Tag Archives: poisons

Q&A: Alcohol

Apropos of the ask on paralytic toxins, are there any substances that could be used as a nonlethal “paralytic” against a healthy human target? That, perhaps, interfere with coordination enough to immobilize a person but without stopping crucial body functions? Or does that just bring is back to typical tranquilizers? And, you’ve probably answered this before, but how fast do those work?

Well, you can get them drunk. Alcohol and most mild sedatives can impair someone without actually putting them under. There is an element of risk, but it’s not particularly pronounced. (Unless you’re combining them, in which case things can turn really nasty, fast.) Usually the hard part is when someone wants to actually put someone under, or when they want to administer this stuff covertly via a dart.

Most tranquilizers take about 30 minutes to kick in (with a pretty massive margin for error based on the subject’s metabolism.) Again, this isn’t much of a problem when you’re dealing with a bear wandering around the subdivision, but doesn’t really lend itself to someone sneaking around.

General anesthesia is an exception to this. In that case you’re looking at an onset of under a minute. But, as we’ve discussed before, the problem with anesthesia is, you need someone there monitoring the subject’s vitals to adjust the dosage and keep them alive.

-Starke

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Would you happen to know how fast it would realistically take someone to keel over when struck with a dart coated in a paralysing drug?

With the quick caveat that I’m not a doctor; from what I remember, most paralytics will take effect in under a minute, and kill the victim in under five. Most of these will cause respiratory arrest. You’ve paralyzed them, so they can’t go anywhere, but you’ve also paralyzed their lungs, so they’ll also stop doing that pesky breathing thing.

If you’ve got someone on life support, there are some real medical applications for this. Particularly in surgery. When it’s administered in the field, they’re dead.

You’ll also find a few animals that administer paralytic poisons. This is some seriously scary stuff. Same problem though, in higher forms of animal life (read anything with lungs) it will stop respiration and result in the victim asphyxiating because their lungs are paralyzed.

The mode of action, as I recall, is that the poison actually interferes (or blocks) the neurotransmitters responsible for muscle control. It doesn’t matter how badly the victim wants to move, their body can’t get the message.

-Starke

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Remember in the movie “The Princess Bride” where Wesley says the iocane didn’t kill him because he built up an immunity to it? Is that a real thing, and if it is, can someone can resistance to multiple poisons at once by focusing on one, or do you need to build resistance to each poison individually?

Yes and no. Iocaine itself is fictional, so we can scratch that off the list quickly.

Fair warning: I don’t have access to any of my toxicology and forensics texts at the moment, so I’m a little sketchier on the poison side of things.

That said, drug tolerance is quite real. It’s a state where someone acquires resistance or full immunity to a specific drug through repeated use. Usually this refers to the use of things like antidepressants, painkillers, sedatives, or other drugs, not poisons per say.

Cross-tolerance occurs when tolerance to one drug also provides tolerance to another, or accelerate the onset of tolerance for another drug. Usually these are drugs with similar neurological effects, or drugs within a family. Such as stimulants, opiates, antidepressant, and so on.

There are also stray drugs that result in almost arbitrary cross-tolerances developing. Such as amphetamines and pseudoephedrine (a nasal decongestant). Usually this is because of the drugs’ mode-of-action (literally how it affects the chemicals in your brain) are similar or almost identical, though it isn’t always the case.

Now, note that I’ve been talking about drugs all this time. (Partially, because my Book of Poisons reference is in another timezone.)

As I recall, this is true for some poisons, but it’s vanishingly rare. If you have a character who tries to kill someone via a heroin overdose, it’s entirely possible the victim would have acquired a tolerance to the drug (even if they’ve never used heroin, but do have a history of abusing other opiates) to the point that the killer wouldn’t deliver a lethal dose.

It’s also distinctly not the case with some poisons. Either because the lethal dosage is so low it is impossible to introduce into your body safely (ricin), or because chronic use of the poison at low doses will still kill you or at least cause permanent physiological harm, it’s just the symptoms will be slightly different.

For example, it’s actually impossible to develop a tolerance to arsenic this way because chronic arsenic poisoning will lead to death. The symptoms are different, but the end result isn’t.

The short version is, not really. You may be able to find a few poisons that you actually can legitimately acquire a tolerance to (though I can’t remember any off hand), but like so many things in The Princess Bride, this isn’t about objective reality, it’s about painting a storybook fairytale with a very fine brush for the texture.

-Starke

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