An Everyday Poison


Arsenic is used as a healing agent after Greek physicians Hippocrates and Galen popularize use.

Arsenic solutions came in tablets, pastes, and later, injectable forms.

Victorian Era

Arsenic is an active ingredient in popular medicines.

Arsenic poisoning mimicked diseases like cholera and dysentery.

"The infiltration of arsenic into 19th-century domestic life was the template for pollution in the modern industrial world. One of the most disturbing discoveries in my research was how cavalier candy-makers were in using poison to increase their profits." - James C. Whorton, The Arsenic Century

Arsenic is used in wallpaper, beer, wine, sweets, cosmetics, wrapping paper, painted toys, sheep dip, insecticides, clothing, dead bodies, stuffed animals, hat ornaments and candles.

Green wallpaper had larger quantities of the copper(II) acetoarsenite.

Arsenic affects individuals differently depending on age and diet protein.

Members of a household can be stricken with illness while others may not.

People knew arsenic was poisonous thinking only ingestion caused illness.

But products with arsenic can off-gas arsenic into the air.

Small amounts of arsenic deadly to children and elderly are easily metabolized by healthy adults, the reason it took so long to ban arsenic wallpaper.

Chronic arsenic poisoning became common among high society.

In melodramas, "going into the green room" was tantamount to falling sick.

"White arsenic (arsenious oxide) was the poisoner's first choice owing to its easy accessibility and its mimicry of the gastrointestinal illnesses of the day, including cholera.

Poverty-stricken parents used arsenic to rid themselves of excess children; wives used it against husbands and husbands against wives; children used it against parents.

The new life-insurance industry added to the temptation: one woman, Mary Ann Cotton, murdered her mother, three husbands, a fiancé, and many of her 15 children and stepchildren for insurance payouts." - Michal Meyer

Arsenic ubiquity left Victorian murderers and murderesses with ample alibis.

White Arsenic

1851 Napoleon Bonaparte dies of arsenic posioning.

Fowler's Solution

1% arsenic trioxide preparation, was widely used during the 19th century.

British Pharmaceutical and Therapeutic Products lists Fowler's solution as used for: leukaemia, skin conditions (psoriasis, dermatitis herpetiformis, and eczema), stomatitis and gingivitis in infants, and Vincent's angina.

Fowler's solution was also prescribed as a health tonic.

Chronic arsenic intoxication from long term use of Fowler's solution caused haemangiosarcoma, liver angiosarcoma and nasopharyngeal carcinoma.

Arsenic is the primary treatment for syphilis until World War II.

Arsphenamine (neoarsphenamine), a 30% arsenic light yellow compound was used intravenously to treat syphilis, yaws, and protozoan infections.

Paris Green

Copper(II) acetate triarsenite or copper(II) acetoarsenite.

A highly toxic inorganic emerald-green crystalline powder used as a rodenticide and insecticide, and also as a pigment, despite its toxicity.

It is also used as a blue colorant for fireworks.

The color of Paris Green is said to range from a pale blue green when very finely ground, to a deeper green when coarsely ground.

At the turn of the 20th century, Paris Green, blended with lead arsenate, is used in America and elsewhere as an insecticide on produce such as apples.

Paris Green is said "to have burned the trees and grass around the trees".


Arsenic trioxide (As2O3) is now widely used to induce remission in patients with acute promyelocytic leukaemia, based on its mechanism as an inducer of apoptosis (programmed cell death).

Arsenic induces apoptosis by releasing an apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF) from the mitochondrial intermembrane space from where it translocates to the cell nucleus.

AIF then effects apoptosis, resulting in altered nuclear biochemistry, chromatin condensation, DNA fragmentation, and cell death.

AIF is a isolated, cloned flavoprotein with a molecular weight of 57,000.

57,000-mol-wt protein uniquely present in nonproliferating cells and senescent human fibroblasts

The flavoprotein family contains a diverse range of enzymes, including:

Adrenodoxin reductase involved in steroid hormone synthesis in vertebrates;

Epidermin biosynthesis, EpiD, shown to be a flavoprotein that binds FMN;

The B chain of dipicolinate synthase, an enzyme which catalyses the formation of dipicolinic acid from dihydroxydipicolinic acid;

Phenylacrylic acid decarboxylase EC 4.1.1. - a resistance enzyme to cinnamic acid.


Diarrhea attributed to increased permeability of the blood vessels is a dominant feature.

Encephalopathy is a common manifestation and the possibility of arsenic toxicity must be considered if the aetiology of encephalopathy is uncertain.

The neurological effects are many and varied.

The most frequent finding is a peripheral neuropathy mimicking Guillain-Barré syndrome with similar electromyographic findings.

2015 Phosphate fertilizer source of arsenic in chronic kidney disease in Sri Lanka

Calcium plus vitamin D supplements and the risk of fractures

A massive federal study, the $18-million Women's Health Initiative published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that calcium supplements made no significant difference in woman's bone density and did not significantly reduce bone fractures.

