Poison cures


‘Bitter pill’ might not describe half of it. Downright poisons might just be the prescription. NBC’s article “Pick your poison: It might actually be good for you” describes…

  • "’Poisons can be bad for some things and good for others, including humans,’ said Michael Novacek, senior vice president of the American Museum of Natural History, at an opening of a new poison-themed exhibition Tuesday. Often, these beneficial uses involve medicine. For example, wintergreen plants produce salicylic acid, which can be toxic at high concentrations. However, at a lower dose in a modified form, this chemical, becomes the active ingredient in aspirin. The exhibition provides plenty of other examples of the ‘good’ side of poison. Toxins from snakes, snails and fish provide established or possible treatments for pain; researchers are testing 300 chemicals produced by the Fraser Island funnel-web spider for treatments against breast cancer, and the plant sweet wormwood has provided the malaria medication artemisinin. And the benefits from natural poisons are not limited to just medicine. Many familiar substances — chili, tea, coffee, cinnamon, chocolate and nicotine — owe their spicy or stimulating effects to chemicals plants make to discourage other things from eating them. Nicotine, produced by tobacco and other plants, is a powerful neurotoxin, as it affects the nervous system, and theobromine, a chemical in chocolate that provides a mental lift to humans, has a much more powerful effect on dogs, said Mark Siddall, a museum scientist and invertebrate curator…Siddall studies leeches and the evolution of compounds they use to prevent blood from clotting”