A to Z Challenge: B (poisons & stories of their use)


Clostridium botulinum - Wikipedia
From: Wikipedia

Fast facts:
– The most toxic substance known
– Produced by anaerobic bacteria
– A form of food poisoning
– Causes nerves to fail and paralysis
– The botulinum toxin is abbreviated to Botox (yes, the one used in clinical treatment for wrinkles)
– Used by Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo

Clostridium botulinum is the anaerobic bacteria responsible for producing the botulinum toxin. The first time the toxin was identified was in late-18th century in Germany after a case of food poisoning from badly prepared sausage.

How to avoid botulism - Quora
Rotten canned food is one source of botulinum toxin
From: Quora

Botulinum is the most toxic substance known – natural or synthetic. Just 0.0000001g / 0.000000003oz given intravenously would be fatal to a person weighing 70kg / 154lb – it’s estimated one teaspoon would be enough to kill over 1 billion people. It kills by paralysing the muscles (including lungs and heart).

The toxin’s ability to paralyse is why its used medically (and cosmetically). A tiny bit of the toxin (extremely diluted) is injected, targeting particular muscles. Medically it’s used, for example, treating migraines, excessive sweating, crossed eyes and cosmetically it relaxes muscles that cause skin wrinkles.

The Japanese cult, Aum Shinrikyo, were the first cult to successfully use chemical weapons, however they initially tried biological attacks. In 1990 they built their first lab, with a focus on biological weapons, particularly botulinum toxin. They filled trucks with the toxin, which they sprayed near US military bases, the Imperial Palace and other sites, however, their production methods meant the toxin was harmless (the attacks went unnoticed).

To date, there hasn’t been a successful murder using botulinum toxin.



26 comments on “A to Z Challenge: B (poisons & stories of their use)

  1. Giggling Fattie

    April 2, 2021 at 11:20 pm

    Is cyanide for C?! Hehe I don’t know many poisons but it’s fun to guess!

  2. One book I know of that used it as the catalyst, COBWEB by Neal Stephenson and J. Frederick George.

    The book was more about the failures of the compartmentalized FBI and CIA, where everyone has one little task and never the two shall join or compare notes.

    People have died from it but no one murdered, maybe because it is too hard for a criminal mind to work with, without dying from it. Criminals are supposed to have a glaring weakness somewhere, so they can get caught.

    • Haven’t heard of that book, BF. Any good?

      • I don’t know if you like Stephenson, To me it is typical of his books. That means; almost. He has big concepts, some smart lines and at the end you can only say; almost. Slightly missing some things and somewhat overplaying an almost misandrist and somewhat phobic. It is close, but could be better

        His biggest thing, Seven Eves, I have started seven times and set it down seven times, there are high spots and low spots, maybe more low spots, no continuity.

  3. I had no idea it was that deadly. I did recently toss all my canned goods over 15 years old. Some had black stuff on the top…

    • Sounds like that was a wise move, Jacqui (not taking into account the fact if you haven’t eaten them in 15 you probably aren’t going to!).

  4. Any successful murder, with a so dangerous poison? Hard to believe, but yeah, that’s good ;))

    Quilting Patchwork & Appliqué

    • I know! Especially as this is probably a toxin that isn’t so hard to get your hands on. I was surprised as well.

  5. That sounds like it might be a painful way to die.

    • I think it might be nasty – I imagine you’d be awake through the whole thing *shudder*.

  6. Oh, but now that gets us thinking… At least for fiction. I’m leery of trying Botox for anything, but I guess some people do okay with those injections.

    • I think it would be fun to write a story using Botox as the murder weapon (I may have made exactly those notes when I was doing this research). I know some people who have had huge relief from migraines thanks to botox.

  7. We have a saying: If the package is bulgin’, we won’t be indulgin’. I honestly can’t imagine injecting something that deadly into me….

    • It’s a bit of a scary thought, isn’t it! I can’t understand how people do it just for cosmetic reasons. Medical at least I understand.

      • I receive regular cosmetic Botox injections. It is really miraculous with wrinkles. I have one that makes me look angry when I’m not. Anyway, it has the added side effect of helping my migraines. Long-term who knows what it will do to me, but it has been used for years in other capacities. However, I had no idea it was as deadly as it is. I thought it merely caused some stomach grief occasionally.

        • Ahh, see I totally get the relief from migraines. I think people in other countries would feel better about their wrinkles if they spent more time with Aussies – we are usually quite wrinkly because of all our harsh sun time 🙂

  8. This is so interesting. I had no idea this stuff is so toxic.

    • A bit scary, hey. I wonder how many people who get it for wrinkles really know what they are having injected?

  9. Giggling Fattie

    April 4, 2021 at 9:37 pm

    Lol I think i might be all out of guesses

  10. The second post I read on this theme, and already, my respect for chemistry is growing! If the most toxic substance known is also used within medicine, one has to put a lot of trust in the pharmaceutical industry and the doctors… Pretty cool though that they managed to identify it already in the late 18th century. If they had known then that those bad sausages eventually enabled botox lips!

    • Oh, you are so right! The balance between a toxin and medical miracle must be such a fine line.

  11. So basically a beautician has the means to kill people..?
    I’ll stick to green tea facial care, thankyouverymuch. Unless you have something scary to say about green tea?

    • I think you are pretty safe with green tea 🙂 My eye specialist told me to use black tea for my eyes, so it must be good to use.

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