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  #1  
Old 05-10-2009, 01:00 AM
Quintas Quintas is offline
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Does a cyanide capsule really kill instantly? How?

I've wondered this a long time. From what I understand, it prevents cells from utilising oxygen. But I just watched a History show about the final days in Hitler's bunker, and they describe biting down on the capsule and immediately convulsing for a moment, then death. How does a capsule work so quickly?
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  #2  
Old 05-10-2009, 05:08 AM
ajb867 ajb867 is offline
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The only ones who know are dead
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Old 05-10-2009, 06:12 AM
KarlGauss KarlGauss is offline
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Some of its contents are inhaled, following which cyanide is present near immediately in the blood going to the brain (and every else in the body). The cyanide reaching the brain causes it to cease functioning virtually instantaneously (by shutting down its energy production apparatus).

Last edited by KarlGauss; 05-10-2009 at 06:12 AM..
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Old 05-10-2009, 08:42 AM
KneadToKnow KneadToKnow is offline
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If KarlGauss is right about the mechanism of death being primarily inhaled cyanide fumes, and if this site is correct about how long it takes inhaled nicotine to reach the brain, then I don't see any reason for it to take longer than 7 seconds for the cyanide to kill someone.

Last edited by KneadToKnow; 05-10-2009 at 08:43 AM..
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  #5  
Old 05-10-2009, 08:55 AM
The Great Philosopher The Great Philosopher is offline
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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyanide#Toxicity
Quote:
"Cyanide" is a staple of crime fiction, often used synonymously with deadly poison. Many cyanide-containing compounds are indeed highly toxic, but many are not. Prussian blue, nominally Fe7(CN)18, a common pigment, is administered orally to counteract the effects of poisoning by thallium and Caesium-137.

The most dangerous cyanides are hydrogen cyanide (HCN) and salts derived from it, such as potassium cyanide (KCN) and sodium cyanide (NaCN), among others. Also some compounds readily release HCN or the cyanide ion, such as trimethylsilyl cyanide (CH3)3SiCN upon contact with water and cyanoacrylates upon pyrolysis.

Many thousands of organic compounds contain the CN group. These compounds are called nitriles. Generally, nitriles do not display the toxicity of HCN, NaCN, and KCN. In fact, the nitrile functional group is an integral component of numerous pharmaceutical drugs including cimetidine (Tagamet), verapamil (Isoptin), and citalopram (celexa). The reason for their diminished toxicity is that nitriles do not release the CN− ion, which permanently binds to and inhibits cytochrome c oxidase, the specific basis of the lethality of cyanide (see below). Nitriles can be released from the burning of some plastics and may be a source of cyanide toxicity.

Absorption

The most usual route of absorption is by inhalation of hydrogen cyanide gas, which can be formed from alkaline cyanides and certain complex cyanides by the action of acid. Hydrogen cyanide poisoning is also common as a result of smoke inhalation after house fires.

Ingestion is equally dangerous, although this route of absorption is usually deliberate (suicidal or criminal).

Absorption through the skin as an aqueous solution is low. Potassium or sodium cyanide can pass through the skin easily as a DMSO solution, though this is rare.

Mechanism of toxicity

Cyanide is an irreversible enzyme inhibitor. Cyanide ions bind to the iron atom of the enzyme cytochrome c oxidase (also known as aa3) in the fourth complex in the mitochondrial membrane in the mitochondria of cells. This denatures the enzyme, and the final transport of electrons from cytochrome c oxidase to oxygen cannot be completed. As a result, the electron transport chain is disrupted, meaning that the cell can no longer aerobically produce ATP for energy.

Tissues that mainly depend on aerobic respiration, such as the central nervous system and the heart, are particularly affected.

Plants contain an alternative pathway for respiration in their mitochondria. The alternate oxidase is not as efficient as the normal pathway, but immune to cyanide. As a result, plants are insensitive to concentrations of cyanide that are lethal to animals, and a few species (e.g. the Giant Bamboo in its shoots) are known to contain cyanides. Interestingly, the Golden Bamboo Lemur is able to consume Giant Bamboo shoots containing many times the lethal dose of cyanide for humans and most other animals, with no ill effects. The reason for its immunity is not yet understood.

