Cyanide Poisoning Overview
Cyanide is a rare but potentially deadly poison. It works by making the body
unable to use life-sustaining oxygen. Unlike the hastily chomped
cyanide-containing suicide pill in a James Bond movie, in the real world, most sources of cyanide are more mundane.
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
- 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.
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