is the deadliest known substance in the world. These eight types of botulinum are classified as A-H types, where A and B types are moderately injurious to health and are also commercially used under the name of Botox, while C and G are not commonly found, E and F types can cause some serious health problems.
The type H toxin is believed to be as much as 40 million times stronger than hydrogen cyanide and can kill an average human with a dose of 80 nanograms or 2-billionths of a gram. Its estimated LD50 value (human median lethal dose) is about 1.3–2.1 ng/kg when directly injected, while 10–13 ng/kg when inhaled. Non-lethal quantities of botulinum toxin can temporarily paralyze mice for a month.