TIL about the lethal compounds I have at my disposal

Today I learned that caffeine is more toxic than formaldehyde. You know, I’ve got kilograms of formaldehyde in my lab, I guess I know where to go to get an easy substitute when I’m out of coffee.

I’m also gratified that spider venoms rank so high on the scale.


  1. says

    Well, I’ve got something to show someone next time try to get me scared of a chemical without mentioning a dose. It’s the dose that makes the poison.

  2. StevoR says

    Did a chemical safety course to use herbicides on woody (& non-woody) weeds at TAFE some years ago now. Among other things I learnt NaCl has a surprsingly low leathal dosage and eucalyptus oil is actually pretty toxic in even very small amounts. FWIW.

    So yeah, we generally (most folks) under-estimate some rather common things.

  3. says

    Interesting how 8 out of 9 of the most toxic substances in the chart are of biological origin.
    Given enough time, it seams you can’t beat evolution.

    Doubly so, because the organisms that generate the substances must have also evolved ways to not be poisoned themselves.

    Also a great chart to point out to those people that are all about “natural” substances being better for you then “artificial” ones.

  4. submoron says

    When I was handling USP melting point standards along with various Pharmaceutical Actives I’m sure that the one to carry the most emphatic hazard label was Caffeine. But then see the last programme in Dr Michael Moseley’s series ‘Pain, Pus and Poison’. In the first programme we learn that Bayer considered Aspirin more dangerous than Heroin!

  5. says

    Yeah, I had a colleague once who had the brilliant idea of using a nicotine spray, rather than a nicotine patch, to help smokers quit. You can absorb nicotine through the skin, obviously. He discovered why a spray was a bad idea, because he tried a personal field test with the stuff. Unfortunately, he had his nicotine solution in a flask in his back pocket, and it broke as he was driving, delivering a massive dose of nicotine to his butt.
    He swerved into a hospital emergency room because his heart rate was so elevated that he thought he was about to die.

  6. says

    I see methamphetamine is right next to sodium thiopental, used for lethal injections.
    Hasn’t Alabama been looking for new, more readily available substances for their executions?

  7. says

    @11: What’s the LD-50 of “judicial opinions” from Alabama’s current chief justice? It’s obviously less than the mass of an IVF embryo…

  8. robert79 says

    Is this dose per kilogram of body weight? So if I weigh 80kg I should multiply by 80 to get my LD50?

    If so, I’m surprised at the value for sodium chloride (salt), I cannot imagine taking in 240g of salt, I’d have thought a fraction of that would already be enough. Of course, I also suspect that if you start gobbling up salt by the soup-spoon fulls, you quickly end up throwing up.

    I’m also surprised at the value for water… I know you can die from drinking too much of it (back in my student days, the university banned drinking games with alcohol… some fools switched to water and someone died!) but I didn’t expect 7.2 liters would already be sufficient… On hot days I’m constantly drinking pints of water and easily reach a significant fraction of that in a full day!

  9. Jazzlet says

    robert79 @14
    Yes it’s the dose per kilogram, and the surprise at the low doses for things we consume all of the time is rather the point don’t you think? The dose obviously has to be taken in a short amount of time, drinking the LD50 amount of water over the course of a day doesn’t count as a short amount, apart from any other consideration your kidneys will be working to get rid of the excess water.

  10. says

    Solanine? Does this mean I have to give up eating babaganoush or since the eggplant symbol also codes for a penis is it referring to the mayhem and murder wrought mostly by aggressive males either high on testosterone or overcompensating for a lack of it? Either way it should be up somewhere with polonium and shigella.

  11. chrislawson says

    Someone I know decided to save money by buying the high-dose nicotine patches and cutting them in half during the weaning phase. He woke up shaking in the middle of the night because the nicotine was no longer diffusing through the slow-release membrane but straight across his skin and he got his 24-hour dose as a lump sum.

    Also: is cyanide associated with marshmallows?

  12. bravus says

    Letting people in a mall inject you with botox for aesthetics should be seen as an extreme sport

  13. unclefrogy says

    when I read he thought of using a nicotine spray instead of patches I instantly thought of “Black leaf 40” a brand of nicotine sulfate insecticide I have used because it is a very short lived and breaks down in a few days but you definitely need to cover up and use plenty of ppe including a respirator it stinks and gave me a smokers headache even with protection.

  14. ethicsgradient says

    Surprising that the LD50 for lactose (10g/kg) isn’t that different from ethanol (7g/kg). I am slightly surprised ethanol is that high (the alcohol content of 1.5 litres of 40% ABV spirits, for a 70kg person, if I’ve got it right – 70 * 7.06 / ( .789 * .4) = 1566 ml . I’d have expected 2 bottles of spirits to finish off most people.

  15. bcw bcw says

    LD50 isn’t everything. It only asks if the pure dose will kill you within two weeks. That formaldehyde or other stuff may destroy your kidneys or liver at values below the LD50 value so you die slowly.

  16. dschultz says

    At least as important as the LD50 is the variance. If the variance is high then a dose far less than the LD50 could still kill you.

  17. BACONSQAUDgaming says

    It doesn’t specify whether these are all from oral consumption, or whether it can be from absorbing through the skin, or breathing fumes. I can understand testing the toxicity of some of those substances, but it must have been an interesting day at the lab doing others: “Lets see how much gasoline I can force down a mouse’s throat before 1/2 of them die.”

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