The Origin of Cyanide: From Deadly Poison to Poisoning Coffee

The year 2016 witnessed a sensational legal drama in Indonesia, famously known as the origin of cyanide or the Jessica Wongso case. This chilling case captured national attention as Jessica Wongso was convicted of poisoning her friend Mirna Salihin with cyanide-laced coffee, and it is more popularly known as the Jessica Wongso case. Now, Netflix has turned this intriguing case into a documentary titled “Ice Cold: Murder, Coffee, and Jessica Wongso,” airing since September 28, 2023, rekindling public interest in the matter.

However, many people remain curious about why cyanide is so deadly and where it originates. Cyanide has a long history as a hazardous substance, even in scientific circles.

The History of Cyanide

According to the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, cyanide is a natural chemical found in several plants. It possesses lethal properties when inhaled as a gas, ingested in solid form, or encountered topically.

Scientists first successfully extracted cyanide in 1782 when they isolated it. Cyanide is a compound consisting of a carbon atom triple-bonded to a nitrogen atom. It occurs naturally and can be produced by bacteria, fungi, algae, and is present in various plants, grains, and fruits such as bamboo, cassava, bitter almonds, apples, and peaches.

Despite its toxicity, cyanide has found utility in various industries and medicine. It is used in pesticide production and is a component of several industrial chemicals. In the medical field, cyanide can be found in medications like sodium nitroprusside, which is used to treat high blood pressure.

Cyanide as a Lethal Weapon

The use of The Origin of Cyanide as a lethal weapon dates back centuries. During the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero (37-68 AD), cyanide-containing cherry laurel water was employed as poison. In the 1870-1871 Franco-Prussian War, Napoleon III ordered his troops to dip bayonets in cyanide poison. In World War I, both French and Austrian forces used it. During World War II, Nazi Germany utilized Zyklon B, a cyanide-containing rodenticide, to exterminate millions of people.

In more recent times, the 1978 Jonestown Massacre claimed 909 lives, with cyanide believed to be the cause, whether through mass murder or mass suicide.

Cyanide was used in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War against the Kurdish population in Iraq and Syria. In 1995, the Aum Shinrikyo cult spread cyanide in a Tokyo subway station restroom.

How Cyanide Works as a Poison

Years of scientific The Origin of Cyanide research have revealed the mechanism of cyanide poisoning. Cyanide disrupts the electron transport chain within mitochondria in human cells. It impairs the body’s ability to extract energy from oxygen, specifically by binding to cytochrome oxidase, preventing the body from utilizing oxygen, leading to swift death.

Releasing cyanide gas into the air can be lethal to individuals exposed to levels of 2,500-5,000 mg·min/m³ for hydrogen cyanide and 11,000 mg·min/m³ for cyanogen chloride. When ingested as sodium or potassium cyanide, a lethal dose can range from 100-200 mg.

Symptoms of Cyanide Poisoning

Cyanide acts rapidly, causing death within seconds when inhaled as a gas and minutes when ingested as a solid compound. It profoundly affects the central nervous system (CNS) and the cardiovascular system:

Central Nervous System (CNS): Headaches, anxiety, restlessness, confusion, weakness, seizures, and coma.

Cardiovascular System: Decreased inotropy, bradycardia followed by reflex tachycardia, hypotension, and pulmonary edema.

Other Symptoms: Acute lung injury, nausea and vomiting, cherry-red skin color.

Survivors may suffer from Parkinson’s disease, ataxia, optic atrophy, and other neurological disorders.

Cyanide Poisoning Treatment

In cases of cyanide exposure, immediate action is crucial. Victims should be moved away from the contaminated area, clothing removed, and skin washed with soap and water. If ingestion is suspected, activated charcoal can be administered to prevent absorption from the digestive tract.

Hydroxocobalamin (Cyanokit), which contains cobalt (vitamin B12), and the Cyanide Antidote Kit comprising sodium nitrate and sodium thiosulfate are antidotes commonly used to counter cyanide poisoning.

In summary, the Jessica Wongso case and the Netflix documentary have brought cyanide back into the public eye, prompting questions about its deadly nature and historical significance. Cyanide, a lethal chemical with a long history, continues to intrigue and terrify as we unravel its mysteries and learn about its devastating effects.