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anonick
10-15-2007, 07:54 AM
I heard in school from my teacher that no one knows what hydrogen cyanide tastes like, it's so poisonous. She said one scientist, being already on deathbed, proceeded to taste it, pen and paper in hand. But once he tasted the stuff, he died before he could write more than "S". Sweet? Salty? Sour?

Myth? Or is this true?

Busy Scissors
10-15-2007, 08:07 AM
It may be true, although the story about the dying scientist sounds a bit dodgy. HCN is a gas, so one would 'taste' it by inhaling it. It is virulently toxic, so this would result in almost certain death. It is possible that people who have recovered from cyanide poisoning (say they were exposed to a low dose, or accidentally ingested a very dilute solution of HCN (hydrocyanic acid) could talk about its taste.

It does have a very distinct smell - of almonds.

Hari Seldon
10-15-2007, 08:50 AM
I read somewhere that to 40% of the population, it smells like almonds (more precisely, almonds smell of cyanide, since like all rose family fruit--including apples--there is cyanide in the seed). The other 60% smell nothing.

While it is extremely deadly, it is no more so than hydrogen sulfide. The difference is that we are exquisitely sensitive to HS, but only barely to HCN. Presumably, we never experienced the latter much during our evolution, but the smell of HS was an immediate signal to be elsewhere. When in took qualitative analysis in college in 1955, our analysis was based on using fancy reagents in tiny quantitites. Until the previous year, the methods were based on precipitating most of the metals as sulfides using HS. The previous year a student died. Apparently your smell apparatus can get paralyzed by habituation and the student has spent too much time in the sulfide room/

d1a1s1
10-15-2007, 08:59 AM
I can agree with Hari on the almonds scent. They teach us in the military that if we smell burning almonds to RUN the other direction...unfortunately my sense of smell isn't very directional so lets hope I never encounter this scenario.

WhyNot
10-15-2007, 09:08 AM
I heard in school from my teacher that no one knows what hydrogen cyanide tastes like, it's so poisonous. She said one scientist, being already on deathbed, proceeded to taste it, pen and paper in hand. But once he tasted the stuff, he died before he could write more than "S". Sweet? Salty? Sour?

Myth? Or is this true?
Obviously, he needed to take a page out of the books of tween girls everywhere:

Did U taste it? Was it:
o Sweet
o Salty
o Sour
o Somethin else?

(chk 1 & give ths bk 2 me in math if ur not ded. kthx.)

butler1850
10-15-2007, 09:20 AM
I can agree with Hari on the almonds scent. They teach us in the military that if we smell burning almonds to RUN the other direction...unfortunately my sense of smell isn't very directional so lets hope I never encounter this scenario.

It's very directional. Smell comes from where the wind is blowing from. The best bet would be to move perpendicular to the direction of the wind. (If wind is from north, run east or west. Do not run north or south.)

Hopefully you'll never actually NEED to know this. :D

DrFidelius
10-15-2007, 10:01 AM
I prefer the minty freshness of hemlock personally, but I am an old-fashioned sort...

Melanc
10-15-2007, 10:36 AM
Here's Cecil on the subject: How do they know what lethal gases smell like? (http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a970307c.html)

gigi
10-15-2007, 12:20 PM
give ths bk 2 me in math if ur not ded.
:D

R U Dead? Check

__ Yes or ___ No

glee
10-15-2007, 12:26 PM
In Agathat Christie detective novels, the hero was always announcing the presence of cyanide by 'the smell of almonds'.
(If I was in one of her books, i would feed my victim almonds before using arsenic :eek: )

WhyNot
10-15-2007, 12:35 PM
In Agathat Christie detective novels, the hero was always announcing the presence of cyanide by 'the smell of almonds'.
(If I was in one of her books, i would feed my victim almonds before using arsenic :eek: )
My Plant ID teacher was always scraping at tree stems with a fingernail and saying things like, "Smell the almond scent? This here's a wild cherry!" And I smelt...nothing. I found that nodding enthusiastically earned me an A, but I to this day I still couldn't identify wild cherry to save my life.

Beware of Doug
10-15-2007, 12:44 PM
IT SMELLS OF...DEATH.

