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Rock band

For the Record

Widespread Appeal Despite Criticism

Retooled Glam Image

Sales Declined as Themes Deepened

Selected discography


Poison were forerunners of the glam-rock wave that swept the late 1980s. Starting out in Pennsylvania as Paris, they moved to Los Angeles, changed their name, teased up their hair, and adorned themselves in heavy makeup, all because they wanted people to stop and take notice; eventually, people did.

In the early 1980s singer and bartender Bret Michaels and drummer Rikki Rockett joined forces to form a band called the Spectres in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They then teamed up with licensed cosmotologist and bassist Bobby Dall and guitarist Matt Smith to form Paris. After playing mostly rock cover songs in Pittsburgh-area bars, they set out for Los Angeles in an ambulance Michaels bought for $700. In 1985, Smith was replaced by New York-born guitarist C. C. DeVille, a clinical psychology major known for his guitar work with bands like Lace, the Broken Toys, Screaming Mimi & St. James, Van Goghs Ear, and Roxx Regime (which later became the Christian rock band Stryper). Thus was formed the lineup that would bring the band its greatest fame.

For the Record

Original members include Bobby Dall (born in Florida), bass; C. C. DeVille (born Cecil DeVille in Brooklyn, NY; replaced by Richie Kotzen [bom in 1972 in Birdsboro, PA; replaced by Blues Saraceno, 1993], 1992), guitar; Bret Michaels (born March 15, 1963, in Pittsburgh, PA), vocals; and Rikki Rockett (born in Mechanicsburg, PA), drums.

Band formed in Pittsburgh as Paris, 1983; relocated to Los Angeles, c. 1984; DeVille joined group and band name changed to Poison, 1985; signed with Enigma Records and released Look What the Cat Dragged In, 1986.

Addresses: Management HK Management, Inc., 8900 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 300, Beverly Hills, CA 90211. Record company Capitol Records, 1750 North Vine St., Hollywood, CA 90028.

Poison began to spread their potent dosage up and down Hollywoods Sunset Strip, passing out flyers and making the rounds performing in the famous local clubs. It wasnt long before they were recruited by Enigma Records, a division of Capitol Records. In August of 1986, Poison launched their debut album, Look What the Cat Dragged In. It cost only $30,000 to record and became the biggest-selling-album in Enigmas history. With radio hits like Talk Dirty to Me, I Want Action, and I Wont Forget You and heavy rotation on MTV, their debut earned the band tours with fellow glam rockers Ratt, Cinderella, and Quiet Riot, as well as a coveted slot in the Texxas Jam in Dallas.

Widespread Appeal Despite Criticism

Singer Bret Michaels attributed Poisons success to the universality of the bands songs. He told Teen Stars Photo Album, Poisons music is kind of a soundtrack for everyday life. Im singing about the things that I know about, and thats honestly how I feel. Nonetheless, after four hit singles and videos and a Top 10 multi-platinum debut album, Poison received largely negative criticism from the press and ridicule from fellow musicians. Their glam image and good-time attitude inspired many to make light of their musical skills. Record sales figures and a growing fan base, however, amply attested to Poisons widespread appeal.

The band quickly followed their first world tour with another foray into the studio. In 1988, they teamed with noted rock producer Tom Werman and released Open Up and Say... Ahh! Originally titled Swallow This (One), Poisons second set was met by controversy. Some large record chains refused to sell the album because of its cover art, which depicted a female devil with a large, phallic tongue. The offending image was reworked to reveal only the womans eyes, and the album rocketed in sales and popularity, starting with the first single Nothin but a Good Time, followed by Fallen Angel, the smash ballad Every Rose Has Its Thorn, and Your Mama Dont Dance.

After touring with former Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth, the band moved from support status to headlining their own tour in September of 1988, and by December, Every Rose had become the second-biggest-selling single of the year.

Critical acclaim and respect continued to allude the band even after their second hit release, and conflict pursued them persistently. Bryn Bridenthal, head of publicity at Geffen Records, slapped a $1.1 million lawsuit on the band for drenching her with drinks and a bucket of ice at a music industry party. Then, Sanctuary Music, Poisons former management company, filed a $45.5 million breach of contract suit against the band. Poison retaliated with charges of mismanagement of funds. Michaelss frequent brawling garnered him further lawsuits in Tallahassee, Atlanta, and Los Angeles.

