What’s Your Poison? Cyanide!

Did you know:

  • Cyanide is found naturally in apple seeds.

apple

  • It also occurs in almonds, apricot kernels, lima beans, orange pips, cassava roots (tapioca), and bamboo shoots.
  • These seeds contain a toxic compound called amygdalin that degrades into hydrogen cyanide (HCN).
  • The form of cyanide found in cassava becomes harmless if the root is dried, smoked, or baked.
  • Cyanide is also found in cigarette smoke.  It can be chemically released from burning man-made products and  plastics in industrial fires.
  • It smells of bitter almonds, though not everyone can detect an odor.  Some people get bright-red faces.
  • Other signs of poisoning include dizziness, headaches, sickness, rapid body functioning, weakness, convulsions, unconsciousness, and lung failure.  Cyanide stops the body from absorbing oxygen.  Death comes from asphyxiation.
  • Long-tern exposure to small amounts leads to weakness, paralysis, miscarriages, liver, and kidney damage.
  • There is no natural antidote, but immediate hospitalization and medical intervention can prevent death in some cases.
  • Cyanide (Zyklon B) was used in the German gas chambers at Auschwitz, and for many judicial executions in USA gas chambers.
  • It is available in a quick-acting pill form for instant suicide.  Soldiers in high-risk-of-capture situations were sometimes issued with cyanide pills.
  • But don’t worry if you accidentally swallow some apple or orange pips.  They have a hard protective coat that passes through the human body intact so that any harmful chemicals are not absorbed!

Sources

CDC, “Facts About Cyanide” at http://www.bt.cdc.gov/agent/cyanide/basics/facts.asp

Snopes.com, “Apple Seeds and Cyanide” at http://www.snopes.com/food/warnings/apples.asp

Stuart, Malcolm. The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism (London: Black Cat, 1987)

Wikipedia, “Cyanide Poisoning” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyanide_poisoning

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