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How to Protect Yourself from Being Poisoned

Updated on September 2, 2017
Salmonella, a typical food poison
Salmonella, a typical food poison

What if you took a pill that wasn’t what it was supposed to be?

Have you ever been poisoned? Fortunately, I never have. But one time I took a 200-milligram caffeine pill on an empty stomach, and when the caffeine hit me I felt so weird I thought I had been poisoned. The uncertainty really shook me up for a few minutes, because once you’ve taken something, how do you get rid of it? Force yourself to upchuck? Oh my God!

This brings up a major problem: You never know for certain what’s in a pill you bought at the grocery store. I’ve read about counterfeit pills being circulated by unscrupulous businesspeople; serial killers could be at work too. Remember the Tylenol killer back in 1982? Seven people thought they were ingesting Tylenol and instead got potassium cyanide, a deadly poison.

In reality, just about anything we eat, drink or touch could have been poisoned in some way.

Let’s find out more about various types of poison and see if there’s anything we can do to protect ourselves.

What Is Poison?

Poison is anything that causes disturbances to organisms, including people such as you and me, whereas toxins are produced by biological functions in nature. Botulism and tetanus are toxins; both are also poisonous. And there’s venom, which is used by animals such as insects, arachnids or snakes to subdue or kill prey.

People can be poisoned when they eat, drink, inhale or inject poisonous substances.

Generally, poisons and toxins are considered the same thing.

Paracelsus, considered the father of toxicology, once wrote: “Everything is poison; there is poison in everything. Only the dose makes a thing not a poison.” Drinking too much water can kill a person. So, does that make water a poison? Paracelsus would probably answer yes.

History of Poison

Throughout recorded history poison has been used for assassination, murder, suicide and execution. About 400 B.C.E. the Athenians executed Socrates, the reputed gadfly of Athens, by forcing him to drink a beverage laced with hemlock, derived from a highly poisonous flowering plant.

For centuries and even during modern times, arsenic, a metallic chemical element, has been known as the Poison of Kings or the King of Poisons. Odorless and tasteless, arsenic is suitable for dropping small amounts into the king or queen’s cup of wine. Strangely, it also has numerous medical uses, as long as you don’t take too much, of course.

In modern times, carbon monoxide was used for executions in Nazi death camps during World War Two, before Zyklon B was used to a much greater extent. Zyklon B is a cyanide-based poison similar to hydrogen cyanide, a.k.a Prussic acid, which is used in gas chambers when executing convicted criminals.

On a related note, Potassium chloride is used during lethal injections to stop the heart from beating.

Biological Poisons

Many poisons are manmade. Dioxins come from a family of 70 organic compounds that are highly toxic. Dioxins are byproducts of many industrial processes and waste incineration. Since dioxins are fat soluble, they often end up in animal tissues, which are then consumed by meat-eating folks. All people in industrialized societies carry dioxins in their tissues.

Neurotoxins, sometimes derived from natural substances, have been used to produce nerve gas, which kills by skin contact. Ethanol and nitric oxide are common neurotoxins. Biocides are often used in pesticides and herbicides. Unfortunately, these compounds often kill beneficial organisms as well.

Radioactive Poisons

The earth’s crust contains radioactive elements such as uranium. Uranium is 40 times more abundant than silver. Since uranium is considered a toxic metal, you don’t want to hang around large amounts of it for a long time, and eating or breathing its dust is definitely not advised.

Also, during the nuclear age, radioactive byproducts of nuclear power generation and bomb production have accumulated in the environment. Plutonium, which is considered as toxic as nerve gas, is the most dangerous of these highly radioactive substances. Due to atmospheric nuclear tests in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s and because of nuclear accidents throughout the world, plutonium can be found in measurable amounts in many people. Fortunately, these amounts are usually so small health risks are not considered an issue.

Chlorine Beach Poisoning

Many household chemicals are poisonous. In the U.S. 240,000 children per year are taken to the emergency rooms of hospitals due to poisoning by household chemicals. Perhaps the most dangerous of these chemicals is bleach. Most bleach contains chlorine, an element so deadly it’s been used to make to poison gas. Be sure to use bleach with caution and keep it away from children.

