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

Just about anything…

Fast Facts:
– Anything in the right dose can kill
– Consider ever chemical to be a poison
– Water and salt have poisoned and killed

According to toxicologist Paracelsus (circa 1500), “the dose makes the poison”. What this means is that every chemical can be considered a poison – if you have enough of it. While some are already known to be avoided at all costs, some humans need in order to live, but are still toxic in the right amount. Of course, how much is needed to become toxic depends on a lot of factors: size and weight, age, gender, method of exposure etc.

Basically, all chemicals are poisonous. It just depends on the amount!

For example (remembering these are median lethal values based on an average human)… water needs 8kg and impacts the nervous system, alcohol requires 500g and impacts kidney and liver, table salt 225g and caffeine 15g and both impact the nervous system.

Even oxygen has a sinister side. “Oxygen is the ultimate toxin,” says Michael Trush, a toxicologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Oxygen combines with food to produce energy, but our bodies also produce oxygen radicals—atoms with an extra electron that damage biomolecules, DNA, proteins, and lipids. “We are oxidizing all the time,” says Trush. “The biochemical price of breathing is aging.” Which is to say, we rust.

National Geographic
Pouring water from the bottle into the glass free image
From: Pixy

Water toxicity is a conditions known as hyperhydration or water toxemia and is where there is a disturbance in brain function because the balance of electrolytes is affected by the excess water. Notable cases include:
– Andy Warhol (1991): his family accused the hospital where he had gallbladder surgery of water intoxication administered after gall bladder surgery. He was 10kg heavier after the operation which was provided as the evidence too much fluid was administered.
– Matthew Carrington (2005): died because of a Chico State University fraternity hazing ritual involving forcing water consumption. His death resulted in Matt’s Law (a California law allowing felony prosecution when serious injury or death is caused by hazing rituals).
– Jennifer Strange (2007): died when part of a radio on-air contest “hold your wee for a wii” where she had to drink as much water as possible.

Excess salt also affects the brain. A 5-year-old boy died in 2014 in New York from high levels of sodium. It was discovered his mother had been suffering from Munchausen syndrome by proxy and had been poisoning him with table salt since he was an infant. Even in hospital she’d administer the salt through his feeding tube. His mother was charged with second-degree murder and first degree manslaughter and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.



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

  1. Giggling Fattie

    April 12, 2021 at 9:18 pm

    Oh wow! I had heard of the hazing because it happened right when I was going into my first year of university. But not the salt thing! And I do know that a syringe of air pushed into the blood stream will kill you too! Although I guess that’s not due to a poison or toxicity lol

    • We don’t have fraternities in Australia, so I find the whole thing a bit weird. But having it hit the news just as you were starting uni would definitely cement it in your memory.

  2. I think I saw a documentary on the “Salt Mom”. What a nut job. Poor boy.

    In a “ER” episode a patient presented with symptoms that nobody could find the cause for. Until the doctor began asking questions about the patient’s hobbies. Turned out the young athlete had smoked some weed and wanted to avoid a positive drug test that was coming up before a competition, so he drank lots and lots of water to dilute his urine.

    Quickly grabbing my calculator… phew… it would roughly take 238 single espressos to kill me. I’m safe.


    • It must be such a terrible mental illness to make you want to do something so horrific to your own child.

      And wow, 238 espressos? I think you’d be totally wired well before you hit triple digits, lol.

  3. Good one, and true. Too much water can kill!

    • There was a case a number of years ago in Australia where a bushwalker died because he drank too much water (probably trying to avoid dehydration but took it too far).

  4. I saw a TV show where water was the murder weapon: this lady chemist gave her victims something that made them so thirsty they drank too much water and died..

  5. Read last year about a man who died from eating too much black licorice (which contains the toxin glycyrrhizin)…

    • I vaguely remember hearing about that. I think he ate quite a lot (like a few bags) every day for a couple of weeks before he died? He must have had terrible tummy pain and diarrhea before his death as well.

  6. One thing you didn’t mention about Oxygen, how explosive it is.

    So many companies do things that free oxygen from other materials. If it accumulates it can explode with even static electricity.

    Amazing how dangerous it is for a life giver. Water is also the universal solvent. It can leach minerals and electrolytes from your body and kill you that way also.

  7. I had heard about water. It just goes to prove that it’s all about balance.

  8. Yikes, salt poisoning has to be an awful way to go… I heard about the water poisoning case as the time. Hazing is stupid.

    The Multicolored Diary

    • I don’t get hazing. I don’t understand why it is done or what it is supposed to demonstrate. It seems like it is a really nasty form of bullying.

  9. Giggling Fattie

    April 13, 2021 at 9:56 pm

    Honestly its a bit weird for me too? But other people seem to enjoy it? Its not as big in Canada as the movies make it seem in the USA. But we still do have frats and sororities. Not my type of thing lol a friend in uni was in one and she lived in a house with her”sisters” and had to pay to be part of the group and do all these crazy things that I would never want to do. Dress up parties every month? Car washes? Forced charities? Ugh no thank you

  10. Oh boy, I knew for the water, and excess in everything. But salt? Great information about oxygen!

    • I really feel “I’m rusting” is going to be my new catch cry for all my aging flaws like wrinkles 😉

  11. I’ve heard of a few cases of people dying after ingesting powdered caffeine in high doses, or in combination with energy drinks. The dose makes the poison, indeed.

    • Oh yeah, I’ve heard of some of them as well. But who would want to add caffeine to an already highly caffeinated drink? (let me guess, teenage boys…?!)

  12. Oh yes, I knew about water intoxication too. With respect to oxygen, too much of it being administered to premature babies used to be thought of as the leading cause of retinopathy of prematurity, an eye condition that caused tens of thousands of children to go blind in the early days of incubators in the 1940s and 1950s. I have this eye condition too, though I was born in the 1980s.

    • I didn’t know about the oxygen and the premies. That’s so sad. I hope that isn’t what happened to you, because in the 80’s it should have been preventable, which would be so frustrating if that was the case.

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