Introduction: Poison: A History of Toxic Cures—Pain, Pus, and Poison (02:29)
Hear an introduction to the program and see excerpts of the upcoming material.
Michael Mosley states that Charles Waterton helped change the role of poison. John Whitaker discusses Waterton's personality. Mosley discusses Waterton's time in the Amazon rainforest and his search for a poison recipe; Wourali is the principle ingredient. See Watterson's samples of curare.
A Donkey Experiment (03:34)
Michael Mosley discusses Charles Waterton's corroboration with experts to better understand how curare kills. Curare acts on specific muscles; as long as a patient breathes, he or she should survive. Michael Mosley discusses the implications of curare in surgery.
Financially Motivated Murders (02:15)
Michael Mosley discusses the boom of life insurance and arsenic poisonings in Victorian Britain. In 1849, Pharmaceutical Society and British Medical Association lobby for the Arsenic Act; it passes in 1851. Mosley reflects on the emergence of legitimate pharmacy from this and other acts.
New Era of Scientific Discovery (02:09)
In the 19th century, experts isolate the main ingredient in Belladonna, atropine sulfate. Women use belladonna to dilate their eyes and appear more beautiful. Michael Mosley demonstrates the effects of its modern equivalent.
Poison Treatments (02:18)
In 1864, a doctor treats atropine overdose with the extract of calabar beans. Calabar beans and atropine have opposing actions and can be the antidote for each other. Currently, atropine is often used to treat insecticide poisoning and some forms of heart disease.
Chemical Warfare (03:24)
In 1917, soldiers in Belgium report a strange smell and a gold cloud. Michael Mosley discusses the effects of mustard gas. Fritz Haber of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute plays a major role in the manufacturing of chemical weapons.
A Horrific Weapon (02:07)
Experts discuss the effects of gas warfare. Michael Mosley states that Fritz Haber became a German hero, but his wife, Clara, was deeply unhappy and committed suicide. Haber continues to promote gas warfare and creates new nerve gases.
Patient J.D. (04:20)
Louis Goodman and Alfred Gilman discover that soldiers who died from mustard gas had low white blood cell counts. Michael Mosley explains the dynamics of cancer. Experts discuss Goodman and Gilman's experiment with mustard gas on a patient riddled with cancer.
Beginning of Chemotherapy (02:33)
Michael Mosley explains how nitrogen mustard works. All chemotherapy drugs are poisonous to living cells. J.D., the world's first chemotherapy patient survives six months with treatment; he dies in 1942.
Poison, a Relative Term (02:46)
Dosage and toxicity exposure dictates whether or not something is poisonous. Michael Mosley states that drinking seven liters of water in a few hours gives him a 50% chance of death. He discusses the LD50 (Lethal Dose, 50%) scale and rates some toxicities.
Detrimental Pharmaceutical Products (03:03)
Experts at a German pharmaceutical company create Distaval (a.k.a. Thalidomide) and it becomes widely distributed. An Australian doctor discovers that Distaval causes birth defects.
Denied FDA Approval (03:03)
In 1960, Francis Kelsey does not believe the application of Thalidomide meets standards; she denies the license. Experts discuss the battle between the FDA and the Merrill Company. Michael Mosley reflects on the governmental control of medicines 50 years ago.
Drug Evaluation (02:08)
Michael Mosley compares the liberal attitude of past pharmaceutical acceptance to present day restrictions. He discusses the relationship between Thalidomide and birth defects, and its positive effects on leprosy and a rare form of cancer.
The ultimate microbial poison is produced by the microbe clostridium botulinum. Botulinum toxin (Botox) rates 0.000001 on the LD50 scale; it is the most poisonous substance known to man. Michael Mosley explains how Botox works; it is the most expensive product on Earth.
Treating Cancer (02:25)
Researchers study the venom of over 200 poisonous creatures in hopes of finding a significant medical breakthrough. Experts discuss the difficulties of treating brain cancer. Venomous animals may be able to help pinpoint unhealthy tissue.
Remarkable Venom Properties (03:04)
The death stalker's venom contains chlorotoxin which binds tightly to the receptors of cancer cells. Chlorotoxin helps surgeons avoid cutting healthy tissue when removing a brain tumor. See a brain surgery clip. Michael Mosley discusses drugs developed with snake and cone snail toxins.
A New Medical Revolution (03:08)
Venoms tend to be very specific. Experts discuss the creation of personalized medicines and genetic approaches in the clinic. Michael Mosley reflects on the benefits of poison.
Credits: Poison: A History of Toxic Cures—Pain, Pus, and Poison (00:44)
Credits: Poison: A History of Toxic Cures—Pain, Pus, and Poison
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