Eric T. Poehlman built a reputation as one of the leading authorities on the metabolic changes that come with aging, particularly during menopause; he published more than 200 journal articles over two decades of research.

Eric T. Poehlman publish utterly fraudulent research alleging hormone replacement injections as a therapy for menopause falsifying 17 grant applications to the National Institutes of Health and fabricating data in 10 of his papers that were submitted between 1992 and 2000.

Eric T. Poehlman plead guilty to civil, criminal and administrative charges.

An earlier Women's Health Initiative study showed hormone treatment after menopause conferred more risks than benefits.

2007 State court jury in Philadelphia found Wyeth "malicious, wanton, willful or oppressive" in the manufacturing, marketing and sales of Prempro® menopause pill.

Mary Daniel, after using the hormone therapy pill, contracted breast cancer.

Wyeth paid ghostwriters to produce medical journal articles favorable to its female hormone replacement therapy Prempro®.

As early as 1997, Wyeth paid the medical writing firm DesignWrite to publish favorable journal articles about Prempro® under academics' names.

Around 5000 lawsuits wait to be heard over the hormone therapies Prempro® and Premarin®.

"Newly unveiled court documents show that ghostwriters paid by a pharmaceutical corporation played a major role in producing 26 scientific papers backing the use of hormone replacement therapy in women.

The articles, published in medical journals between 1998 and 2005, emphasized the benefits and de-emphasized the risks of taking hormones" - Natasha Singer, August 4, 2009

The Council on Hormone Education sponsors a University of Wisconsin-Madison online course entirely funded by a $12 million grant from Wyeth.

Thirty-four of the 40 Council on Hormone Education member physicians have financial ties to Wyeth.

Medical professionals without ties to Wyeth called the course materials "not good science" and "pure, undisguised marketing."

Central Sensitization

Infant J&J Motrin Recall of 200,000

Metal contaminated Tylenol for children

Ibuprofen Kills Thousands Each Year

Experience of pain relies on multiple brain pathways

Anti-inflammatory drugs and their effects on cartilage synthesis and renal function

Acetaminophen Blunts Evaluation Sensitivity to Negative and Positive Stimuli

Can autism be triggered by acetaminophen activation of the endocannabinoid system?

"David B. Morris argues convincingly that our culture has embraced a "myth of the two pains": belief mental and physical pain are totally different phenomena.

Common sense and science tell us that they, in fact, can not be separated.

Pain, Morris writes, "is far more than simply or exclusively a medical problem.

It can not be reduced to a mere transaction of the nervous system but also shaped by such powerful cultural forces as gender, religion and social class."

Consider the medieval Catholic self-flagellator, the Iroquois warrior who defined his identity by his defiance of torture, the American evasion of the discomfort.

A culture's response to pain can tell us a great deal.

A corporate or individual's attitude toward pain can be revealing also.

Placing control of pain in the hands of medical experts, making a sharp distinction between "mental" and "physical" pain, using pain to fuel a profit-producing machine: these contributed to the invention of heroin as they did to aspirin."

The Birth of Heroin and the Demonization of the Dope Fiend, Thomas A. Metzger

The Endocannabinoid System, Cannabinoids, and Pain

Vaporized Cannabis Significantly Improves Neuropathic Pain

"It has been estimated conservatively that 16,500 NSAID-related deaths occur among patients with rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis every year in the US.

This figure is similar to the number of deaths from the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome and considerably greater than the number of deaths from multiple myeloma, asthma, cervical cancer, or Hodgkin's disease." - J.S. Hochman, M.D., Executive Director of the National Foundation for the Treatment of Pain 2003

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, usually abbreviated to NSAIDs, are drugs with analgesic, antipyretic and anti-inflammatory effects - they reduce pain, fever and inflammation.

More than 100,000 people are hospitalized each year because of adverse reactions to NSAIDs.

More than 15,000 people die, often because of compliciations caused by bleeding or perforated ulcers.

Drugs in this class include ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®), diclofenac (Cataflam®, Voltaren®), meloxicam (Mobic®), naproxen (Aleve®, Naprosyn®) and indomethacin (Indocin®).

In addition to digestive-tract damage, NSAIDs can raise blood pressure and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as injure kidneys and the liver.

NSAIDs and opiates can cause severe hypersensitivity reactions by their cyclooxygenase-inhibiting mechanism or by direct effects on mast cells.

It is possible some cases in these groups are pseudoallergic or IgE-independent anaphylactic reactions, rather than IgE-mediated anaphylactic reactions.

NSAIDs were the most frequent culprits in drug induced anaphylaxis (47.9% of cases), followed by antibiotics (35.5%) and anaesthetic agents (6.1%)

Saying 'ow' can lessen pain's punch

pain chart

unique library index

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