Seven What's about Toxicology

  1. What is toxicology and what does it study?

  2. What is poison?

  3. What is poisoning?

  4. What are the apparent signs of poisoning?

  5. What determines the severity of a poisoning?

  6. What are the general principles of therapy?

  7. What is an antidote?


What is toxicology and what does it study?

The name "toxicology" comes from the Greek word toxicon meaning "poison". Toxicology is the science of poisons and poisonings. It focuses on general toxic effects; toxic doses; poison action; clinical symptoms and organ damages; methods of extracting and proving of poisonous substances; therapy and prophylaxis.


What is poison?

Poisons are substances which, under certain conditions endanger and/or harm one's health through their chemical or physico-chemical properties in case of contact or interaction with the organism even in relatively small amounts. The concept of a poison implies the harmful property of a certain substance. There’s also a very popular definition given by Paracelsius, “There is no substance which itself is unconditionally a poison and vice versa every substance under certain conditions can be a poison. "


What is poisoning?

Ppoisoning includes the pathologic effect and clinical symptoms which occur as a result of the toxic effect of the substance. The poisoning can be acute or chronic. The place that the poison got in the organism through is called entry. If the toxin gets directly into the blood, the poisoning as a rule develops fasrer. There are substances such as snake’s venom and curare, which are extremely dangerous if  in the blood but are practically harmless if in food or on the skin. The poisonings may be intentional (murder, suicide), as a result of carelessness, or accidental. 


What are the apparent signs of poisoning?

Quick reversal of the psychic condition (agitation, hallucinations, depression) in youngsters; appearance of seizures; quick loss of consciousness in an youngster without any visible injury; vomiting without stomachache, and diarrhea without fever; acute breathing and heart rhythm disruption in youngsters or children... Also, the location of the the victim–is it near poisonous plants or in the habitat of poisonous animals; are there any parts of poisonous plants or poisonous animals nearby; has there been an evidence suggesting a suicide; common symptoms in a number of a number of people under the same conditions.


What determines the severity of a poisoning?

The action of the poison in the organism depends on the interaction of a variety of factors such as:
1. The kind of the poison and the dose
   1.1. The poison is defined by its origin, physical, chemical properties (solubility, physical condition, etc.), toxic effects, etc.
   1.2. The dose of the poison can be toxic (the minimum quantity of the substance which can provoke an intoxication) and lethal (the minimum quantity of the substance which can lead to a fatal end)
2. The general condition of the organism: age, tiredness, food satiation, previous or accompanying diseases (allergy) 
3. Contact conditions–home, picnic, excursion, travel, distance from the nearest medical facilities, etc. 


What are the general principles of therapy?

1. Elimination (clearing) of the affected organism from the poisonous substance. To a great extent, it depends on the kind of poison and its entry. Methods:
   1.1. Gastric lavage, repeated charcoal, whole-bowel irrigation andcathartics in cases of ingestion 
   1.2. Oxygen inhalation in cases with respiratory entry
   1.3. Decontaminating the skin and the mucous membranes
   1.4. Clearing of the blood by specific medical techniques  such as alkaline and acid diuresis, hemodialysis, hemoperfusion, hemofiltration, plasmapheresis, etc.
2. Administration of appropriate antidotes
3. Supportive care–treatment aimed to maintain the functioning of the main organ system in the organism
4. Symptomatic treatment–aimed at suppressing specific pathological symptoms and conditions caused by the poison


What is an antidote?

Antidote substances have been applied since the remote past. According to the available knowledge people used:
1. Substances which provoke vomiting and diarrhea in order to remove the poison of the stomach and the bowels
2. Substances which change the physical or chemical properties of the poison which remained at the entry such as activated charcoal (medical carbon), liquid paraffin, sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3) solutions, etc.
3. Antidotes–products of biochemistry and pharmacology–which affect the poisons at different stages of its transformation in the body (enzyme activators, physiological antagonists, etc.)
4. Immune serum–antidotes in cases of snake, scorpion, digitalis and other poisonings


 Fun Fact Collection
Ancient Pontic tsar Mitridat VI reigned between 121 and 63 BC. He was very afraid of being poisoned and that is why he was particularly interested both in poisons and antidotes. Together with his court physician, he carried out a number of experiments, some of which involved human beings, and described them in the book Secret memoirs. They created a universal antidote, which comprised 54 poisonous ingredients of herbal or animal nature, such as opium, desiccated and pulverized parts of venomous snakes and plants. This universal antidote was subsequently named Mitridatum. The tsar daily took small doses of it in order to acquire resistance to any poison. After his son left him, Mitridat decided to put a fast and easy end to his life by poisoning himself but all his attempts were unsuccessful. That is why he used a sword to commit suicide. Hence, the term Mitridatism denotes the phenomenon of becoming accustomed to poisons.