Noted Swiss physician Paracelsus once said, “All things are poison, and nothing is without poison: the dose alone makes a thing not poison.” He said it about 500 years ago, but his words are still true. Even drinking excessive water could lead to water intoxication and death. But assassins often use substances that could be deadly in the tiniest quantities. Here we take a look at some of the deadliest poisons in the world. Spies, political assassins, dictators and others have used them to kill their adversaries for decades.
Top 10 deadliest poisons in the world
At one point, Arsenic was described as “The King of Poisons.” It was almost undetectable. It was used to take the lives of Simon Bolivar, Napoleon Bonaparte, and many other notable figures. Arsenic was also used for cosmetic purposes during the Victorian era. But Marsh test later showed that Arsenic is found in food, water, and many other things. It has since fallen out of favor, possibly because of the emergence of other, deadlier poisons. Here they are:
Brodifacoum is a highly lethal anticoagulant. Today, it is widely used as a pesticide and rodenticide. Introduced in 1975, it works by reducing the vitamin K level in blood, which leads to internal bleeding and death. Though it’s mostly used to kill rats and other pests, humans and pets aren’t safe from it. If you touch it, it could permeate the skin to cause some serious damage in your body. Animals preying on poisoned rats also get exposed to the chemical.
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9- Tetradotoxin (TTX)
Tetradotoxin is one of the most powerful neurotoxins out there. It’s found in the puffer fish that is used to prepare fugu, a Japanese delicacy. The delicacy could prove lethal if you don’t prepare it correctly – you have to carefully and completely remove the organs containing the toxin. The TTX kills several dozen people in Japan every year. Even a tiny dose of the toxin stops the nerve conduction between the victim’s body and the brain by blocking sodium channels. It’s lethal whether it’s absorbed, inhaled, or ingested.
Cyanide is one of the best known and deadliest poisons in the world. It comes in both gas form (hydrogen cyanide) and powder form (potassium cyanide). A small dose of cyanide could kill people in minutes by binding with iron molecules in blood and preventing them from carrying oxygen to individual cells. Nazis used it as an active ingredient in chemical weapons. Some say it smells like almonds. The irony is that the almonds produce that odor because of cyanide in them. The poison is found in several plants and the stones of apricots.
Strychnine is found in the seeds of the Strychnos nux-vomica tree, which grows mainly in tropical regions. It’s a neurotoxin that attacks the central nervous system, causing almost all the muscles in the victim’s body to contort and convulse. The victims die within 2-3 hours. Strychnine is available in the market as a pesticide. But you should refrain from using it because it could be equally harmful to kids and pets.
Maitotoxin is one of the most potent marine toxins. It is produced by Gambierdiscus toxicus, a dinoflagellate species. It increases the flow of calcium ions through the cardiac muscle membrane, which results in heart failure. Less than one nanogram of this toxin is enough to kill a mouse. It’s unclear why Gambierdiscus toxicus produces this toxin. Coral reef fish that prey on the plankton are unharmed by the toxin.
5- Batrachotoxin (BTX)
Batrachotoxin is an incredibly powerful neurotoxin, but it’s not easily available unless you live in the tropic rain forests. It’s a steroidal alkaloid found on the skin of poison dart frogs. It’s so powerful that just 0.2g of Batrachotoxin is sufficient to kill a human. It messes with the victim’s sodium channel functioning in the cells of muscles and nerves, resulting in quick paralysis and death. There is no known antidote. The Latin American Indians use it on blowpipes to hunt the prey. Notably, the dart frogs produce this poison while digesting certain insects and beetles. The same species of captive-born frogs are not poisonous because they don’t get to eat the deadly beetles.
VX is a synthetic nerve agent. It was originally supposed to be an insecticide, but chemists found it to be too powerful for agricultural use. Both the US and Soviet Union had amassed it during the Cold War. In 1968, about 4,000 sheep were killed by being accidentally poisoned with VX in Utah. Last year, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un’s half-brother Kim Jong Nam died in Malaysia when two women sprayed VX on his face. The two women were from Vietnam and Indonesia, and they thought they were part of an on-camera prank. They had no idea the spray included one of the deadliest poisons in the world. Just 0.4mg of this nerve agent is enough to kill a healthy adult.
Ricin is a deadly poison extracted from castor beans. Just a few milligrams of Ricin is enough to stop protein production in the victim’s body and kill them. Once the protein production stops, all the critical organs such as the kidneys, liver, and the central nervous system begin to fail, causing death by multiple organ failure. There is no known antidote. It was used in 1978 to kill the Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov in London. It is the most deadly when injected or inhaled.
2- Botulinum toxin
This toxin is produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria. Only a few nanograms is enough to kill an adult. It causes muscle and nerve paralysis by preventing the release of neurotransmitter acetylcholine. The bacteria is found almost everywhere, but it thrives only in an anaerobic environment (where there is no oxygen). Former Iranian dictator Saddam Hussein was producing it as a weapon of war. A tiny amount of the same toxin is found in Botox, which freezes muscles into place to minimize wrinkles.
Polonium is the deadliest poison out there. It is said to be 250,000 times more toxic than hydrogen cyanide. Just seven trillionth of a gram of polonium is enough to kill any adult. A single gram of polonium could kill 10 million people! It’s a radioactive element, so only certain governments have gotten their hands on this toxin. The element’s toxicity coupled with radioactivity makes it impossible for the victim to survive when exposed to even the tiniest dose. According to British investigators, Russian agents used it to poison the ex-FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London more than a decade ago. A nuclear nation would need several tons of uranium ore to produce just a few nanograms of polonium.
Remember that this post is aimed at satisfying your curiosity, not for any other purpose. You are unlikely to get your hands on many of them, but still try to stay as far away from all of them as possible.