Cyanide Poisoning Overview
Cyanide is a rare but potentially deadly poison. It works by making the body unable to use life-sustaining oxygen.
Cyanide Poisoning Causes
Common sources of cyanide poisoning include:
- Fires: Smoke inhalation during the burning of common substances such as rubber, plastic, and silk can create cyanide fumes.
- Photography, chemical research, synthetic plastics, metal processing, and electroplating industries use cyanide.
- Plants containing cyanide include apricot pits and a type of potato called cassava. Fortunately, only chronic or massive ingestion of any of these plants or pits can lead to serious cyanide poisoning.
- Laetrile, a compound that contains amygdalin (a chemical found in the pits of raw fruits, nuts, and plants) has been purported as a cancer treatment worldwide. One of the side effects of laetrile is cyanide poisoning. The FDA has not approved laetrile as a cancer treatment in the United States. The drug is also made and used as a cancer treatment in Mexico under the name "laetrile/amygdalin."
- Certain chemicals, after ingestion, can be converted by the body into cyanide. Most of these chemicals have been removed from the market, but some old artificial nail polish removers, solvents, and plastics manufacturing solutions can contain these substances.
- Cigarette smoke is the most common source of cyanide exposure for most people. Cyanide is naturally found in tobacco, and smokers can have more than 2.5 times the mean whole blood cyanide level of nonsmokers, though this is generally not enough to cause poisoning.
Those most at risk of cyanide poisoning are those who work in industries that use this chemical and people who intentionally try to kill themselves.
For most people, cyanide only threatens if a fire occurs or if some of the compounds mentioned above are accidentally ingested.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/3/2015
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