By: Caroline Rogers 2nd Period

What is it?

Strychnine is a highly toxic, colorless, bitter crystalline alkaloid used as a pesticide, particularly for killing small vertebrates such as birds and rodents
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Where is it found?

The primary natural source of strychnine is the plant Strychnos nux-vomica. This plant is found in southern Asia (India, Sri Lanka, and East Indies) and Australia.
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Physical Properties

Color- Translucent, which makes it easy to be hidden in a liquid without noticing.

State/Form- Crystalline powder or crystals, which can dissolve in solubles.

odour- odorless, therefore it can go undetected in a substance.

Taste- it is a very bitter almost metallic taste.

Effects on the body

If you are exposed to strychnine, symptoms will occur within 15 to 60 minutes. This chemical affects your nerve signals to the muscles. This is known as the “off switch” for muscles. When the nerve signals are not working correctly, muscles throughout the body have severe and painful spasms.

WATCH: Effects of strychnine on a toad

Strychine Poisoning in Toads

Lethal dose

The lethal dose of strychnine is reported to be approximately 15 mg for children and 30 to 100 mg for adults.

SOURCE: Gossel, T.A., J.D. Bricker. Principles of Clinical Toxicology. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Raven Press, Ltd., 1994., p. 351

Means of delivery

In the past, strychnine was available in a pill form and was used to treat many human ailments. Today, strychnine is used primarily as a pesticide, particularly to kill rats. Uncommonly, strychnine is found mixed with “street” drugs such as LSD, heroin, and cocaine.

A case of acute strychnine poisoning:

In most severe cases of strychnine poisoning, the patient dies before reaching the hospital. This report describes the treatment and successful outcome of a patient who had taken a dose of strychnine that would normally be fatal. A 28-y-old man was admitted 2 h after ingestion of 1 to 1.5 g of strychnine. He had a Glasgow Coma Score of 14/15 and was severely agitated and in mild respiratory distress; blood pressure was 90/60 mmHg, pulse 110/min, and peripheral pulses weak. He had generalized hyperactive reflexes and had several generalized tonic-clonic convulsions in the emergency department. Treatment consisted of gastric lavage with water, oral administration of activated charcoal and sorbitol solution, continuous intravenous administration of midazolam and then sodium thiopental, furosemide, sodium bicarbonate and hemodialysis for acute renal failure. His clinical course included respiratory distress, agitation, generalized tonic-clonic convulsions, hyperactivity, oliguria and acute tubular necrosis prior to recovery in 23 days. This patient ingested what would normally be a fatal amount of strychnine, had signs and symptoms of severe toxicity and recovered, suggesting that with aggressive supportive care patients may have favorable outcomes.
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Following the ingestion (swallowing) of strychnine, symptoms of poisoning usually appear within 15 to 60 minutes. So symptoms may begin very quickly or it make take awhile.

  • People exposed to low or moderate doses of strychnine by any route will have the following signs or symptoms:

    • Agitation

    • Apprehension or fear

    • Ability to be easily startled

    • Restlessness

    • Painful muscle spasms possibly leading to fever and to kidney and liver injury

    • Uncontrollable arching of the neck and back

    • Rigid arms and legs

    • Jaw tightness

    • Muscle pain and soreness

    • Difficulty breathing

    • Dark urine

    • Initial consciousness and awareness of symptoms

  • People exposed to high doses of strychnine may have the following signs and symptoms within the first 15 to 30 minutes of exposure:

    • Respiratory failure (inability to breathe), possibly leading to death

    • Brain death

  • Showing these signs and symptoms does not necessarily mean that a person has been exposed to strychnine.

WATCH: Here is a song based of the poison

The Sonics - Strychnine

How does someone die from this?

Significant brain damage from low oxygen and kidney failure


Treatment consists of removing the drug from the body (decontamination) and getting supportive medical care in a hospital setting. Supportive care includes intravenous fluids (fluids injected directly into a vein), medications for convulsions and spasms, and cooling measures for high temperature.