Otto
10-15-2007, 01:12 PM
R U Dead? Check

__ Yes or ___ No

_x_ Maybe

gigi
10-15-2007, 02:30 PM
R U Dead? Check

_X_ Yes or _X_ No

luv
S's cat

Chronos
10-15-2007, 03:26 PM
R U Dead? Check

_X_ Yes or _X_ No

luv
S's catThat should be

R U Dead? Check

_/_ Yes or _\_ No

luv
S's cat

Little Nemo
10-15-2007, 03:34 PM
But once he tasted the stuff, he died before he could write more than "S". Sweet? Salty? Sour?"See you in Hell, you poisoning bastards"

Hey, the OP doesn't say the scientist agreed to the experiment.

Andy
10-15-2007, 03:42 PM
HCN can't be that poisonous because I've smelled it on many occasions, principally when using a reagent called sodium cyanoborohydride. Small amounts of HCN are produced during its destruction; it doesn't really smell like almonds to me, but does have a distinctive (not at all unpleasant) smell. You don't drop dead as soon as you smell it, although I couldn't possibly quantify the amounts involved.

gigi
10-15-2007, 04:21 PM
HCN can't be that poisonous because I've smelled it on many occasions, principally when using a reagent called sodium cyanoborohydride. Small amounts of HCN are produced during its destruction; it doesn't really smell like almonds to me, but does have a distinctive (not at all unpleasant) smell. You don't drop dead as soon as you smell it, although I couldn't possibly quantify the amounts involved.
Can you prove you're not a zombie?

scm1001
10-15-2007, 04:29 PM
Cyanide poisoning is not always fatal (there is an antidote), and takes up to 30 minutes. I is in MHO not a nice way to go, painful and slow. There would be plenty of time to write a page or two on how it tastes.

As far as I can see, in low doses it has a slighlty almond taste (probably due to the smell). In higher doses it can burn your mouth as it is rather acidic.

jayjay
10-15-2007, 04:33 PM
Cyanide poisoning is not always fatal (there is an antidote), and takes up to 30 minutes. I is in MHO not a nice way to go, painful and slow. There would be plenty of time to write a page or two on how it tastes.

As far as I can see, in low doses it has a slighlty almond taste (probably due to the smell). In higher doses it can burn your mouth as it is rather acidic.

So all those detective novel scenarios where someone drinks something with cyanide in it and instantly keels over foaming at the mouth aren't accurate?

Jake
10-15-2007, 05:19 PM
I prefer the minty freshness of hemlock personally, but I am an old-fashioned sort...
Ah yes, hemlock! Good for what ails you, with the fresh taste of mint besides! Great with Mint Juleps, just don't use to much!! :)

Colibri
10-15-2007, 05:32 PM
In Agathat Christie detective novels, the hero was always announcing the presence of cyanide by 'the smell of almonds'.


When I was in college a girl in my dorm committed suicide by drinking a milkshake laced with cyanide. After the ambulance took her away, I remember the distinct smell of almonds in the hallway on her corridor.

Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor
10-15-2007, 05:36 PM
I prefer the minty freshness of hemlock personally, but I am an old-fashioned sort...

Who served you that drink, Phil or Dixie Null?
:D

amarone
10-15-2007, 06:38 PM
I read somewhere that to 40% of the population, it smells like almonds (more precisely, almonds smell of cyanide, since like all rose family fruit--including apples--there is cyanide in the seed). The other 60% smell nothing.
I cannot attest to the percentages, but it is true that some people cannot smell cyanide - I cannot, for one.

Duckster
10-15-2007, 09:33 PM
You mean it doesn't taste like chicken?

reea41
10-15-2007, 09:46 PM
really, it should be

aruvqan
10-16-2007, 01:50 AM
Here's Cecil on the subject: How do they know what lethal gases smell like? (http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a970307c.html)
Actually, I can tell you that in addition to the smell of a lethal gas, frequently you get a taste component. Phosgene has a strange herbish smell in small amounts, but gives you a wierd metallic taste [like when you hold a handful of coins in a sweaty hand] Chlorine is easier to detect by burning eyes rather than smell, and ammonia gives you an odd catch in the back of the throat.