Clinical symptoms

It is difficult to give dose figures in this section due to the rapid metabolism of cyanide in the human body. Animal studies are of little help, as different species have widely different sensitivities to cyanide: it is quite possible that there is also a considerable range of sensitivity among human individuals. The Regulatory information section below may give some guidance.

Acute poisoning

Inhalation of high concentrations of cyanide causes a coma with seizures, apnea and cardiac arrest, with death following in a matter of minutes.

At lower doses, loss of consciousness may be preceded by general weakness, giddiness, headaches, vertigo, confusion, and perceived difficulty in breathing. At the first stages of unconsciousness, breathing is often sufficient or even rapid, although the state of the victim progresses towards a deep coma, sometimes accompanied by pulmonary edema, and finally cardiac arrest. Skin colour goes pink from high blood oxygen saturation.
As you said, the way cyanide works is it interferes with the 'Kreb cycle' in cells; cells necessarily use oxygen to respire, and cyanide inhibits them from being able to use the oxygen. Because the Kreb cycle happens quickly and continuously, if the oxygen flow is interrupted, the cell can die after only a few cycles. If the cyanide has been inhaled it'll reach the brain and start to wipe out cells en masse within seconds.

Although having said that, it seems like it's not quite as quick as you're thinking: by the sounds of things someone who's inhaled cyanide may lose consciousness within 30 seconds, but it'll still take them a few minutes at least to die.
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Old 05-10-2009, 09:21 AM
Anaglyph Anaglyph is offline
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Or to say it with fewer words: Cyanide stops cellular respiration and thereby blocks aerobic energy production in these cells.
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  #7  
Old 05-10-2009, 12:00 PM
Quintas Quintas is offline
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Originally Posted by Anaglyph View Post
Or to say it with fewer words: Cyanide stops cellular respiration and thereby blocks aerobic energy production in these cells.
I get that.

I don't understand how biting on the capsule allows it to get to all those cells so quickly. In the show I watched, they tested a capsule on hitlers dog. The eyewitness said they placed the capsule in the dogs mouth, pressed on the dogs jaws to crush the capsule and the dog immediately collapsed.

Even if it doesn't technically cause death immediately, it appears to at least cause unconsciousness. I would think that something orally ingested would take a few minutes at least to have an effect.

Last edited by Quintas; 05-10-2009 at 12:01 PM..
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  #8  
Old 05-10-2009, 12:17 PM
friedo friedo is online now
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Originally Posted by Quintas View Post
I would think that something orally ingested would take a few minutes at least to have an effect.
Things in your mouth can get absorbed into the bloodstream surprisingly quickly, even without being digested. Cyanide salts are pretty small molecules and may be absorbed directly in some configurations.

As for why it works so quickly, remember that it doesn't have to go around to all your cells and screw them up. Once it gets into your brain and blocks its ATP production, your whole body is immediately kaput. In any case, it's never instant, it takes ten seconds or so for inhaled hydrogen cyanide gas to be absorbed and bork your brain. Dunno about ingested varieties.
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Old 05-10-2009, 02:11 PM
Nava Nava is offline
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"Ingested orally" in the case of HCN doesn't mean "absorbed through your intestines;" HCN is a gas (its salts like KCN and NaCN form some HCN in contact with water or saliva; Prussian blue isn't exactly a salt, in it the CN is forming a complex with stronger bonds than in the KCN and NaCN) and it can be absorbed through the lungs, as KarlGauss mentioned.

And it's Krebs' cycle, please

Last edited by Nava; 05-10-2009 at 02:14 PM..
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  #10  
Old 05-10-2009, 02:59 PM
ftg ftg is online now
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Might there be a big difference between gas and oral delivery of HCN? It takes several minutes for a condemned person to die in a gas chamber with some particularly drawn out cases.
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  #11  
Old 05-10-2009, 03:02 PM
Nava Nava is offline
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Concentration is the big difference.

In the case of the oral delivery, you're taking a more concentrated amount than what's in the chamber at first, it takes a while for the cyanide concentration to build up in the chamber.
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  #12  
Old 05-10-2009, 04:06 PM
treis treis is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Quintas View Post
I get that.

