ARSENIC – The King of Poisons

Virtually imperceptible in the past when used as a poison, arsenic became known as ii_b_114c“The King of Poisons” because of its lethal potency and because it was undetectable. Then the Marsh test came into use in 1836!

From that point forward, arsenic trace evidence could be identified in liquids and in food. That’s when the chemical became famous as a dramatic murder weapon and was known as the perfect poison to be used in a murder mystery.

In convincing reports, several famous people have been murdered with arsenic: Napoleon Bonaparte, Simon Bolivar and King George the 3rd of England.

The progression to death is dependent on the dose, but the initial symptoms ofmh_capd_fig26-6.tif arsenic poisoning exhibit as headaches, confusion, diarrhea and drowsiness. Often white spots or lines appear on the person’s nails. This malady is called leukonychia, a harmless condition but a definite sign of arsenic poisoning.

As the poison concentrates in the body, the symptoms progress to acute vomiting, blood in the urine, hair loss, muscle cramps and a metallic taste in the mouth. The person will have difficulty swallowing, will begin to salivate excessively and have a pale/pasty white complexion.

But people have been poisoned with arsenic without malfeasance. Arsenic is thnaturally present in the world and high concentrations can be found in ground water that people drink. A 2007 study found that 137 million people in 70 countries exhibited mild symptoms of arsenic poisoning from grains, produce and normal drinking water.

There are reports that increased consumption of arsenic causes cancer and may heighten the risk of skin, stomach and kidney cancers; but the studies appear to be inconclusive, and they have not been substantiated in the laboratory.

Current commercial uses of arsenic include it as a preservative in lumber and animal hides, in pesticides, as an additive to lead in lead-acid batteries and in glass manufacturing, and as a gas to enhance the performance of semiconductors. Some of these commercial uses, however, have been outlawed in the United States.

Vintage arsenic poison bottle on antique shelf

Ironically, there are medical benefits to arsenic. Some studies have shown the chemical to be useful in TREATING certain cancers, sending the cancer into remission. That’s an interesting fact since arsenic was previously thought to CAUSE cancer.

And in the past, women would consume a couple of drops of arsenic to enhance their beauty. It would cause the complexion to turn white and pale.

As I’ve seen on many occasions with chemicals, there are benefits and drawbacks with any potent element. But a murder mystery writer can’t go wrong when expertly exploiting the lethal qualities of this spectacular poison!

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

About James J. Murray, Fiction Writer

With experience in both pharmaceutical manufacturing and clinical patient management, medications and their impact on one’s quality of life have been my expertise. My secret passion of murder and mayhem, however, is a whole other matter. I’ve always loved reading murder mysteries and thrillers, and longed to weave such tales of my own. Drawing on my clinical expertise as a pharmacist and my infatuation with the lethal effects of drugs, my tales of murder, mayhem and medicine will have you looking over your shoulder and suspicious of anything in your medicine cabinet.
This entry was posted in A How To Blog on Murder Plot Ideas, A How To Blog on Murder Weapons, About James J. Murray, About Murder, Arsenic, Arsenic and Cancer, Arsenic As A Murder Weapon, Arsenic Health Benefits and Risks, Arsenic in Murder Mysteries, Arsenic Present in Nature, Blog Writers, Blogging, Bloodless Death Scene Writing, Characteristics of Murder, Chemicals Used For Murder, Deadly Poisons Discussed, Deciding How to Kill Off a Character in a Novel, Designing Murder Plots, Dramatic Murder Weapons, How to Choose a Murder Weapon for a Plot Idea, Ideas for Murder Scenes, Instruments of Death, Interesting Murder Weapons, Killing a Villain in a Novel, Lethal Agents and Murder, Murder Weapons Discussed, Plotting Interesting Murder Scenes, Poisons and Murder, Poisons Used For Murder, The Science of Murder, Tools of Murder, Unique Murder Plots, Ways to Murder and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to ARSENIC – The King of Poisons

  1. Wow! Thanks for another great article, James, for all mystery, crime and thriller writers.

    And I’ve made a note to remember, given your knowledge of poisonous substances like these, to be nice to you at all times, from now on! I’m just sayin’ . . . 😉

  2. bruce says:

    I’m interested to know a slow poison which is undetectable during autopsy.Is there any?

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