Poison continued their adherence to the work hard, play hard motto, following up with their next album in 1990. Four weeks after its release, Flesh and Blood reached Number Two on the U.S. charts and Number Three in the U.K., buoyed by the records infectious first single, Unskinny Bop.

Retooled Glam Image

Shedding their big-haired image as they moved into the 1990s, Poison took a more mature approach to their third album. In Screamer magazine Michaels explained how Flesh and Blood signaled a change in the band: I think that the same way that we shocked people in the beginning with the look, this one might shock them with the music a little bit. This ones the one thats going to show that theres a little bit of another side to the band. Indeed, maturity, cynicism, and loss tempered Poisons previously carefree, party-atmosphere lyricspartly due to the death of the bands security guard and close friend James Kimo Maano, for whom they wrote their hit single Something to Believe In. They also stood by their convictions and seemed to gain a fresh sense of hope with songs like Ride the Wind and (Flesh and Blood) Sacrifice.

After a successful tour and their third multi-platinum album, Poison released Swallow This Live, culled from performances on their Flesh and Blood tour. But by then, drugs and strife among bandmembers had begun to take their toll. The loneliest time of my life was when I was at the mixes for the live record, Michaels told RIP. It was one of the few live albums to be totally live and unfixed. When we were doing it, I knew C. C.s heart wasnt there, wasnt with the band.

By the following year, DeVille had parted ways with Poison, young guitar virtuoso and Pennsylvania native Richie Kotzen stepping in to take his place. After three instrumental releases of his own, Kotzen brought a distinctly new sound to Poisons next record, Native Tongue. He told Guitar Player, People have to realize that being in this band, and the music that Im making, is something that has always existed inside me. Im being even truer to myself on the Poison record, even though its not a solo thing.

Sales Declined as Themes Deepened

Released in February of 1993, Native Tongue earned Poison somewhat better notices in the rock press, but did not sell as well as their previous efforts. The Los Angeles First A.M.E. Church Choir joined Michaels on vocals for the first single from Tongue, Stand, a song about pride and courage. Another tune, Stay Alive, captured Michaelss state of mind when he was forced to take bassist Dall to a drug rehabilitation clinic in Florida, and Strike Up the Band recalled the bands roots playing clubs in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.

Poisons 1993 Midwest tour averaged a mere 2,000 seats sold per venue, and sales of Native Tongue barely passed the gold status of 500,000. Their new blues-rock, down-and-dirty sound took Poison even further away from their Look What The Cat Dragged In beginnings. It seemed as though the bands evolution was lost on the largely fickle rock audience.

During their world tour for Native Tongue, struggle and discord struck Poison once again. In July of 1993, the band fired Kotzen because of a personal dispute between him and another bandmember. Poison asked DeVille to fill in for the remainder of the tour, but he declined in favor of focusing on his solo project. Poison finished the tour with Los Angeles-based guitarist Blues Saraceno, their second choice after Kotzen, as DeVilles replacement. Saraceno officially joined the band in late 1993. Meanwhile, Kotzen went on to sign a solo deal with Geffen Records.

The members of Poison have seen their share of ups and downs since the release of their first album in 1986the sale of more than 15 million records, a total of 10 Top 40 singles, sold-out international tours, the well-publicized departure of C. C. DeVille, and the subsequent exit of Richie Kotzen. And despite often withering notices from critics and some of their peers, they have managed to make a significant, occasionally uplifting mark on the rock n roll world and touch the hearts of millions of fans.

Selected discography

Look What the Cat Dragged In (includes Talk Dirty to Me, I Want Action, and I Wont Forget You), Enigma/Capitol, 1986.

Open Up and Say... Ahh! (includes Nothin but a Good Time, Fallen Angel, Every Rose Has Its Thorn, and Your Mama Dont Dance), Enigma/Capitol, 1988.

Flesh and Blood (includes Unskinny Bop, Something to Believe In, Ride the Wind, and [Flesh and Blood] Sacrifice), Enigma/Capitol, 1990.

Swallow This Live, Capitol, 1992.

Native Tongue (includes Stand, Stay Alive, and Strike Up the Band), Capitol, 1993.



Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Rock Movers & Shakers, ABC/CLIO, 1991.


BAM, June 3, 1988.

Circus, September 30, 1987; January 31, 1988; December 31, 1988.

Daily Variety, June 10, 1993; July 26, 1993.

