Biology

How much will kill you?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “poison” as “a substance that is capable of causing the illness or death of a living organism when introduced or absorbed.” At first glance, that seems to be pretty straightforward, until you realize that just about anything has the capability of causing illness or death if administered in sufficient quantities. Water is essential to life and good health. Too much of it, though, can make you just as dead as if you had been munching on cyanide. As 16th-century alchemist Paracelsus observed, “Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.”

“Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.”

— Paracelsus

So just how much of a good thing can become a bad thing? Take a look at the following common substances as we ask the question, “How much will kill you?”

For purposes of this discussion and for simplification, the following observations are based on a 180-pound (82 kg) adult male in otherwise good health.

Killed by Caffeine

The most widely-used mood-altering substance in the world is caffeine. It is a staple for anyone who enjoys coffee, tea, soda, or chocolate. It is also a common additive to pain medication. Its usefulness is easy to grasp, but how much of a good thing is bad in this case?

Studies show that 10 grams of caffeine can be lethal. What does it take to ingest that much caffeine? In order to get to a fatal amount, you would need to consume the following:

Coffee / Tea BeveragesCaffeine (mg)
8 oz. servings needed
for lethal dose
Brewed Coffee96104
Brewed Coffee (decaf)25,000
Espresso64156
Instant Coffee62161
Instant Coffee (decaf)25,000
Brewed Black Tea47213
Brewed Black Tea (decaf)25,000
Brewed Green Tea28357
Bottled Tea19526
Canned DrinksCaffeine (mg)Needed
For Lethal Dose
Mountain Dew54185 12 oz. cans
Cola40250 12 oz. cans
Energy Drink29345 12 oz. cans
Energy Shot21547 shots
Root Beer0 no limit (in terms of caffeine, anyway)

Death By Chocolate

There are probably worse ways to go than to die than from an overdose of chocolate. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be aware of the possibilities. Chocolate contains a substance known as theobromine. It is an alkaloid that stimulates the central nervous system. Ingesting too much will trigger nausea and diarrhea, followed by an epileptic seizure. As you are catching your breath from that ordeal, you will experience internal bleeding, followed by a heart attack. Your last stop on this chocolate overdose will be death.

So how much chocolate will you have to chow down before you face this horrible end? About 22 pounds (10 kg) in one sitting.

Drowned By Drinking Water

We all understand that drinking too much coffee, soda, alcohol, or energy drinks can be harmful. What about water? Surely, if there is anything that is safe, it would have to be that vital liquid without which life cannot exist.

Conventional wisdom suggests that you should drink at least 2 liters of water each day. What if you drink significantly more than that? Everyone has heard that they should drink 2 liters of water every day. But if you drink 3 times as much, your kidneys will not be able to process this much liquid and get it out of your system. The result can be internal organ and brain edema and respiratory arrest. So, yes, you can get poisoned with water! And this was recently demonstrated by the woman who died while competing in a “Hold Your Wee for a Wii” contest.

Nicked By Nicotine

Hopefully, it is not news to anyone reading this article that tobacco is bad for you. Smoking causes lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease, and a host of other bad nastiness. Setting all of that aside, let’s look at the chemical that smokers crave: nicotine. A standard cigarette contains approximately 0.8 mg of nicotine. Seventy-five cigarettes in one setting will kill you from nicotine overdose.

Axed By Apple Seeds

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Eighteen apples at one time will bring the coroner to your home. Well, the seeds of 18 apples will do it, anyway. Each apple seed contains the deadly poison cyanide. If you remove chew those seeds thoroughly and swallow them, that will possibly be the last thing you ever do.

Pummeled By Cherry Pits

Those who crave cherry pits face a similar danger to those who chew apple seeds. Cherry pits contain a substance called amygdalin. When amygdalin reacts with enzymes in your saliva, your body converts amygdalin to cyanide.

Fortunately, amygdalin is only formed when the cherry pit is chewed or crushed. If you accidentally swallow a whole pit, you should be ok. You shouldn’t make it a habit, though. More people die from choking on cherry pits than from cyanide poisoning.

Chewing about 20 cherry pits will make cyanide poisoning a real concern. Children are more susceptible to cyanide toxicity and could be in danger from fewer cherry pits.

Bugging Out On Bananas

Who doesn’t like bananas? (Unless, of course, your last name is Banana and you are really sensitive about that.) It’s easy to — well — go bananas over them. They are an enjoyable, healthy snack — to a limit. Bananas contain potassium — an electrolyte that can cause cardiac arrest in large doses.

What limit should you put on your banana consumption? Try to keep it to fewer than 400 bananas at one time. If you go over that, you’re asking for problems.


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