We all have heard or seen in the movies that potassium cyanide cause instant death to the actors. Cyanide is a naturally occurring chemical. Equally important, Cyanide is also called a suicidal pill. It was used during world war II to prevent spies and high officials from leaking the secret of their country. Hydrogen cyanide was used as a chemical weapon during the war because they are fast-acting poisons that can be lethal. A low amount of cyanide can be found in normal edible foods like cigarette smoke, apple seed, bamboo shoot, almond and in some beans but they are not sufficient to kill the person. Let’s discuss Why does cyanide causes instant death?
What Is Cyanide?
As it consists of a carbon atom triple-bonded to a nitrogen atom, it is also called the cyano group. The highly toxic salts are Sodium cyanide (NaCN), potassium cyanide (KCN), hydrogen cyanide (HCN), and cyanogen chloride (CNC). There are many cyanides that are not toxic such as nitriles. They are not much danger to us because they do not release sufficient CN- ion as the ion acts as a metabolic poison. cyanides can be produced by a certain type of bacteria, algae, and fungi.
How does cyanide work to cause instant death?
When the cyanide is taken in the body, It enters the blood vessel of the person. Then the bonds between the molecules break down and release CN- ion. Then ion reacts with the (Fe) atom present in the blood. All these reactions take place in the large transmembrane protein complex found in mitochondria called cytochrome c oxidase. Due to the reaction, ACTA and thiocyanate are formed. ACTA stands for 2-amino-2-thiazoline-4-carboxylic acid. This ACTA prevents cytochrome C oxidase from doing its job. As a result, it cannot transport sufficient electrons to oxygen in the electron transport chain of aerobic cellular respiration. Thus, mitochondria can’t produce the energy carrier Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). Consequently, a large number of tissue present in the heart and muscles cannot get enough ATP. When a large number of this tissue dies, the person dies accordingly.
How much amount of cyanide is enough to kill a person?
As the molecular structure of the cyanide is very tiny. Due to this, they act fast allowing it to spread through cells and tissues of the body rapidly and efficiently. Thus kill the person. Theoretically, the probability of the person with a weight of about 70 kg who ingests 0.3632 grams potassium cyanide will die within three days is 50 %. If he ingests 0.55 grams, the probability is over 90 %. Normally the teaspoon of salt contains around 7.2 grams of salt. So you can imagine how much cyanide is enough to kill the person. In reality, death due to cyanide poisoning will occur in a much shorter period time than three days, more likely in 2-6 hours from the time of consumption.