I don't understand how biting on the capsule allows it to get to all those cells so quickly. In the show I watched, they tested a capsule on hitlers dog. The eyewitness said they placed the capsule in the dogs mouth, pressed on the dogs jaws to crush the capsule and the dog immediately collapsed.

Even if it doesn't technically cause death immediately, it appears to at least cause unconsciousness. I would think that something orally ingested would take a few minutes at least to have an effect.
You can absorb somethings straight through your gums/mouth. That's why people chew tobacco.
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  #13  
Old 05-10-2009, 04:58 PM
The Great Philosopher The Great Philosopher is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nava View Post
Concentration is the big difference.

In the case of the oral delivery, you're taking a more concentrated amount than what's in the chamber at first, it takes a while for the cyanide concentration to build up in the chamber.
Also in the gas chamber when they refer to people 'taking a few minutes (or more) to die', I suspect in most of those cases the prisoner's probably not conscious - but if they're spasming and seizing, foaming at the mouth and making involuntary noises for a couple minutes it would look pretty horrible.
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  #14  
Old 05-10-2009, 08:40 PM
Interconnected Series of Tubes Interconnected Series of Tubes is offline
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Originally Posted by treis View Post
You can absorb somethings straight through your gums/mouth. That's why people chew tobacco.
Might the classical "instant" cyanide death capsules instead be glass ampules containing the more water-reactive compounds? Lacerating the mouth should (might?) provide the soluble cyanide gas ready access to the bloodstream and brain. Inhalation would provide another means of contamination.

Maybe a tiny vial of acid embedded to speed to process along.

Just wagging.

I should add the obvious note that when talking about stuff like this, time to unconsciousness is all that really matters.

Last edited by Interconnected Series of Tubes; 05-10-2009 at 08:42 PM..
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  #15  
Old 02-16-2013, 03:39 PM
vikinghorn6 vikinghorn6 is offline
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Hcn.

I'm not a doctor. At least not a medical doctor. But I can tell you all one thing. In the end, everyone dies of the exact same thing. Lack of blood flow to the brain. Regardless of the mechanism precipitating death, the process is still the same. If a man is shot through the brain stem, it shuts off all communication between the body and the brain. It appears as if the man dies immediately. He does not. Again, regardless of the mechanism death, it takes between 3-4 min. For the human brain to die due to lack of blood flow to the brain. In short, the answer to your question, with very few obvious exceptions, like being vaporized by a nuclear explosion, is no. You will not die immediately. Even if the blood flow to your brain is stopped immediately, it takes between 3-4 min. For all brain activity to cease.
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  #16  
Old 02-16-2013, 03:45 PM
KneadToKnow KneadToKnow is offline
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Originally Posted by vikinghorn6 View Post
In the end, everyone dies of the exact same thing. Lack of blood flow to the brain.
I had the original Trivial Pursuit, too!
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Old 02-16-2013, 05:56 PM
WotNot WotNot is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Interconnected Series of Tubes View Post
Might the classical "instant" cyanide death capsules instead be glass ampules containing the more water-reactive compounds? Lacerating the mouth should (might?) provide the soluble cyanide gas ready access to the bloodstream and brain. Inhalation would provide another means of contamination.

Maybe a tiny vial of acid embedded to speed to process along.

Just wagging.

I should add the obvious note that when talking about stuff like this, time to unconsciousness is all that really matters.
In the particular case of Nazis committing suicide that the OP's in reference to, I've always read that glass ampoules of prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide) were exactly what they used.
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  #18  
Old 02-16-2013, 06:43 PM
dropzone dropzone is offline
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Originally Posted by vikinghorn6 View Post
Even if the blood flow to your brain is stopped immediately, it takes between 3-4 min. For all brain activity to cease.
Which is much faster than from 2009 to 2013, but maybe it takes longer with zombies.
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  #19  
Old 02-16-2013, 07:01 PM
Leo Bloom Leo Bloom is offline
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My grandmother had one and gave one, I think, to my Mom when they were fleeing the Nazis, in case they were arrested.