Guitar Player, June 1993.

Hit Parader, September 1993.

Los Angeles Times, July 25, 1993.

Metal Edge, October 1989.

People, August 23, 1993.

RIP, May 1993.

Screamer, May 1988; July 1990.

Teen Stars Photo Album, February 1987.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from HK Management, Inc. press materials, 1993.

Sonya Shelton


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POISON (Heb. חֵמָה, לַצֲבָה, מְרֵרָה, רֹאשׁ [רוֹשׁ], רַעַל, תַּרְצֵלָה; Akk. imtu, martu; Ug. ḥmt). The biblical terms for poison are derived mainly from two sources: types of poisonous plants and the poisonous venom of snakes and other reptiles. Many attempts have been made to identify the specific plants involved based on the translations of these terms in the Septuagint and the other ancient versions, but any conclusions based on this evidence must be considered extremely uncertain. The Bible itself offers no evidence whatsoever, since its usage of these terms is generally metaphorical, offering no identifying characteristics. Therefore, when discussing these various terms, this article will deal with the biblical usage and its ancient Near Eastern parallels rather than attempting to arrive at specific identifications.

Laʿanah, Rosh

The terms rosh ("gall") and laʿanah ("wormwood") are often found in synonymous parallelism (Jer. 9: 14; 23:15; Amos 6:12) or in hendiadys (Deut. 29:17; Lam. 3:19). They are most often used metaphorically to represent the concepts of poison and bitterness. As her punishment for disobeying the Lord, Israel is forced to consume bitter food and drink (Jer. 8:14; 9:14; 23:15; Lam. 3:15), while a psalmist contends that his enemies are giving him such a hard time that he feels that he is being given bitter food (Ps. 69:22). Another common theme for which these terms are employed is the turning of justice into bitterness (Hon. 10:4; Amos 5:7; 6:12). The especially general nature of the term rosh, "gall," in the bible may be demonstrated by its usage in contexts referring to snake venom (Deut. 32:33; Job 20:16) and grapes (Deut. 32:32).


The biblical term most commonly employed for the venom of snakes and other reptiles is ḥemah. In the Song of Moses, the calamity which befalls Israel as a result of God's judgment takes the metaphorical form of ḥamat zoḥalei ʿafar, "the venom of snakes" (Deut. 32:24; for the meaning of zoḥalei ʿafar cf. Micah 7:17), while later in the same chapter, rosh and ḥemah, which are parallels, are again used metaphorically: "the venom (ḥamat) of serpents is their wine, and the poison (rosh) of vipers …" (Deut. 32:33). Elsewhere ḥemah is used for snake poison in Psalm 58:5 and for the venom of an unknown reptile (ʿakhshuv) in Psalm 140:4.

Both Akkadian (imtu) and Ugaritic (ḥmt) utilize an etymological and semantic equivalent of חמה as one of their regular words for "poison." The usage of Akkadian imtu is very close to the usage of biblical ḥemah. The following two passages illustrate the usage of imtu as "snake venom":

1. azzūzâ izarri imta ana sursurru
izarri imta
imat ṣēri imassu
imat zuqaqīpi imassu

She [Lamaštu] spits venom now and then,
she spits venom suddenly,
her venom is snake venom,
her venom is scorpion venom (A. Falkenstein, Literarische Keilschrifttexte aus Uruk (1931), 33:21ff.).
2. patûni šapti šinnašunu našâ imta
[Their] lips are open, their fangs carry venom (Enūma eliš, 4:53; Ps. 140:4).

Two Ugaritic texts (Ugaritica, 5 (1969), nos. 7, 8), which appear to be "serpent charms" contain, for the first time in Ugaritic, the substantive ḥmt, "poison, snake venom." This substantive is found more than 25 times in these two texts whose provenance has already been compared to such biblical passages as Jeremiah 8:17; Psalms 58:5; and Ecclesiastes 10:11. In the first of these two texts, an incantation formula consisting of six lines is repeated 11 times, each time invoking a different deity. While the translation of all the lines of this incantation is far from certain, the lines containing the noun ḥmt, while not without their difficulties, are relatively clear:

lnh mlhs/aʾbd
lnh ydy hmt

From him [the serpent], the conjurer shall destroy,
from him, he shall remove the venom (Ugaritica, 5 (1969), 7: 5–6, 10–11, 16–17, 21–22, 27–28, 32–33, 37–38, 42–43, 47–48, 53–54, 59–60).

