I’ve seen this device used in movies from time to time: somebody soaks a cloth in chloroform, holds it over a person’s mouth and nose, and the person is instantly unconscious. This technique was generally used to facilitate anesthesia or to facilitate kidnapping.
What really happens when someone inhales chloroform? Can it kill you? How long do its effects last? How do you revive somebody rendered unconscious by it?
Chloroform begins to act within a few seconds of inhalation, provided the method of delivery has sufficient concentration and the user takes a deep enough breath. First your extremeties begin to go numb; next your vision and hearing begin to fail. Complete unconsciousness sets in a few seconds later, provided you keep breathing. Recovery generally occurs as soon as the chloroform is removed, though it may be a few minutes before the user feels completely normal. In my estimation, it’s certainly possible to facilitate kidnapping with chloroform, provided one is strong enough to hold the cloth in front of the victim’s mouth and nose until they are forced to breathe. Chloroform has a very pungent, sweet smell, so even an unsuspecting victim might vaguely realize what’s happening, hold their breath, and resist.
As for whether it can kill you, yes, it can. One of the reasons it’s no longer used as an anaesthetic today is that people put under sometimes wouldn’t wake up. I imagine the cause of death would be heart and/or respiratory failure. Chloroform is also a suspected carcinogen, so repeated use or even long-term exposure to trace amounts may get you in the long run.
Fingernail polish remover is a solvent too, and there are always warnings on it about possible skin irritation, but I’ve never seen it affect anyone poorly. I suppose if would be more likely to have a negative effect on mouth and nose and eyes tho. Still, melt your face off? Pish.
I recall an interview with one of John Wayne Gacy’s (adult??) victims, where one of the results of his assault was that he inhaled too much chloroform and ended up with liver damage. Apparently he reported this to the police and they did nothing much…
In high school back in the 80s we conducted a few experiments on this subject with chloroform from the bio lab, and I can confirm psychonaut’s clinical description of the likely effects.
Another possible consequence of smothering someone’s face with a chloroform-soaked cloth is that the victim may vomit immediately. Cholorform is a sickeningly sweet smelling, ice-cold feeling vapor that feels like a lungful of wrong.
Inhaling a little will make you pretty loopy in about 10-15 seconds. Inhaling a lot will put you on the floor about as fast. As long as you’re not given more, you’ll be up in a minute or two, and clear-headed in a few minutes more. After that, you can expect nausea and headaches. And, of course, possible liver damage.