Famous Cases:

  • Alexander the Great may have been poisoned by strychnine in contaminated wine in 323 BC.
  • Margot Begeman, a childhood friend of Vincent van Gogh, attempted suicide by ingesting strychnine in 1884.

  • In the late 19th century, serial killer Thomas Neill Cream used strychnine to murder several prostitutes on the streets of London.

  • Belle Gunness of La Porte, Indiana, also known as "Lady Bluebeard", allegedly used strychnine to murder some of her victims at the turn of the 20th century.

  • Jane Stanford, co-founder of Stanford University and wife of California governor Leland Stanford, may have died from strychnine poisoning in 1905. Her last recorded words were "My jaws are stiff. This is a horrible death to die."

  • In 1938, Delta Blues legend Robert Johnson died after drinking a bottle of whiskey which was allegedly laced with strychnine. This account of Johnson's death is disputed, as he died several days after the alleged poisoning

  • In October 1987, successful wax museum owner Patsy Wright died from taking cold medicine laced with strychnine. The story was featured on a segment of Unsolved Mysteries, and it is suggested that someone very close to Wright knew her habit of taking nighttime cold medicine when she had trouble sleeping and laced her cold medicine with strychnine. The case remains unsolved.

  • A woman in San Diego, California, was poisoned with strychnine by her husband in 1990. Though she dialed 911, she did not mention her name or address, and rescue workers had difficulty locating the victim. Persistence on the part of the dispatcher and the rescue workers allowed them to locate and extract the victim, but she eventually died in the hospital.

  • In 2008, Hannes Hirtzberger, the Mayor of Spitz in Lower Austria was reported to have been poisoned by local wine producer Helmut Osberger, using strychnine. Hirtzberger barely survived and suffered permanent disability.

  • Turgut Özal, 8th President of the Republic of Turkey is said to have been assassinated by strychnine poisoning. The Turkish Presidency has commissioned a Special Investigation into the former President's death

Diary Entry from someone poisoned with Strychnine

Three years ago I was reading for an examination, and feeling "run down". I took 10 minims of strychnia solution (B.P.) with the same quantity of dilute phosphoric acid well diluted twice a day. On the second day of taking it, towards the evening, I felt a tightness in the "facial muscles " and a peculiar metallic taste in the mouth. There was great uneasiness and restlessness, and I felt a desire to walk about and do something rather than sit still and read. I lay on the bed and the calf muscles began to stiffen and jerk. My toes drew up under my feet, and as I moved or turned my head flashes of light kept darting across my eyes.. I then knew something serious was developing, so I crawled off the bed and scrambled to a case in my room and got out (fortunately) the bromide of potassium and the chloral. I had no confidence or courage to weigh them, so I guessed the quantity-about 30 gr. bromide of potassium and 10 gr. chloral-put them in a tumbler with some water, and drank it off. My whole body was in a cold sweat, with anginous attacks in the precordial region, and a feeling of "going off." I did not call for medical aid, as I thought the symptoms declining. I felt better, but my lower limbs were as cold as ice, and the calf muscles kept tense and jerking. There was no opisthotonos, only a slight stiffness at the back of the neck. Half an hour later, as I could judge, I took the same quantity of bromide of potassium and chloral, and a little time after I lost consciousness and fell into a " profound sleep," awaking in the morning with no unpleasant symptoms, no headache, &c., but a desire " to be on the move " and a slight feeling of stiffness in the jaw. These worked off during the day.

Work Citied

"Facts About Strychnine." CDC Strychnine. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2015.

"Helpful Poisons." : Putting a Spring in Your Step with Strychnine. BlogSpot, n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2015.

"Overview of Strychnine Poisoning." : Strychnine Poisoning: Merck Veterinary Manual. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2015.

"Strychnine." (PIM 507). N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2015.