There are many biblical passages (e.g., Isa. 51:17, 22; Jer. 25:15; Job 21:20) where the substantive ḥemah is employed to evoke a double entendre based on its most regular meaning of "wrath" (e.g., Gen. 27:44–45; Deut. 29:22, 27; Isa. 63:3, 6; Jer. 21:5; aʾf, "anger") and its less common denotation of "poison, venom" (see above). This usage is further demonstrated by the occurrence of such idioms as the "pouring out of God's wrath/poison" (e.g., Isa. 42:25; Jer. 10:25; Ezek. 7:8; Ps. 79:6) and "full of God's poison/wrath" (e.g., Isa. 51:20; Jer. 6:11). While there are no Akkadian passages where imtu could be translated "wrath," The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (7 (1960), 139) defines imtu in one of its meanings as "poisonous foam, slaver produced from the mouth of angry gods, demons, humans, and animals." (For a full discussion of the semantic range of words for "anger, wrath" in Semitic languages, see H. Cohen, in bibl.)


The substantive mererah ("poison, venom, gall") is obviously connected with the root mrr, "to be bitter," and is generally used in the same way as ḥemah (see above). This is demonstrated by the Akkadian lexical equation imtum = martum (malku = šarru, 8:124; where martum is the Akkadian etymological and semantic equivalent of Hebrew mererah) as well as by the following biblical passages:

Their grapes are grapes of poison (rosh); Their clusters are venomous (merorot) (Deut. 32:32; cf. Deut. 32:33 quoted above); The venom serpents (merorat petanim) is within him (Job 20:40; cf. all examples for ḥemah, "snake venom" quoted above); He pours out my gall (mererati) upon the ground (Job 16:13; cf. the idiom לשפך חמת יהוה quoted above); He has filled me with poison (merorim), sated me with wormwood (laʿanah) (Lam. 3:15; cf. the idiom "the pouring out of God's wrath/poison" quoted above).

The Akkadian substantive martu, "gall," is used in the same way as imtu, ḥemah, and mererah, as may be seen from the following proverb which is somewhat parallel to Deutero nomy 32:32 (see above):

ina nāri tabbaššîma mūka daddaru
appūnāma ina kirî tabšîma suluppaka martum

When you are in \a canal, the water around you is foul-smelling;
Furthermore, when you are in a palm grove, your dates are gall (W.G. Lambert, Babylonian Wisdom Literature (1959), p. 244, lines 19–24).

Thus, the biblical ḥemah (in its meaning of "poison, venom") and mererah must be considered poetic synonyms like the Akkadian imtu and martu.

Raʿal, Tarʿelah

The exact meaning of raʿal and tarʿelah is unknown. That it must refer to some kind of poison is clear from Isaiah 51:17, 22, where tarʿelah parallels ḥemah. The occurrence with yayin ("wine") in Psalm 60:5 (yayin tarʿelah) also fits in well with the usage of ḥemah and mererah as stated above. The other few passages (Isa. 3:19; Nah. 2:4; Hab. 2:16 [read והרעל, as in 1Qp-Hab]; Zech. 12:2) in which this substantive or its denominative verb occurs are far from clear, however, and offer nothing in the way of identification. What is clear from the little evidence is that the biblical raʿal cannot be derived from Aramaic rʿl ("to reel, tremble") because its usage is identical with that of two known biblical words for poison, ḥemah and mererah. While the etymology of the Modern Hebrew raʿal ("poison") is unclear (raʿal "poison" is almost nonexistent in the Talmud and Midrash), because its usage in modern Hebrew appears consistent with biblical usage, it is more likely that it is derived from the biblical term than from the Aramaic rʿl.


Loew, Flora, passim; N.H. Tur-Sinai, The Book of Job (1957), 114–7; R.H. Harrison, Healing Herbs of the Bible (1966); A.L. Oppenheim, et al. (eds.), The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 7 (1960), 139–41; W.G. Lambert, Babylonian Wisdom Literature (1960); M.C. Astour, in: jnes, 27 (1968), 13–36; C. Cohen, in: Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society of Columbia University, 2 (1969), 25–29.

