Cyanide poisoning  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Cyanide poisoning occurs when a living organism is exposed to cyanide. The cyanide ion, if used as poison, is generally delivered in the form of gaseous hydrogen cyanide or in the form of potassium cyanide or sodium cyanide.


Historical cases

Gas chambers

Hydrogen cyanide gas was the agent used during the Nazi regime in Germany for mass murder in some gas chambers during the Holocaust. It was released from Zyklon B pellets, which were a commercial biocide. It was also used in US execution chambers, where it was generated by reaction between potassium cyanide dropped into a compartment containing sulfuric acid directly below the chair in the chamber.


Cyanides were stockpiled in both the Soviet and the United States chemical weapons arsenals in the 1950s and 1960s. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was thought to be planning to use hydrogen cyanide as a "blitzkrieg" weapon to clear a path through the opposing front line, knowing that the hydrogen cyanide would dissipate and allow unprotected access to the captured zone.Template:Fact However, as a military agent, hydrogen cyanide was not considered very effective, since it is lighter than air and needs a significant dose to incapacitate or kill.

Although there have been no verified instances of its use as a weapon, hydrogen cyanide may have been employed by Iraq in the war against Iran and against the Kurds in northern Iraq during the 1980s.


Cyanide salts are sometimes used as fast-acting suicide devices. Cyanide is reputed to work faster on an empty stomach, possibly because the anion is protonated by stomach acids to give HCN. Famous cyanide salt suicides include:

Members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam which operate in north-eastern Sri Lanka are probably the most reported to use capsules made out of cyanide compound/compounds, where each member of the militia wears a capsule round their neck, which is used to commit suicide when they are about to be captured by the security forces of Sri Lanka.

Jonestown, Guyana was the site of a large mass suicide/murder, where 913 members of the Peoples Temple drank potassium cyanide-laced Flavor Aid in 1978.




In 2003, Al Qaeda reportedly planned to release cyanide gas into the New York City Subway system. The attack was reportedly aborted because there would not be enough casualties.

In 1995 a device was discovered in a restroom in the Kayabacho Tokyo subway station consisting of bags of sodium cyanide and sulfuric acid with a remote controlled motor to rupture them in what was believed to be an attempt to produce toxic amounts of hydrogen cyanide gas by the Aum Shinrikyo cult.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Cyanide poisoning" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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