Old 04-17-2000, 11:40 PM
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rowrrbazzle rowrrbazzle is offline
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I came across a reference to this. It was practiced in the late 1800s. Apparently many upper-class gentlemen liked the effects of mild arsenic poisoning. (Strychnine was also used.) In addition, they became "addicted" to it - they needed more and more to get the same effects. Also, if they stopped, they experienced extreme "withdrawal" symptoms and sometimes death! In fact, the reference said that if they went cold turkey, the reaction was the same as taking a lethal dose!

I have two questions:
[list=1][*]Does the body actually build up some kind of tolerance to arsenic?[*]How could going cold turkey produce the same effect as a lethal dose? Or is this just an inaccurate statement?[/list=1]

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Old 04-18-2000, 12:43 AM
Doug Bowe Doug Bowe is offline
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To question #1. Yes. The body can build up a resistance to arsenic. There is a group called the "Arsenic Eaters" that lived (live?) in Austria. They were said to be able to take by mouth amounts of arsenic that would be considered fatal to normal human beings.
Having brought up a possible old UL I need to mention that 1)arsenic mentioned by the old guys (like Aristotle) wasn't the same element described by Albertus Magnus and 2)there are organic and inorganic versions. The organic is, in most cases, slightly less toxic.
In any case one of the symptoms, "pins and needles" in the feet, doesn't look like a pleasure the average Joe would go out of his way to experience. But what the heck, what can you say about those crazy Victorians?
I draw a blank on question #2.
Old 04-18-2000, 06:25 AM
GaWd GaWd is offline
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Many common street drugs are variations of/or are poisons themselves.

FOr instance, most hallucinigens are poisonous(like shrooms), but you can take them in small doses and NOT die, and build up a tolerance, AND have a great time!
Old 04-18-2000, 09:11 AM
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In the nineteenth century, I believe many Englishmen who traveled to the tropical parts of the Empire took arsenic to help ward off the symtoms of malaria. This would not cure them, but a resistance to the poison did build up. Finally, however, a lethal enough amount would build up in their bodies to kill them.
Old 04-18-2000, 09:20 AM
DVous Means DVous Means is offline
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Originally posted by GaWd:
Many common street drugs are variations of/or are poisons themselves.

GaWd, you won't be surprised to know that the most commonly used drugs, both legal and illegal, are indeed poisons, and readily tap into bodily chemistry because of the shape of their molecules.

For example, the nicotine molecule is almost identical to that of acetylcholine, a neuro-transmitter produced by the central nervous system. This is why smokers experience that "hit" when they light up, and the reason that quitting is so diificult. Once the body adjusts to the "increased" level of acetylcholine it slows production to match the desired overall level required. When a smoker quits, the body has to learn to crank up production again. In the interim, the classical symptoms of irritability, lack of concentration etc are really the manifestations of acetylcholine shortfall.

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Old 04-18-2000, 09:25 AM
phouka phouka is offline
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I got a book on poisons from a Writers' Book Club a few years ago. Interesting stuff.

- people can very well become addicted to arsenic and ingest it in much greater amounts that the average nontolerant person can.

- it's not so much withdrawal that does it, but if they stop eating arsenic, the last dose acts as fatally poisonous as if they weren't tolerant to begin with.

- there are people who actually require an arsenic supplement. The book I read told a story of a couple who wanted to bump off their sickly, old aunt so they could inherit her money. They started giving her arsenic, and to their shock, she got better. Turns out that she'd been prescribed arsenic supplements by her doctor, but had stopped taking them because she was depressed.
Old 04-18-2000, 04:50 PM
oasis325 oasis325 is offline
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The above explinations explain a lot for me. I saw this show on tv that showed this extreme religious group that regularly drank a clear fluid that they claimed was pure arsenic, but no one died. They claimed that Jesus was saving them from "the evils of the poison".
They show's producers took it to a lab and sure enough, it was pure arsenic.
...I guess Jesus didn't have much to do with it after all.
Old 04-18-2000, 05:06 PM
cher3 cher3 is offline
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There's a Dorothy Sayers mystery that hinges on the fact that the killer builds up a tolerance to arsenic and then shares a poisoned meal with his victim.
Old 04-18-2000, 05:09 PM
december december is offline
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To see intelligent, fictional treatment of this topic from the 1920's and 30's, read the mystery novel STRONG POISON by Dorothy Sayers and the mystery short story FLY PAPER by Dashiell Hammett. Both are worth reading for their own sakes, and they give somewhat different treatments of this theme.
Old 04-18-2000, 07:15 PM
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Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor is offline
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I have heard vague rumors that arsenic was taken orally as a cosmetic by women from Southeastern Europe in the 17th, 18th, & 19th Centuries. Supposedly, it made them "fashionably pale".