[Chayim Cohen]


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poisons A poison is any substance that, by chemical action, is capable of killing or injuring living organisms when ingested or absorbed in small amounts. Poison is a quantitative concept, since virtually every known substance is harmful at some dose, but harmless in smaller quantities; the probable lethal dose can vary from a mere taste of those that are supertoxic (cyanide and strychnine, for example) to about a litre of those practically non-toxic (such as chemicals like lanolin and glycerin). All human beings vary in their response to drugs and chemicals, however, and some people can survive a dose generally regarded as fatal. Similarly, individuals may be more susceptible at some life stages than others — primarily infants or the elderly.

The route of administration influences the degree of poisoning that occurs. The major routes by which poisons gain access to the body are through the mouth or lungs, and less commonly by injection or by absorption through the skin. Inhalation is often the most serious type of exposure, as substances are absorbed into the body very effectively through the lungs. Once absorbed, they travel in the circulation and can cause adverse effects at sites remote from that of entry. Most affect one or two organs — the target organs of toxicity of a particular poison.

The central nervous system is most frequently affected by poisoning, and muscle and bone the least. Some substances have a mainly local effect, the damage depending on the route of administration. Corrosives (mineral acids, alkalis, phenols) are in this category. They destroy any tissues with which they come into contact. They burn and erode skin and, if inhaled, damage the bronchi and lungs. When swallowed they produce inflammation and ulceration in the mouth, throat, stomach, and intestines.

Whenever poisoning occurs, death results when the extent and duration of bodily dysfunction has proceeded so far that treatment fails and recovery becomes impossible. A large group of drugs — general anaesthetics (ether, chloroform), barbiturates, opiates (morphine, codeine), and others — cause central nervous system depression, leading to coma and respiratory and circulatory failure. The chlorinated hydrocarbons and certain heavy metals (including arsenic and antimony) cause liver injury and toxic hepatitis. Mercuric salts and ethylene glycol (antifreeze) damage the kidneys. Inhalation of carbon monoxide produces anoxia (lack of oxygen for cell respiration) by binding to haemoglobin and preventing oxygen transport in the blood. Strychnine, atropine, cocaine, certain snake venoms, and other poisons cause convulsions, resulting from altered nerve conduction in the brain and spinal cord. Organophosphorus compounds, the basis of ‘nerve-gas’, now used, with appropriate safeguards, as agricultural and horticultural pesticides, disturb function at nerve endings in the muscles and in the autonomic nervous system.

Poisoning may be acute or chronic. Acute poisonings usually follow a single large dose, and are characterized by a sudden onset of symptoms that run a short course not necessarily leading to death. By contrast, chronic poisonings develop after repeated exposures to small doses. Symptoms emerge gradually, often with remissions and recurrences, as the toxic agent accumulates in the body. Chronic lead and mercury poisoning, for example, follow this course (the term ‘mad hatter’ arose from the deranged behaviour of workers exposed to mercury compounds in the preparation of felt). Cumulative effects are not always associated with repeated exposure, however: carbon monoxide, for example is ‘washed out’ when oxygen or air is breathed, although smokers can have persistently raised levels in their blood. Chronic poisoning is often associated with occupational and environmental exposure, and identification of the specific agent can be difficult.

For many poisons, the effects of acute and chronic poisoning are very different. Acute benzene poisoning, for example, causes depression of the central nervous system, but chronic benzene poisoning can cause leukemia. In fact, chemical carcinogenicity appears to be a variant of chronic toxicity. Prolonged exposure to substances like asbestos and cigarette smoke can lead, often after many years, to the development of characteristic cancers.

Treatment of acutely poisoned patients requires the maintenance of respiratory and circulatory functions, and elimination of the poison from the body. Absorption of swallowed poisons can be interrupted or prevented by gastric lavage (washing out the stomach), induced vomiting, or administration of an adsorbing substance (for example activated charcoal or Fuller's earth). Specific antidotes are infrequently available. In cases of chronic poisoning, removal from the source of exposure and general nursing are most effective. The body may either recover fully, or sustain irreversible damage to some tissues.

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries there were many celebrated poison trials, whilst at the same time the science of toxicology (the study of poisons and poisoning) began to develop. For reasons partly connected with availability and partly the result of a continuously developing capacity to detect poisons in the human body, homicidal poisonings are now extremely rare. Figures for 1995 indicated that fewer than 0.5% of fatal poisonings in Britain and the US were proven homicides.

