What Is The Most Lethal Poison?
Toxins and poisons can be colorless and odorless. They can be injected into your skin, dissolved in a liquid, or simply a gas released into the air. Today we’ll explore some of the most lethal in the world.
How Do You Measure A Poison’s Lethality?
A poison’s lethality is determined by its LD-50. The LD-50 of a substance is the amount that, on average, will kill half of those exposed. Some guesswork is involved because testing on humans is not done for obvious reasons. Researchers use lab animals instead, which do not always react the same as humans. Also, a person’s susceptibility will vary depending on tolerance, metabolism, physique, etc. The effectiveness among toxins can also vary based on its delivery method.
So which are among the top?
One of the most lethal and deadly toxins could be in your very own kitchen cupboard. It is known as Clostridium botulinum. It is the botulin toxin that causes botulism. This poison is normally encountered through ingestion of contaminated foods, such as unpasteurized canned goods. Botulin is odorless and tasteless which means you wouldn’t know you’ve consumed the LD-50 of 0.4 billionth of a gram per kg of body weight till the paralysis has already set in.
As far as plants toxins go, ricin is often thought of as the most letha. Ricin poisoning occurs when a person consumes the beans from a castor plant — the same plant which castor oil is derived. The symptoms are slow to develop, but they can be gruesome. The poison causes your arteries to plug up which leads to eventual death within a week. If ricin is inhaled or injected, the amount needed to kill you would fit neatly on the head of a pin. A highly publicized example of ricin poisoning was was in 1978 when the Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov was assassinated by a James Bond-esque poke from an umbrella. The umbrella was rigged to inject a tiny pinhead sized amount of ricin. Unfortunately, there is no known antidote.
What are some of the most deadly human made toxins?
One of the most scariest poisons is dimethylmercury. This toxin is widely feared because of how easy it can be introduced into your body. It is known to be quickly absorbed through your skin even if you’re wearing latex gloves. In 1996, a chemist by the name of Karen Wetterhahn, unknowingly spilled a single drop onto her gloved hand. Symptoms of poisoning didn’t appear for four months. When they did surface, the damage had been done. She died six months later.
As far as nerve gasses go, you won’t find many toxins worse than VX and sarin. Sarin is so lethal, that it has been known to kill in less than 60 seconds. It received world attention when the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo used it to kill seven people in Matsumoto back in 1994, and 12 more on a Tokyo subway in 1995. VX, which is even slightly more deadly than sarin, is thought to have been used by Iraq in 1988 on Iran, and against Kurdish villages in northern Iraq. VX gas was also made popular by the Hollywood blockbuster ‘The Rock’.
Top of the list
Widely regarded as the most deadliest, polonium has an LD-50 of 50 billionths per kg of body weight. This means that 1 gram vaporized into the air could theoretically kill up to 1.5 million people due to its intense alpha particle radioactivity. Polonium came into the world spotlight when it was used to murder ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko back in 2006.
What is the least detectable poison?
Deuterium oxide is probably the title holder for least detectable. It’s also known as ‘heavy water’. It’s indistinguishable from ordinary water, but has an extra neutron in each hydrogen nucleus. This interferes with cell processes which causes death in a matter of weeks. There is nothing to worry about however, it’s not cheap and you would need to drink gallons of it within a short period of time for it to have any effect.
Photos by USDS, Wikicommons (users lorth2, BrandonLazu) and available under a Creative Commons Attribution license
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Abu-Qare AW, Abou-Donia MB (October 2002). “Sarin: health effects, metabolism, and methods of analysis“. Food Chem. Toxicol. 40 (10): 1327–33
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“Botulinum Toxin as a Biological Weapon: Medical and Public Health Management” doi:10.1001/jama.285.8.1059