Any further data?

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Old 04-18-2000, 08:24 PM
Arnold Winkelried Arnold Winkelried is offline
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It took me long enough to find a citation for my reference, but here it is. In Alexandre Dumas' novel "The Count of MonteCristo" this method (taking small doses of a poison to be immune) is mentioned, and the novel says that this method was practiced by Mithradates VI, king of Pontus.

This web page confirms it.
Mithradates VI Eupator, king of Pontus, developed the concept of inducing tolerance of poisons by the administration of gradually increased dosages.
Old 04-18-2000, 08:42 PM
Fretful Porpentine Fretful Porpentine is offline
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"... There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast,
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all that springs to birth
From the many venomed-earth;
First a little, thence to more,
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat;
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white's their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt.
-- I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old."

-- A. E. Housman
Old 04-18-2000, 09:01 PM
coosa coosa is offline
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Not much of a reference source, but I used to enjoy reading 'Gothic Romances' - some of them are actually pretty good. Anyway, it was mentioned in several of those books that some Victorian women took small daily doses of arsenic to achieve that 'fashionably pale' look. This info was often used as a plot device to explain a mysterious death and/or suicide.

Anyone know of a reliable historical reference for this? Like Daniel, I'm curious to know the truth.

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Old 04-18-2000, 09:04 PM
Arnold Winkelried Arnold Winkelried is offline
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Thank you for the great poem, Fretful Porpentine! I had never encountered it before. The last line, however, "Mithridates, he died old." reminded me that I forgot to mention the ultimate irony. Mithidrates VI tried to commit suicide by ingesting poison when his son rebelled against him. He was unsuccessful and had to order a mercenary to kill him (Mithradates VI).
Old 04-19-2000, 02:12 AM
Homer Homer is offline
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Hmmm... I remember seeing a movie with something like this in it once... What was it called? Oh yeah... Princess Bride! Come ON, people, get with the program.

You fell victim to one of the classic blunders, the most famous of which is "Never get involved in a land war in Asia", but only slightly less famous is this: "Never go in against a Sicilian, when *death* is on the line!". Hahahahahah!


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Old 04-19-2000, 04:52 AM
neutron star neutron star is offline
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FOr instance, most hallucinigens are poisonous(like shrooms), but you can take them in small doses and NOT die
Where do you come up with this stuff?? There have been cases of people taking literally hundreds of times the active dose of LSD and not dying. Psilocybin (active chemical in mushrooms) has a similarly high LD50. Nobody has ever been known to die of an overdose from either drug.

Oh, and if anyone is looking for some arsenic, you can purchase it here. This site also features many other interesting "poisonous non-consumables."
Old 04-19-2000, 08:00 AM
AKAmame AKAmame is offline
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There were two main reasons for arsenic ingestion in the 1800's of which I had heard. One was two whiten the complexion. The other was as an aphrodisiac.

A side effect of arsenic exposure occasionally seen in industrial situations is diffuse skin cancers, melanomas from memory.
Old 04-20-2000, 01:26 AM
december december is offline
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Arnold -- The Dashiell Hammett story FLY PAPER uses a gimmick based on THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO. However, the Hammett character dies of arsenic poisoning. According to the detective, not all people have the ability to build us a resistance to arsenic by gradually increaing the amount ingested. Those without the ability wind up gradually poisoning themselves.

On the other hand, the Dorothy Sayers book mentions two forms or arsenic, only one of which can be safely ingested.

I cannot vouch for the scientific validity of either of these ideas...


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