I'll ask my Mom. (She has Alzheimer's so I might come up empty). My grandmother's war-time diary is in Yad Vashem in Israel, so that's out for now.
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  #20  
Old 02-16-2013, 07:50 PM
Mr. Kobayashi Mr. Kobayashi is offline
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On its use in the last days of the Third Reich, according to Speer one of the points of conversation in the Fuhrerbunker was which was quicker - shooting yourself in the head or the cyanide capsule.

Hitler himself was extremely suspicious of the capsules, an SS favourite, after Himmler's betrayal with his attempted negotiation with the western allies through the Swiss. Hitler was paranoid about someone in the bunker rendering him unconscious and delivering him to the Soviets in exchange for clemency. Incidentally Himmler also dodged the gallows with cyanide (as did Goering - with potassium cyanide, as opposed to hydrogen cyanide used by the Hitlers), the wiki on him states; "The doctor attempted to examine the inside of Himmler's mouth, but the prisoner was reluctant to open it and jerked his head away. Himmler then bit into a hidden cyanide pill and collapsed onto the floor. He was dead within fifteen minutes.[176]"

As a result, he gave one to his dog, Blondi, who died instantly. After that he was satisfied, evidence suggests he bit down on a capsule and simultaneously shot himself in the temple, while Eva just took the cyanide. Not long before the Goebels had forced their children to take cyanide - evidence suggest that the eldest struggled against her fate.
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  #21  
Old 02-16-2013, 08:14 PM
Jackmannii Jackmannii is offline
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Goldang, what a cheery thread.
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Originally Posted by Mr. Kobayashi View Post
...evidence suggests (Hitler) bit down on a capsule and simultaneously shot himself in the temple
To make sure, he also should've done it with a noose around his neck while jumping off a cliff.*


*there's a bad joke about making sure like this, but I'm not about to look it up.

Last edited by Jackmannii; 02-16-2013 at 08:15 PM..
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  #22  
Old 02-16-2013, 08:39 PM
beowulff beowulff is offline
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This guy committed suicide in court recently, by taking cyanide.
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  #23  
Old 02-17-2013, 08:07 AM
Mr. Kobayashi Mr. Kobayashi is offline
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Originally Posted by Jackmannii View Post
Goldang, what a cheery thread.To make sure, he also should've done it with a noose around his neck while jumping off a cliff.*
His secretary Traudl Junge asked him why he didn't go out fighting the Russians, or words to that effect. That was one of the reasons he gave (on top of being too ill to fight); that he didn't want to risk just being wounded and put in some 'Soviet circus'.
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  #24  
Old 02-18-2013, 08:00 AM
handsomeharry handsomeharry is offline
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Originally Posted by Leo Bloom View Post
My grandmother had one and gave one, I think, to my Mom when they were fleeing the Nazis, in case they were arrested.

I'll ask my Mom. (She has Alzheimer's so I might come up empty). My grandmother's war-time diary is in Yad Vashem in Israel, so that's out for now.
One thing I'm curious about: Where did so many people readily get cyanide ampules/capsules, etc? I mean, I think it's fairly easy to make if you have some chemistry basics, but, WTF did the average person, such as your family, people without military connections, get stuff like this?
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Old 02-18-2013, 09:00 AM
Leo Bloom Leo Bloom is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Leo Bloom View Post
My grandmother had one and gave one, I think, to my Mom when they were fleeing the Nazis, in case they were arrested.

I'll ask my Mom. (She has Alzheimer's so I might come up empty). My grandmother's war-time diary is in Yad Vashem in Israel, so that's out for now.
Denied by Mom. Said it was one-time travelling (fleeing) companion.
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  #26  
Old 02-18-2013, 11:48 AM
Cheshire Human Cheshire Human is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by handsomeharry View Post
One thing I'm curious about: Where did so many people readily get cyanide ampules/capsules, etc? I mean, I think it's fairly easy to make if you have some chemistry basics, but, WTF did the average person, such as your family, people without military connections, get stuff like this?
With some basic chemistry knowledge, it's easy to make from common household items. I made some when I was about 14-16 years old. I won't go into details. I don't want to contribute to any accidental or intentional deaths.

Last edited by Cheshire Human; 02-18-2013 at 11:49 AM..
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