Saturday, April 8, 2017

How do we know poisons are tasteless and odorless?

Dear Cecil:
The recent dispatch of Kim Jong-nam by VX poisoning is all over the news at the moment, and reports invariably describe VX as odorless and tasteless. How would anybody know what a substance this toxic tastes or smells like, short of a heroic self-sacrifice by the assessor? Even inhaling this stuff seems foolhardy to me, let alone voluntarily giving it a lick.
Cecil replies:
Surely, Mike, you’ll recall the first principle of toxicology, distilled from writings of the 16th-century medical pioneer Paracelsus: "Sola dosis facit venenum,” or “The dose makes the poison." Inhaled or ingested in great enough amounts, the idea being, any substance will take you down, including necessities of life like water and oxygen. Conversely, your body can process nearly anything in sufficiently small quantities and keep on kicking. Even an encounter with the notorious nerve agent VX can be survived, though I can’t discourage this kind of field research strongly enough.

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