Counterfeit Pills

According to the story “Counterfeit Pills Flood the US: How to Spot Fakes,” featured on the website Healthpop, in 2008, 80 Americans died after ingesting counterfeit Heparin pills. Heparin is used to treat blood clots. Also, some websites have sold fake Adderall pills. Adderall is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Many other bogus pills have been sold on the Internet. Some are just crap, while others are poison.

Food Poisoning

According to the website, food poisoning causes illness in 76 million people per year in the U.S. and, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 5,000 to 9,000 people die every year from such poisoning. Many experts think the incidence of food poisoning is much higher, because people mistakenly think they have influenza or stomach ailments.

Food poisoning is caused when people eat or drink food containing toxins, chemicals, parasites or harmful bacteria. Common forms of food poisoning are caused by bacteria such as Escherichia coli, salmonella and staphylococcus or from parasites such as giardiasis and trichinosis.

In the U.S., at least one third of all chickens are infected with salmonella and more people die from salmonella than any other form of food poisoning.

Seven Tips for Preventing Poisoning

In a world where poisons are seemingly everywhere, we can nevertheless protect ourselves. Here are six tips for preventing poisoning:

1. If possible, live in an area relatively free of poisons, hazardous waste (including animal waste) and toxins. Living with clean land, air and water will prevent many health problems, including poisoning and also help prolong one’s life.

2. Only eat organic food you prepare yourself. Don’t ever eat at a restaurant, lunch wagon or fast-food joint. Some of these places are filthy. You may want to avoid the food at parties and potlucks as well.

3. Never take a pill unless you’re reasonably certain what’s in it. When in doubt, go to the Internet and, using the letters and/or numbers imprinted on the pill, check to see what drugs or others substances are supposed to be in it.

4. Keep an emetic handy in case you need to void the contents of your stomach.

5. Don’t buy drugs online. But if you choose to so, make sure the pills you buy look exactly like the ones you’re supposed to get. However, they could still be fakes, so beware.

6. Become a vegan. You're at much greater risk of getting food poisoning after consuming animal matter. Of course, vegetables can contain toxins as well, particularly if the water in which they were grown was polluted.

7. Know who your friends are, lest they lace your soda pop with arsenic. Hey, it could happen, especially if you’re a king or queen!

Please leave a comment.

© 2012 Kelley


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    • profile image

      chara876 5 years ago

      I'm a director for a tv station and I use the Dr max Powers Burn on occasion when I need a boost. Great way to wake you and keep you more alert. I wake up at 3 AM every weekday and sometimes it catches up to me. If I take it before the show it keeps me alert throughout the two hours that I direct.

      Don't drink soda and ingest all those extra calories, dyes and corn syrup. Drink some water and take the Max Powers Burn. I've been using them for years when I need to and they still work for me every time. So glad I found this product.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 5 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, CMCastro. As for consuming caffeine, I get light-headed when I consume too much; I can also get dehydrated, which can cause a headache. It sounds like you'd also feel weird after popping one of those 200-milligram pills. I'm surprised they put so much in one pill. Later!

    • CMCastro profile image

      Christina M. Castro 5 years ago from Baltimore,MD USA

      What an excellent article! Kosmo, you have put a thrill in me, like watching a terrifying movie by pointing out many scenarios that cause me to take awareness of what goes into my hand and into my mouth. I won't even hardly use hand sanitizer because I am extremely sensitive to the alcohol content- I have proven to myself that regular use of that stuff called hand sanitizer makes me drowsy. And being in the nursing profession, I have to wash my hands a lot! I also made the mistake one day of drinking some "Brazilian Bold" coffee from the convenient store a few hours prior to having a health physical- and it made my Blood Pressure soar (142/92) when usually it is normal! So thanks for making me think. I will pay attention to the chemicals I come in contact with every day.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 5 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, Chris Hugh. It's too bad we can't trust the pills we pop. Later!

    • profile image

      Chris Hugh 5 years ago

      Iron pills are especially dangerous. It doesn't seem like they would be, but they are, so be careful if you have kids.