Principles of Poisoning: Part 1/3

Nothing will get a writer’s mind whirling like dreaming up the perfect poison to kill off a character. Is there a perfect, undetectable poison? Maybe, probably… but you’d be amazed at what might be available in your own bathroom cabinet.

If you’re going to use drug poisoning as a way to sicken or kill a character, there are a couple of things you’re going to need to research in order to figure out how much to give them, how long it will take the medication to take effect and what the patient’s signs and symptoms will be.

Consider these guidelines:

Guideline #1: What is a toxic dose of the drug/plant/poison? After all, you don’t want to hype up this scene where a character is poisoned and you’ve given them a normal dose of the drug. That would be very anti-climatic. One way to do this is to look for the LD50 which stands for median lethal dose. In very basic terms, it’s the dose of the drug that will kill 50 out of 100 people. Now, it may take less of the drug to kill some and some people may live through that dose as well, but it will be a good place to start from. You can also get a good gauge on this from looking at drug information sheets under the overdose or toxicology sections.

To read more on LD50:

Guideline #2: When does the drug peak and what is its half life? These are time issues. Peak concentration is the maximum concentration of drug in the circulation. Generally, when the patient will feel the full effect of the medication. This is important to know because drug peak concentrations range wildly from a few seconds to days. Half-life is how long it takes 1/2 the drug to be eliminated from the blood. This is roughly how long the effect of the medication will last.

To read more:

Guideline #3: How is the drug metabolized in the body? This is important because whatever organ breaks down the drug will be overwhelmed by the amount of the drug and begin to shut down. In addition to this, it’s important to know what that organ does specifically. Acetaminophen is metabolized by the liver. Hence, its toxic effects and what ultimately kills the patient is the failure of this organ.


Have you written a scene using a drug/plant/poison to injure or kill a character?

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