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Poison for the Ages

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For centuries, people have been using arsenic as a   poison because it is
difficult to detect and causes symptoms similar to   a variety of common
illnesses. The poison often requires a bit of time   to achieve the desired
results, because larger doses often end up merely    being regurgitated by
the body.

side effects, drug metabolism, drug tolerance, ulcer, drug interaction

Article Body:
For as long as there have been targets that needed to be removed quietly,
there have been poisoners. For centuries, poison has often been the
favored tool for political assassinations in a number of societies. The
Romans and Persians were both said to have had special children who were
slowly fed increasing doses of a lethal poison. Eventually, the child
would exhibit the desired side effects of being immune to the poison and
being so saturated with it that even their sweat or saliva was poisonous.
There are many naturally occurring poisons, with hemlock and nightshade
being examples, but more “civilized” poisoners have one chemical of
preference. That chemical is arsenic.

Arsenic poisoning is often a slow, time-consuming process that leads to
an equally slow, painful death. Arsenic poisoning is, according to one
serial poisoner who fancied herself a philosopher, an “art form and a
precise science.” Controlled doses, preferably starting with small
amounts that increase over time, are ideal to avoid the body's drug
metabolism from rejecting it. Too strong a dose and the body simply
forces the poison out with minimal side effects, which was what happened
to Napoleon Bonaparte. This was, according to popular lore, also the case
with one of the earlier victims of serial poisoner Belle Gunness. Too
little and the body's drug tolerance kicks in, preventing any real
effects from emerging. It is often a delicate balance between dosage and
“schedule” that allows the venom to be so effective.

Arsenic is considered the near-perfect poison because it is virtually
undetectable by the senses and most of the symptoms can easily be
attributed to an ulcer or heart condition. Stomach pains, particularly
around the bowel region, are among the signs of high concentration doses.
Mild headaches, dizziness, and hotheadedness have been observed as
symptoms of lower dosages. Since arsenic was usually administered over
time, the compounding symptoms often served to make it appear as if the
person died of illness. The later, more obvious effects were also highly
similar to cholera, which earned it favor as the poison of choice for the
ruling classes of Renaissance Italy. Notable victims of that time were
several political enemies of the Borgia family and Francesco I de Medici
of Tuscany.

Interestingly enough, arsenic in its purest form is hardly lethal. It can
cause mild discomfort and headaches, but is only lethal in exceptional
cases. The real threat of arsenic poisoning comes when arsenic is mixed
with other compounds, which usually start a sort of drug interaction when
introduced to the body. In most cases, arsenic combined with oxygen is
significantly more fatal than pure arsenic, with arsenic trioxide being
among the most potent. Long-term ingestion or arsenic through liquids,
particularly water or tea, are also more effective than the pure form of
the chemical. Mixing it with drinks also makes it much harder to detect
without proper testing.

Not all arsenic poisoning is intentional, however. Groundwater in several
places can be easily contaminated by arsenic. Recently, Bangladesh has
had to deal with this problem due to well tapping into contaminated
underground water sources in the 1970s. In the past, arsenic was also a
component in a variety of colors used by artists, notably emerald green.
The neurological problems of Vincent Van Gogh have sometimes been
attributed to long-term arsenic, lead, and mercury exposure that were
supposedly found in the paints he used.

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