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‘The potent poison quite o’ercrows my spirit’: Poisons John H. Parker, Ph.D. Lipscomb University Romeo and Juliet’s death: potassium cyanide Cyanide makes the cells of an organism unable to use oxygen, primarily through the inhibition of cytochrome c oxidase. Inhalation of high concentrations of cyanide causes a coma with seizures, apnea, and cardiac arrest, with death following in a matter of minutes Cyanide, in the form of pure liquid prussic acid (a historical name for hydrogen cyanide), was a favored suicide agent of the Third Reich. It was used to commit suicide by Erwin Rommel (1944), after being accused of conspiring against Hitler; Adolf Hitler's wife, Eva Braun (1945); and by Nazi leaders Joseph Goebbels (1945), Heinrich Himmler (1945), possibly Martin Bormann (1945), and Hermann Göring (1946). Adolf Hitler himself bit a cyanide capsule while simultaneously firing his pistol into his right temple (1945). Poisons in Hamlet 1. Ear of Hamlet’s Father: henbane It was historically used in combination with other plants, such as mandrake, deadly nightshade, and datura as an anaesthetic potion, as well as for its psychoactive properties in "magic brews." These psychoactive properties include visual hallucinations and a sensation of flight. Its usage was originally in continental Europe, Asia and the Arabic world, though it did spread to England in the Middle Ages. The use of Henbane by the ancient Greeks was documented by Pliny. The plant, recorded as Herba Apollinaris, was used to yield oracles by the priestesses of Apollo. Henbane can be toxic, even fatal, to animals in low doses, and incidents of poisoning people are also reported. Hyoscyamine, scopolamine, and other tropane alkaloids have been found in the foliage and seeds of the plant. Common effects of henbane ingestion in humans include hallucinations, dilated pupils, restlessness, and flushed skin. Less common symptoms such as tachycardia, convulsions, vomiting, hypertension, hyperpyrexia and ataxia have all been noted. Henbane or Hyposcyamus niger 2. Sword and Drink Poisons for Hamlet, Laertes and Gertrude: Aconitum Marked symptoms may appear almost immediately, usually not later than one hour, and "with large doses death is almost instantaneous." Death usually occurs within 2 to 6 hours in fatal poisoning (20 to 40 mL of tincture may prove fatal). The initial signs are gastrointestinal including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. There is followed by a sensation of burning, tingling, and numbness in the mouth and face, and of burning in the abdomen. In severe poisonings pronounced motor weakness occurs and cutaneous sensations of tingling and numbness spread to the limbs. Cardiovascular features include hypotension, bradycardia, sinus tachycardia, and ventricular arrhythmias. Other features may include sweating, dizziness, difficulty in breathing, headache, and confusion. The main causes of death are ventricular arrhythmias and asystole, paralysis of the heart or of the respiratory center. The only post-mortem signs are those of asphyxia. Aconitum or Wolfsbane Aconitum callibotryon Aconitum Other Famous Poisons: Asp venom Snake venom consists of proteins, enzymes, substances with a cytotoxic effect, neurotoxins and coagulants. Phosphodiesterases are used to interfere with the prey's cardiac system, mainly to lower the blood pressure. Phospholipase A2 causes hemolysis by lysing the phospholipid cell membranes of red blood cells. Snake venom inhibits cholinesterase to make the prey lose muscle control. Hyaluronidase increases tissue permeability to increase the rate that other enzymes are absorbed into the prey's tissues. Amino acid oxidases and proteases are used for digestion. Amino acid oxidase also triggers some other enzymes and is responsible for the yellow color of the venom of some species. Snake venom often contains ATPase, an enzyme which catalyzes the hydrolysis of ATP to ADP and a free phosphate ion, or to AMP and diphosphate.