Today, the vast majority of people who suffer acute poisoning are victims of either accidental self-poisoning or suicide attempts. Carbon monoxide (mainly from exhaust fumes or faulty heating systems) accounts for a sizeable proportion of poisoning deaths; children are particularly vulnerable to this and to accidental intake of medicines or household products. Fatal poisonings often follow overdoses of sedatives, tranquillizers, antidepressants, painkillers, and ‘social’ drugs (alcohol, and illegal substances such as heroin and cocaine). It seems likely that acute and chronic accidental poisoning will continue to represent a significant health hazard for as long as vast numbers of toxic substances — including drugs, industrial chemicals, fuels, pesticides, paints, and household cleaning fluids — remain in daily use.

Katherine D. Watson

See also chemical warfare; drug abuse; environmental toxicology; toxicology.


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Poisons are substances that are harmful to living organisms. It is said that "the dose makes the poison" because almost any substance can be poisonous at high enough concentrations, especially many substances used as medicines.

Poisons include compounds of biological origin and chemicals manufactured by humans. Biological poisons, also known as toxins, are produced by some members of every living kingdom, including bacteria, fungi, protists, plants, and animals. The chemical industries produce thousands of chemicals, many of which are poisonous. Regulation of workplace exposure to these is the responsibility of the Occupational Safety and Health Agency, or OSHA. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees cleanup of toxic wastes and spills.


There are three major routes of exposure for poisons: absorption through the skin, inhalation into the lungs, and ingestion in the gut. Skin forms a barrier against many poisons, but its large surface area provides a route of entry for liquids especially. Inhalation provides a rapid route of entry directly into the bloodstream for small, volatile molecules. The enzymes and acids of the gastrointestinal tract inactivate some ingested poisons, but the long transit time and high surface area of the gut mean that an ingested poison is likely to enter the bloodstream if not inactivated.

Most poisons act acutely, meaning their toxic effects come on very quickly after exposure. In contrast, heavy metals such as lead and mercury accumulate slowly in the fatty tissue of the body, and chronic exposure to low doses can cause poisoning.


Poisons disrupt metabolic processes or destroy tissue through chemical reactions with cells. While the number of specific mechanisms of action is large, there are several broad means by which many poisons exert their effects. The list below is not comprehensive.

Oxygen Deprivation. The brain consumes large amounts of oxygen and cannot survive if deprived of it for more than ten minutes. Oxygen deprivation may occur if the respiratory muscles cannot deliver adequate air to the lungs, if the lungs cannot absorb adequate oxygen from the air, or if the blood cannot carry the oxygen to the brain.

Barbiturates and benzodiazepines, drugs prescribed as sedatives, depress activity in the brain center that controls the respiratory muscles, thus preventing those muscles from working sufficiently. Respiratory muscle paralysis may be caused by ingestion of botulinum toxin, one of the most poisonous substances known. It is formed by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, a contaminant of improperly canned food. Botulinum toxin prevents release of acetylcholine by neurons at the neuromuscular junction. Without this neurotransmitter, the respiratory muscles cannot contract.

Absorption of adequate oxygen can be interrupted when otherwise harmless gases, such as nitrogen or carbon dioxide, are present in high concentration. In 1986, a massive release of dissolved carbon dioxide from Lake Nyos in Cameroon, Africa, asphyxiated eighteen hundred people in the surrounding villages. Hemoglobin carries oxygen in the bloodstream. Carbon monoxide binds to hemoglobin, displacing oxygen and preventing its transport. Carbon monoxide is produced by combustion and is found in car exhaust and furnace smoke.

Cardiac Toxicity. The heart muscle relies on chemical signals to control the rate and force of its contractions. Digitalis, derived from the foxglove plant, is prescribed for congestive heart failure to increase heart output. In slightly larger doses, it is deadly. Related compounds are produced by various South American frogs of the genus Dendrobates, and are used on arrow tips for hunting.

Mitochondrial Poisons. Most cells in the body are supplied with fuel by subcellular structures called mitochondria . One step of the energy-producing reactions, oxidative phosphorylation , relies on electron-carrying proteins called cytochromes. Cyanide binds permanently to these cytochromes, preventing them from carrying electrons and thus inactivating them. Another step in these reactions requires a buildup of H+ ions across the mitochondrial membrane. Dinitrophenol, a chemical used in dye manufacture, is a membrane-soluble H+ carrier. By carrying H+ ions across the mitochondrial membrane, dinitrophenol interrupts this step. Impaired energy production affects all cells, especially brain and heart cells.

