What is a poison?

Poison 101 - can anything be a poison?
09 January 2018

Interview with 

Dr Lorna Nisbet, Anglia Ruskin University


deadly poison


What chemical qualities might the perfect poison possess? Katie Haylor got the lowdown from forensic scientist Lorna Nisbet from Anglia Ruskin University...

Lorna - Anything in the world can be a poison and we have known that since about the 16th century. It was the term when that came around. It was the physician called Paracelsus and he is known as the godfather of toxicology because it was him that said that it was literally just about the dose that made something a poison.

"Everything is poison; there’s poison in everything. Only the dose makes a thing not a poison."

Lorna - If something’s a poison, it's going to have to have acute adverse effects on you and potentially kill you and, realistically, that could be anything. It could be water, for instance, that could be a poison at some point in time.

Katie - Now, if we were on the hunt for the perfect poison, and if everything in the world could technically be one, where do we start?

Lorna - Something like water is not going to be the best thing to use as a poison, and the reason for that is you need litres of water before it’s going to start having an adverse effect on the body.

Katie - So dose is important. But what other traits make a poison particularly promising?

Lorna - Realistically, if you are going to be sinister and try and get a poison you want it to be something that you need a small amount of. You need to think how you’re going to administer that poison as well. If you’re going to put it in a drink, for instance, you need it to not taste of anything and you need it to actually dissolve in that fluid if you’re putting it in a fluid. You need it to not smell either or change the colour of the drink. Not that I’m suggesting anyone poisons anybody.

Music: Daniel Birch & Ben Pegley



Add a comment