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Poison tetrodotoxin and its effects on the human body

Of all the variety of defense mechanisms bestowed on living creatures in the process of evolution, neurotoxins are particularly prominent – substances that have a detrimental effect on the nervous system of the victim. The most interesting and mysterious of them is tetrodotoxin – a strong neuroparalytic poison, a hundred times better than potassium cyanide.

The first recorded case of tetrodotoxin poisoning is described in the diary of the famous explorer James Cook and published in his Journey to the South Pole and around the world.

According to an entry dated September 8, 1774, on September 7, the captain and the two naturalists who were part of the expedition served for dinner liver and milk of exotic freshly prepared fish. But since the time was later and people were very tired, they barely touched the food served, feeding most of it to the pigs.

In the morning, those who tasted a fish dish the day before showed severe weakness, shortness of breath and numbness of the extremities, and the animals that ate the entrails died.

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After 166 years after this event, it was possible to establish that the fish tasted by the captain and his companions belonged to the family of tetrodontids and was called Pleuranacanthus seleratus. In 1906, the Japanese scientist Tahara isolated the active principle from the tissues of these creatures and called it tetrodotoxin.

It is noteworthy that in 1964 a strong poison was isolated from embryos and calves of the California newt, which was named tarichotoxin and in the end turned out to be identical to tetrodotoxin.

The poison tetrodotoxin, in some sources referred to as tetrodoxin, is an amino-perhydroquinazoline compound with a guanidine group and is extremely toxic. For experimental mice, the average lethal dose of this substance for intraperitoneal administration is only 10 µg / g.

The basis of the destructive effect is the ability of the toxin to block the sodium channels of the nerve fibers and block the conduction of impulse in excitable tissues. When tetrodotoxin poisoning occurs, the following symptoms occur:

  • sensation of itching in the lips and tongue;
  • profuse salivation and difficulty swallowing;
  • numbness of the limbs;
  • nausea and vomiting;
  • severe abdominal pain;
  • stomach upset;
  • arbitrary muscle twitching;
  • loss of skin sensitivity;
  • aphonia.

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Signs of intoxication appear 10–45 minutes after the substance is consumed, the death of the victim occurs within six hours due to paralysis of the respiratory muscles. There is no specific antidote for tetrodotoxin, therefore, the only way out is to conduct detoxification and symptomatic therapy aimed at artificially maintaining the life of the poisoned until the moment when the poison ceases to act.

Since the substance affects the sensitive sodium channels that are directly involved in the transmission of pain signals, it is logical to assume that tetrodotoxin can be used as a strong anesthetic. First of all, the substance helps to block the neuropathic pain caused by the pathological excitation of neurons responsible for the reaction to a variety of physical damage.

Long-term studies have helped to establish a safe dose of poison, at which its toxic properties are minimized and the therapeutic effect is manifested. For the first time, tetrodotoxin was used in the treatment of severe leprosy, accompanied by acute unbearable pain.

Subsequently, a series of clinical trials of the substance as an anesthetic for inoperable forms of cancer were conducted. However, studies have shown mixed results, so they decided to temporarily abandon the use of the funds.

In domestic medicine, tetrodotoxin is practically not used because of the high risk to the life and health of patients – most local anesthetics (novocaine, dikain and the like) have similar properties, but are much safer. However, various combinations of tetrodotoxin with local anesthetics, as well as injectable forms of the hydrochloride salt of the substance, have been developed abroad.

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Recently, the network can be found mention of the Korean drug called Tetrodocain (Tetrodocaine), which is available in ampoules for injection and is positioned as a cure for many diseases – from acute respiratory infections and ending with cancer. You need to know that this tool is not a licensed drug and its use can lead to sad consequences.

Lovers tickle your nerves enough at all times, so the lack of people who want to try dishes with tetrodotoxin, has never been observed. The most famous of the deadly delicacies is fugu – the true legend of Japanese cuisine, which remains the subject of curiosity and lust gourmets around the world.

The tradition of eating the fish-beetle fish originated in Japan more than two thousand years ago, but after a while the delicacy was banned because of the high mortality rate as a result of its use. Subsequently, the ban was lifted, but cooks specializing in the preparation of fugue, obliged to undergo special training and get a license.

The most popular type of dish is fuguushi, or fugu sashimi – slices of raw fillet, beautifully laid out on a round plate. For the preparation of this dish usually use a fish called brown toby. Prepare sashimi like this:

  1. The cook quickly separates the fins and the head of the fish, and then opens its belly.
  2. Observing the greatest care, the professional removes poisonous entrails and thoroughly washes the fillets. Special skill is to leave on the surface of the fish the amount of poison, contributing to the emergence of a light narcotic euphoria, but completely eliminating the threat to the life of the client.
  3. The fish is cut into thin slices, spread on a dish and served to the table.

Fugusashi are eaten by dipping pieces of fillet in a mixture of vinegar sauce, grated daikon, red pepper, and chopped chive. They wash down the dish with a drink called hirezake – sake from cups for chavan tea, in which the charred puffer fins are dipped for 1-2 minutes.

Also to fugushi relies soup made from poisonous fish, rice and raw eggs.

Although eating puffer in good restaurants is considered relatively safe, you should not underestimate the risk. According to statistics, at least 50 Japanese die annually from fugu poisoning.

And in September 2010, an exotic dish caused the death of two Russian tourists.

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It is curious that the artificial breeding of the fish-beetle fish can avoid the accumulation of poison, since the toxin is not produced in the body, but comes from food. Consequently, if you change the feeding mode, the brown puffer will become a completely harmless creature.

However, high-class chefs who do not want to lose their jobs and those who are keen on tradition and who prefer thrills, oppose the massive rearing of “safe” fish.

In rare cases, victims of tetrodotoxin poisoning do not die, but fall into such a deep lethargic sleep that it is not possible to distinguish a living person from a dead person. One of these incidents occurred at the end of the 19th century in the United States: the poisoned was recognized dead and placed in a cold room, where he came to life seven days later, shortly before burial.

According to the failed dead man, all this time he retained the ability to be aware of what was happening and waited with horror that he would be lowered alive to the grave.

There were also cases when poisoned and already mourned people suddenly rose from the grave on the way to the cemetery, plunging those present into a real shock. Such a unique effect of tetrodoxin on the body has led to the emergence of many myths – in particular, stories about Haitian zombies.

It is believed that bokori (Haitian sorcerers) have the art of making the so-called “zombie powder” – a substance based on tetrodotoxin, the use of which deprives a person of self-consciousness, turning him into an uncomplaining slave. Often this ritual was used to neutralize the enemy and his subsequent submission.

Having chosen the victim, the boar produced a special powdered drug, the main ingredients of which were the toxic tissues of fish and the bones of the dead, and then found a way to pour the substance into the food of the disagreeable. A few hours later, the person who consumed the powder died, and he was buried, observing the relevant rites.

A few days later the sorcerer dug out the deceased and made a special rite of revival.

As a result, the former dead person completely lost control over his own body and mind, becoming an indifferent executor of the orders of the owner. The subtleties of this process are very picturesquely covered in Wes Craven’s film “The Serpent and the Rainbow,” which was based on the eponymous book by the ethnobotanist Wade Davis.

Legends of Haitian zombies spawned many hypotheses, however, the mystery of the magic powder remains undisclosed to this day.

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