Liver and Kidney Poisons. The liver is the principal site of poison detoxification. It has many different types of enzymes that attack and degrade the wide variety of molecules to which the body may be exposed. Inhalants such as glues, gasoline, or other solvents cause direct tissue damage to the liver, leading to liver failure. The kidneys excrete most poisons or their breakdown products. Kidneys may be damaged from exposure to poisons, or by accumulation of compounds that cannot be excreted.

Mutagens and Carcinogens. Chemicals that cause changes in deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) sequence, or mutations, are called mutagens. If these changes prompt the cell to begin dividing, the cell may become cancerous. Substances that cause cancer are called carcinogens. Inhaled asbestos fibers can cause lung cancer, as can chemicals in cigarette smoke.


Antidotes are available for very few poisons. Snakebite, for instance, may be treated with antivenin, which provides antibodies that inactivate the poisonous venom. However, in most cases of poisoning, medical treatment focuses on removing the poison from the body when possible, and maintaining respiration and circulation until the toxic effects are reduced as the compound is metabolized and excreted over time. Poison control centers in every state maintain telephone hotlines to deal with poisoning emergencies. If a victim is in medical distress, 911 should be called immediately.

see also Alcohol and Health; Antibody; Cancer; Health and Safety Officer; Liver; Mutation; Mitochondrion; Neuron; Oxidative Phosphorylation; Peroxisomes; Synaptic Transmission

Richard Robinson


American Association of Poison Control Centers. <http://www.aapcc.org/>.

Medical Toxicology On-Line. <http://toxikon.er.uic.edu/>.

Turkington, Carol. The Poisons and Antidotes Sourcebook, 2nd ed. New York: Checkmark Books, 1999.


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321. Poison

See also 112. DEATH ; 130. DRUGS ; 232. KILLING .

alexipharmac, alexipharmic
a remedy for or antidote against poison or infection. alexipharmic, adj.
poisoning caused by atropine or belladonna.
a condition of chronic poisoning caused by excessive use of barbiturates.
a disease of the nervous system caused by botulin developments in spoiled foods eaten by animals and man; a variety of bacterial food poisoning.
a toxic condition caused by the misuse of the counterirritant and diuretic cantharides.
drunkenness or intoxication from alcohol, especially as an habitual state.
a condition in which the blood contains toxin from the intestines.
a condition caused by eating rye or some other grain infected with ergot fungus or by an overdose of an ergot medicinal agent.
an abnormal fear of poisons. Cf. toxiphobia .
mephitic or carbon dioxide poisoning. mephitic, mephitical, adj.
the production of immunity against the action of a poison by consuming it regularly in gradually larger doses.
any of a variety of toxic conditions produced by poisonous mush-rooms. Also mycetismus.
chronic phosphorus poisoning.
an acute toxic condition caused by the absorption of lead into the body by skin contact, ingestion, or inhalation; lead poisoning. Also called saturnism .
a poisoning caused by exposure to radioactive plutonium.
excessive salivation, usually associated with chronic mercury poisoning.
a substance that kills rodents.
a toxic condition produced by excessive intake of salicylic acid, marked by vomiting and ringing in the ears.
an illness caused by food tainted with certain species of salmonella bacteria.
sapremia, sapraemia
blood poisoning caused by putrefactive microorganisms in the bloodstream.
septicemia, septicaemia
blood poisoning caused by pathogenic microorganisms and their toxic products in the bloodstream. septicemic, septicaemic, adj.
poisoning from antimony.
a toxic condition caused by excessive use of strychnine.
addiction to tobacco; poisoning from excessive use of tobacco. Also called tabagism, tobaccoism .
Archaic. a toxic condition produced by thebaine, a derivative of opium.
the branch of medical science that studies the effects, antidotes, detection, etc., of poisons. toxicologist, n. toxicologie, toxicological, adj.
an abnormal fear of poisoning. Also called toxicophobia . Cf. iophobia. toxiphobe, toxiphobiac, n.
poisoning caused by microbes in stale cheese or milk.
urotoxy, urotoxia
1. the toxicity or toxic content of urine.
2. the unit used in measuring the toxicity of urine, a quantity sufficient to kill an animal weighing one kilogram. urotoxic, adj.


