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10 Poisons That Could Save Your Life

Updated on March 30, 2016
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10. Indian Cobra Venom

One of the most common venomous snakes in South East Asia, the Indian cobra is the cause of the majority of the 10,000 deaths by snakebite that occur in India every year. However, it appears that the vicious predator could also provide a solution to an ailment that affects approximately 350 million people worldwide: arthritis. Experiments on rats with the condition have shown that small doses of the cobra’s venom radically reduce the swelling and stiffness of affected joints. This is because the toxin inhibits collagen breakdown, which is the very cause of cartilage damage. Further research is underway to see how the technique could work on humans.

9. Deadly Nightshade

Normally you would expect anything with ‘deadly’ in the name to be kept far away from a doctor’s medical kit. This isn’t the case for deadly nightshade, however, which can be used to treat various conditions, including asthma, gout, and epilepsy. Consuming the berries of this plant can cause slurred speech, vomiting, hallucinations, or even death. Nevertheless, its ability to block certain nervous impulses means that it can be carefully used to regulate certain bodily reflexes, such as slowing the heart rate during surgery. It is also essential for eye surgery, as it dilates the pupils to make them easier to operate on.

8. The Sweat of a Fire-bellied Toad

When provoked, toxic fire-bellied toads can secrete a venom-laced sweat that causes severe skin irritation and could be fatal if consumed. But it has emerged that this sweat could be a lifeline for those suffering from serious wounds or injuries. According to Professor Christopher Shaw from the Belfast School of Pharmacy, components of the toxin help promote blood vessel growth, which could speed up the healing process of wounds and minimize scarring. A potential drug using the sweat will soon be tested in human trials, and patents for it have already been secured in both China and America.

7. Ergot

Ergot, a fungus that infects rye and grain, is known to bring about hallucinations, convulsions,
and even death when consumed. The bizarre Strasbourg ‘Dancing Plague’ of 1518, which saw over 400 people unable to stop compulsively dancing for days on end, has been attributed to ergot poisoning. However, a great variety of prescription medicines contain elements of the toxin. It has been used to treat Parkinson’s Disease and migraines, and has also been given to some women after childbirth. Ergot is so valuable to doctors because it contains chemicals that can narrow blood vessels, which reduces bleeding.

6. Cone Snail Venom

In order to catch its prey, the cone snail attacks by propelling a harpoon-like tooth from its mouth. This injects venom powerful enough to paralyze victims instantly. Several human deaths have even been attributed to the creature, which is found in the Indian and Pacific oceans. And yet, surprisingly, cone snail venom could be the future of pain relief. Scientists at the University of Queensland are looking into the venom’s pain relieving properties. The venom paralyzes a body by blocking certain nerve channels. But if the toxin can be modified to affect only the channels related to pain perception, it could become a non addictive
painkiller even more effective than morphine.

5. Hemlock

Hemlock, one of the world’s most widely known poisons, is so toxic that a human could die just from eating the meat of an animal that had once consumed its seeds. Hemlock’s poison works by paralyzing certain parts of the body, making them entirely numb. Scientists have found ways to capitalize on this ability, and have adapted certain components of the poison for use in treatments for mania, epilepsy, and whooping cough. This has also reduced the pain of teething in children and the tremors of those suffering with Parkinson’s disease.

4. Tarantula Venom

Although perhaps not as deadly as its reputation, tarantula’s venom can trigger severe allergic reactions. The arachnids’ bites sometimes cause extreme pain for several days, or even hallucinations. Biophysicists from the University at Buffalo are using Chilean rose tarantula venom to combat death from heart attacks, which currently causes 1 in 4 fatalities in America. Researchers have found that a protein in tarantula venom can help regulate blood flow, which can often be uncontrollable during a cardiac arrest. If administered during a heart attack, this could potentially save a patient’s life.

3. Deathstalker Scorpion Venom

The Death stalker is a very aggressive breed of scorpion, predominantly found in the Middle East and North Africa. It is thought to be the most venomous scorpion in the world. Nevertheless, a researcher at the University of Washington has demonstrated how it could help develop gene therapy and treat brain cancer. The venom of the death stalker scorpion contains a chemical that could be used to effectively target cancer cells. This could be an invaluable breakthrough, as 58% of people diagnosed with brain cancer die within a year.

2. Taxus Baccata - the English Yew Tree

Among the deadliest assassins of the plant world, almost all parts of the English Yew Tree are highly toxic to humans. Death can follow within just a few hours of ingesting its toxins. The tree seems unlikely, therefore, to be a potential candidate for use in cancer treatment. Researchers at the US National Cancer Institute are investigating the potential of compounds found in Yew Tree bark, which could help stop new cancer cells forming by disrupting their ability to divide and reproduce.

1. Pufferfish

Most puffer fish contain tetrodotoxin, a toxin that is up to 1,200 times more deadly than cyanide. In a single fish, there is enough poison to kill 30 adult humans, with no known antidote available. Tetrodotoxin prevents nerves from sending signals to one another. Researchers at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey are looking into how they could utilize this to create an effective painkiller. It is thought that the toxin could be used to treat chronic pain, such as that caused by chemotherapy. It has the potential to be 3,000 times more effective than morphine, without being addictive or nauseating.

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