I used to work in a chemical plant. My machine shop was sort of between the ammonia and the chlorine shop. It takes me 2.2 seconds to get into a gas mask and just under a minute to get into an airpack =) I used to jokingly refer to being in training for the jupiter acclimation project. I have been exposed to chloring, ammonioa, sulfur dioxide, phosgene, many different acids and bases ranging from naptha to hydrofluosilicic acid. We also carried potassium cyanide in the cutest little 15 lb cardboard oatmeal drums =) a favorite breaktime hobby was combining ammonia and some of the iodine from the *ahem* accidently broken can stored back in the hazmat area and making things go boom.

matt
10-16-2007, 02:43 AM
So all those detective novel scenarios where someone drinks something with cyanide in it and instantly keels over foaming at the mouth aren't accurate? Quantity and form of delivery are important. The poisonous part is the cyanide ion, CN-, which binds with an important metabolic enzyme in your body (cytochrome c oxidase) and stops your cells from being able to use oxygen. This is basically bad news all round, but you can survive it if not all the enzyme in your body is bound. Small or gradually increasing doses will make you very sick, large acute doses can take effect rapidly.

Hydrogen cyanide gas will dissolve into the moist surface of your lungs and form hydrocyanic acid, allowing CN- to be absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream. A good concentrated whiff of HCN can black you out before you hit the ground. Despite this, accounts of the Nazi gas chambers describe slow deaths from the pesticide Zyklon B, basically fibrous pellets impregnated with liquid HCN, that evaporates into the air at ambient temperatures. That would be an example of slow poisoning.

Liquid hydrocyanic acid can be absorbed through the stomach and gut, cyanide salts such as potassium or sodium cyanide will be absorbed more slowly. The salts may react to produce HCN in the stomach, which might then be inhaled, but I have no idea if this absorbtion mechanism is significant. I have read a magazine article that stated that suicides drinking hydrocyanic acid have collapsed and ceased breathing before finishing the bottle, but I have no verfication of that.

There are oral and antidotes that bind to cyanide, and amyl nitrite ampoules are effective as well. Labs and industries that use cyanide usually have antidote kits around, so it's likely that there are many cyanide poisoning survivors who know what it tastes like.

anonick
10-16-2007, 04:16 AM
Thanks so much people. Almonds eh? Now who knows what almonds smell like? :rolleyes:

DrFidelius
10-16-2007, 07:47 AM
Who served you that drink, Phil or Dixie Null?
:D

Twenty-five years or more I saved that line for the right opportunity...

Jake
10-16-2007, 03:41 PM
Despite this, accounts of the Nazi gas chambers describe slow deaths from the pesticide Zyklon B, basically fibrous pellets impregnated with liquid HCN, that evaporates into the air at ambient temperatures. That would be an example of slow poisoning.
This seems pretty inefficient for the Nazis, I would think they wanted to kill as efficiently as possible to keep their quotas up. Gas can be tricky, maybe they wanted to do their worst without killing themselves?

matt
10-16-2007, 07:52 PM
This seems pretty inefficient for the Nazis, I would think they wanted to kill as efficiently as possible to keep their quotas up. Gas can be tricky, maybe they wanted to do their worst without killing themselves? Zyklon B was a commercial product, a fumigation pesticide for use on rodents and the like. It wasn't designed to be fast, or to be used on people.

The first Nazi concentration camp was at Dachau, and the gas chambers there were simply small concrete rooms with a couple of ports where the pesticide could be posted in from the outside. I recommend taking a tour if you ever visit Munich - it's not exactly a fun day out, but it is a warning of how bad things can get if we tolerate certain types of thinking. Take one of the walking tours of Nazi history as well.

Our guide told us that later gas chambers had forced circulation of warm air to get the cyanide to work more quickly. But the gassing was probably not the rate-determining process anyway - unloading the dead bodies and running them through the crematoriums probably took longer.

Melkor28
10-17-2007, 04:16 AM
If you want me to make someone die without pain,
I use the poison Iocane,
You will not even recive a bill,
For that would be inconceivable!

Mangetout
10-17-2007, 05:25 AM
She said one scientist, being already on deathbed, proceeded to taste it, pen and paper in hand. But once he tasted the stuff, he died before he could write more than "S". Sweet? Salty? Sour? 'S'ort of like Dr Pepper.