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poi·son / ˈpoizən/ • n. a substance that, when introduced into or absorbed by a living organism, causes death or injury, esp. one that kills by rapid action even in a small quantity. ∎  Chem. a substance that reduces the activity of a catalyst. ∎  Physics an additive or impurity in a nuclear reactor that slows a reaction by absorbing neutrons. ∎  a person, idea, action, or situation that is considered to have a destructive or corrupting effect or influence: the late 1930s, when Nazism was spreading its poison.• v. [tr.] administer poison to (a person or animal), either deliberately or accidentally: he tried to poison his wife | [as n.] (poisoning) symptoms of poisoning may include nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. ∎  adulterate or contaminate (food or drink) with poison. ∎  [usu. as adj.] (poisoned) treat (a weapon or missile) with poison in order to augment its lethal effect. ∎  (of a dangerous substance) kill or cause to become very ill: swans are being poisoned by lead from anglers' lines. ∎  contaminate or pollute (an area, the air, or water). ∎ fig. prove harmful or destructive to: his disgust had poisoned his attitude toward everyone. ∎  Chem. (of a substance) reduce the activity of (a catalyst).PHRASES: what's your poison? inf. used to ask someone what they would like to drink.DERIVATIVES: poi·son·er / ˈpoizənər/ n.ORIGIN: Middle English (denoting a harmful medicinal drink): from Old French poison ‘magic potion,’ from Latin potio(n-) ‘potion,’ related to potare ‘to drink.’


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Any substance dangerous to living organisms that if applied internally or externally, destroy the action of vital functions or prevent thecontinuanceof life.

Economic poisons are those substances that are used to control insects, weeds, fungi, bacteria, rodents, predatory animals, or other pests. Economic poisons are useful to society but are still dangerous.

The way a poison is controlled depends on its potential for harm, its usefulness, and the reasons for its use. The law has a right and a duty pursuant to the police power of a state to control substances that can do great harm.

In the past, an individual who was harmed by a poison that had been handled in a careless manner could institute a lawsuit for damages against the person who had mishandled the chemical. As time went on, state statutes prescribed the circumstances under which someone was legally liable for injuries caused by a poison. For example, a sale to anyone under sixteen years of age was unlawful, and a seller was required to ensure that the buyer understood that the chemical was poisonous. It was not unusual for all poisons, drugs, and narcotics to be covered by the same statutory scheme.

Specialized statutes currently regulate poisons. Pesticides must be registered with the federal government, and those denied registration cannot be used. The environmental protection agency (EPA) has issued a number of regulations governing the use of approved pesticides. Federal law also prohibits unauthorized adulteration of any product with a poisonous substance and requires clear labeling for anything sold with a poisonous ingredient. It might not be sufficient to list all the chemicals in a container or even to put the word POISON on the label. The manufacturer should also warn of the injuries that are likely to occur and the conditions under which the poison will cause harm. Stricter standards are applied to household products than to poisonous products intended to be used in a factory, on a farm, or by a specially trained person. Poisonous food products are banned. Under other federal regulations, pesticide residues on foods are prohibited above certain low tolerance levels.

Certain provisions under federal law seek to protect children from poisoning. Special packaging is required for some household products so that a child will not mistake them for food or will not be able to open containers. Federal funds are available for local programs to reduce or eliminate the danger of poisoning from lead-based paint. Under the Hazardous Substances Act (15 U.S.C.A. § 1261 et seq.), toys containing poisonous substances can be banned or subjected to recall.


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poison poison pen letter an anonymous letter that is libellous, abusive, or malicious; the term poison pen is recorded from the early 20th century.
poison pill a tactic used by a company threatened with an unwelcome takeover bid to make itself unattractive to the bidder. The use arose in the US financial markets in the early 1980s, and was allegedly coined by the US lawyer Martin Lipman in his defence of El Paso Natural Gas in 1982; it was shortly afterwards adopted as a device and a term on the British Stock Exchange.

See also one man's meat is another man's poison.


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poison †(deadly) potion XIII; substance introduced into an organism that destroys life or injures health XIV. ME. puison, poison — OF. puison, (also mod.) poison (in OF. magic potion) :- L. potiō, -ōn- POTION.
So poison vb. XIII. — OF. poisonner.


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poison (poi-zŏn) n. any substance that irritates, damages, or impairs the activity of the body's tissues. The term is usually reserved for substances, such as arsenic, cyanide, and strychnine, that are harmful in relatively small amounts.

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