Is it impossible for any poison to kill a person in less than 2 minutes?

As I understand it, death by poisoning, even the fastest-acting toxins, follows this pathway:

First, the heart shuts down and blood stops circulating. Breathing may stop around this time.
Then, the brain cells die of oxygen starvation.
Then, the other organs and body parts die of oxygen starvation, too.
If death = no heartbeat + no respiration + no brain activity, and if the brain can survive two minutes without oxygen, then doesn’t this mean that no poison can kill a human in less than two minutes? It all depends on how long the brain can hold out without oxygen.
(And no, this is not a “Need answer fast” question. No need for that joke.) :slight_smile:

Well, we all know that cyanide vials kill instantly. Cite: That’s how the terrorists off themselves a second before capture in the movies. :stuck_out_tongue:

Moderator Note

Just a friendly reminder that, while in the General Questions forum, you need to hold off on the less serious answers until the question has been factually addressed.

Would you define a nerve gas as “poison”? According to the CDC, a inhaling a large dose of sarin can cause death in as little as one minute.

I googled fastest killing poison, which led me to Cecil’s article ( ) and that also led me to sarin.

While there’s no doubt that it can kill someone in less than a minute, does it actually cause complete brain death that quickly?

It’s around 4 minutes to brain damage, and 10 minutes to death.

I don’t know if some poisons might make resuscitation impossible.

Oh! Didn’t know this was addressed already.

Curare (pronounced cure-are-ee) may count. It is the poison that South American tribes use for everything from monkey hunting to warfare. Curare is extremely fast acting posion and can be administered through small skin penetrations such as the tips of blow darts. The mechanism of action is as an acetylcholine antagonist. It causes nearly instant muscle paralysis in anything that gets even a small dose.

The really scary thing about curare is that it doesn’t kill directly. Instead, it paralyzes the victim completely generally within tens of seconds so thoroughly that death will come indirectly through suffocation within minutes. In the mean time, the victim merely appears to be dead because they are completely unable to move any muscles at all including the skeletal muscles necessary to support breathing. It is theoretically possible to administer curare and immediately put the victim on life support so that they recover from it but that is obviously not the goal for most intentional uses.

I once worked in a neuroscience lab that had a number of risky substances in house including a close derivative of curare. That was the one that was most protected and isolated. It was nested inside triple containers and then completely sealed from the outside. We were told that we could die if we ever managed to touch it all without full protective gear.

Apparently, this is something that was researched:


Wow. Those tribesmen are at real risk of poisoning themselves.

Jelly fish/sea snake neurotoxins qualify, I believe.

“We must construct a faster-acting Venom.”

… --Spectre #1 (Ernst Stavro Blofeld) in From Russia with Love

In what way does a poison that kills via suffication over several minutes count? The title of the thread is stuff that kills in less than two minutes and the OP specifically said he was counting the time it took to sufficate in poisons that cut off Oxygen.

I guess it depends how we’re defining death. If we’re going to say that death is all brain activity completely ceased, and indeed all organs shut down, then even being shot in the brainstem will take minutes to do the job.

I don’t think the issue of exactly when someone is dead is entirely settled, but I’d say the period in which you are not conscious, and there is a rapid and unstoppable decrease in brain function is moot whether you call it alive or dead.

how about seperating ‘time to clincaly dead’ and ‘time to the point of no recovery/no interaction with folks around you’ ?

What poison(s) would be the fastest to clinical dead? Whats the delta between (a) anc (b) ?

Just talking about the deltas …

Consider an execution by guillotine. When the blade is fully through the neck and the head is fully severed, the target is doomed. There’s no putting him back together now. And we can consider the duration while the slicing is taking place to be negligible; small fractions of a second from start to finish.

Consciousness will end in a couple of seconds, maybe 10 at the outside, due to loss of blood pressure in the brain & lack of oxygenated blood flow.

But it will be many minutes until the last traces of purposeful chemical reactions stop occurring in at least some of the target’s cells. Not that we could detect these last traces with current technology, but they were all working fine just before the blade arrived and eventually the last one, whatever & wherever it is, will stop. How many minutes later? I’ve read 15ish.

When along that timeline is the victim legally dead? I have no clue; ask a doctor what they use in his/her jurisdiction.

When along that timeline is the target dead enough for the OP’s purposes? He’ll have to tell us.

I’m not a doctor, but one would presume that the injection point would matter. If you could directly deposit the poison into the skull, I would imagine that it would have a faster acting time than if you injected it into the pinky toe.

Indeed - if we’re allowed to inject something, say, very corrosive (that counts as poison, right?) into the brain, that could kill in seconds rather than minutes.

My favorite injectable poison of that sort is 2 liters of molten lava, right in the hippocampus.

I’m not a geologist, but one would presume that the syringe would melt long before it was able to get to the person’s head.