Thursday, April 30, 2015

Letter Z, The Choose Your Poison List and Wrap-Up #AtoZChallenge

Z is for Zyklon B, originally developed as a fumigant and pesticide but used in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. You can read more here and here.  
I'll be honest. There's too much information on Zyklon B for it to be easily condensed, and I hadn't the stomach to try and create a fiction piece. I wasn't there, and I've never really been able to wrap my mind around what it must have been like in the death chambers at Auschwitz.

Poisons A to Z: the Wrap-Up

Through time, many plants and animals evolved toxins - and methods of administration - either to protect themselves or to actively prey on others. At some point humans learned to use these poisons themselves, at first probably for hunting but as time went on, also to treat disease, kill unwanted vegetation and vermin, and...unwanted humans as well.

Oldest traces of poison - Stone Age Tool With Ricinoleic Acid

Mentions of deliberate poisonings date back to ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. Poison was a very popular method of assassination.  Mithridates VI was so afraid of being poisoned that he began to test substances on criminals, experimenting with various strengths and combinations as well as antidotes. He even administered small amounts of poison to himself in an attempt to gain immunity.

Agathodaimon, an ancient alchemist, makes mention of a“fiery poison”; when mixed with natron and dissolved into water, the water stayed clear, but when copper was dunked into it that water, it turned a deep green (which leads experts to believe that he was describing arsenic trioxide). Only fragments of his texts remain.

Persian physician and scholar Rhazes wrote Secret of Secrets, a book of chemical compounds, minerals and apparatus. His was the first mention of mercury compounds (such as mercury chloride) as medicine, particularly as a laxative and an ingredient in ointments for skin diseases like scabies (caused by mites, which the mercury killed) and weeping sores (such as those caused by syphilis).

medieval poison ring was unearthed in Bulgaria in 2013. Murderous jewelry was thought of long before modern mystery writers came on the scene.

Poisons are still used today, both for good and for evil. People die daily, from accidental ingestion, environmental exposure, and by deliberate administration for purposes of murder (or 'sanctioned' execution).

The history of poison is intertwined with the history of mankind. I couldn't possibly cover all of them in the challenge. I've tried to use each post to highlight something unusual: a poison you might not have heard of, a more imaginative way to use it, a historical case which might be unfamiliar to you.

Other poisons/toxins/heavy metals which you may wish to research and include in your stories are listed below. (LInks are to my A to Z posts.) I have attempted to give each one a date or time frame, in case you are looking for a poison specific to a time period. The time is just a reference point; it doesn't mean that the poison was recognized as such. Many were first used as pigments, folk remedies, even hallucinogens. Some are also naturally occuring and have always been around, like mushrooms and castor beans. (I did not include all of the poisonous plants and venoms found in nature, as that would make the list far too long and unwieldy.)

Abrin                            (No dates found. Naturally occuring toxin.)
Aconite                         (Ancient)
Antimony                      (1540)
Arsenic                          (Ancient)
Aristolochia clematitis (Ancient)
Atropine                       (Ancient)
Belladonna                   (Ancient)
Brodifacoum                (1975)
Bromine/bromides (xylyl bromide) (1825)
Botulin                      (first medically described 1817)
Cadmium                     (1817)
Chlorine                       (1774)
Chloroform                  (1831)
Chromium                   (used by Q'in dynasty; named as element in 1761)
Cobalt                          (Ancient, used in pigment)
Colchicine                   (Ancient)
Cyanide                       (1700s)
Dioxin                         (1960s)
Ethylene glycol           (1859)
Ergot                             (Ancient)
Fluorine                        (1886) 
Formaldehyde              (1859)
Fugu (pufferfish)          (Ancient)
Furan                            (1780)
Gelsemium            rare, poisonous plant grown in the Himalayas ,known to have been used in                          Chinese assassinations
Green potatoes (solanine) (Ancient)
Hellebore                      (Medieval)
Hemlock                       (Ancient)
Henbane                        (Ancient)
Hydrogen cyanide         (1704) isolated from "Prussian Blue"
Inhalants                        varies according to substance inhaled
Lead                              (Ancient)
Mandrake                      (Ancient)
Mercury                        (Ancient)
Methyl bromide            (1932)      (Recent case: US Virgin Islands)
Mustard gas                   (1916)
Mycotoxins (fungi/mold) (Ancient)
Novichok                       (1970s-1990s?)  Recent case: England 2018
Nicotine                          (Ancient, isolated 1828)
Nux vomica                   (Medieval)
Oleander                        (Ancient)
Palytoxin                       (Ancient, coral, isolated 1971) Recent case: USA 2018
Paraquat                         (1882; first used as herbicide 1955)
Paris Green                    (1800s)
Phosgene                       (1812)
Phosphorus                    (1669)
Plutonium                      (1940)
Polonium                       (1898)
Potassium cyanide        Possibly 1807
Quinine                         Ancient
Ricin                              (Ancient. Identified 1889)
Sarin                              (1938)
Saxitoxin                       (Ancient. Shellfish. Isolated 1927)
Strychnine                     (Ancient)
Thallium                        (1861)
Tutin                              (1909)
VX (nerve gas)              (1954)
Warfarin                         (1948)              


  1. Some of those have been around for a very long time.
    I found your posts fascinating!
    Congratulations on completing the Challenge.

    1. Thanks Alex. The last 2 days have been tough...sick with fever. Stuck it out though. And congrats on your finish as well!

  2. I really appreciated your A-Z series. I found you a little late but I'll check back on them. I also like your writing and the fact that it is flash. Short is best for A-Z. I think I've always been intigued by poison and I used to love the old movies where the belly dancer would lean over some male and drop poison from her ring into his drink.
    Good job.

    1. Thank you! I have a ton of catching up to do as well. Congrats on finishing!

  3. Love the list. I understand. I went to the museum in Washington, D.C. and it there are no words to describe it.

  4. Poisons are fun to put into books regardless of the genre or time or setting. Poison has been the implement of death by women more so then men.

  5. I'm impressed you managed to find poisons for every letter of the alphabet!

  6. Though I wasn't able to get to the AtoZ in April, I have now crammed and am ready for my poison final exam. You shared some great stuff this month, Lisa. In general, I enjoyed your fiction the most (as usual, though perhaps also because it meant no actual people were killed), but I found some of your historical tales quite striking as well. Plus, thanks to you, now I have a great resource for whenever I decide to inject some poison into my own pieces. Well done.

  7. Hello greeting and good wishes.

    Fabulous post on poisons. Very very informative.

    Poisons can be used for good purposes to further the cause of man, but using it to kill fellow human beings is very detestable and unpardonable.

    Only people with special skills,ability and temperament can complete AtoZ challenge. My hearty congratulations.

    Best wishes

  8. Very informative and like the wrap up with the dates for writers. Well done.

  9. Hello there.
    Congratulations on surviving the A-Z Challenge! I didn't get to visit your blog during the crazy month of April so I'm popping over today from the Road Trip.

    Entrepreneurial Goddess