How Does ‘Cyanide’ Poison Reacts to Human Body And What is its Taste?

We have always seen in movies when a person or a spy is about to get caught they often use cyanide to kill themselves. From Nazi leaders to Sri Lanka Tamil Tiger rebels they have all killed themselves before standing trial or being interrogated.

Nobody has ever lived to tell the taste of – potassium cyanide. A pinch of it can instantly kill a person even before he or she could describe the taste of it. But an Indian man lived long enough to describe the taste of the fatal toxin.

An apple with eight seeds contains about 3.92 milligrams of cyanide. A person weighing 70 kilograms would need to eat 143 seeds to reach the lethal dose. That’s about 18 whole apples.

Bitter almonds may yield 4–9 mg of hydrogen cyanide per almond and contain 42 times higher amounts of cyanide than the trace levels found in sweet almonds. … Eating such almonds could result in vertigo and other typical bitter almond (cyanide) poisoning effects.

The common idea that potassium cyanide causes instant death is a huge myth. What actually happens after one consumes the poison is that one becomes unconscious immediately and then dies 10-15 minutes later.

After entering the body through the mouth potassium cyanide reacts with the water present in body fluids to form hydrocyanic acid. The acid then infiltrates blood capillaries of the sublingual space (Space under the tongue) as well as the oesophagus and intestine. Once in the blood stream, the chemical prevents the red blood cells from absorbing oxygen. The cells get starved of oxygen, creating a metabolic disorder.

Moreover, the chemical forms a heavy compound after reacting with iron or any metal present in the blood, thereby decreasing its fluidity.

These two factors make one unconscious and one dies soon. Though it does not cause instantaneous death, the mortality due to potassium cyanide poisoning is 95 per cent. If a sulphur antidote is administered in time people can be saved, for the chemical gets neutralised forming sulphocyanite.

How does ‘cyanide’ poison taste?

An Indian man describes it for first time in world. MP Prasad, a goldsmith from Kochi (India) killed himself after consuming cyanide. The man committed suicide but he lived long enough to describe the taste of the poisonous mixture. The man wrote in his suicide note, ‘Doctors, potassium cyanide. I have tasted it. It burns the tongue and tastes acrid.’

MP Prasad mixed potassium cyanide with liquor and stirred it with the back of his pen. He was writing his suicide note when he accidentally put the ‘poisoned’ tip of the pen into his mouth before completing the note. When he realised his foolish mistake he quickly wrote down the taste of it.

The suicide note is the only official document in the world describing the taste of potassium cyanide. MP Prasad was never officially credited for his discovery.