“Everything is poison, everything is medicine. Both are determined by the dose. ” These words are attributed to the particular famous Swiss physician, alchemist and forerunner of modern pharmacology, Paracelsus. When people talk about the “most dangerous substance”, in most cases they think of the poisons cyanide, arsenic or tetrodotoxin. Although these are quite strong poisons, they are not the most harmful.
The most lethal substance will be botulinum toxin. It is the strongest organic toxic known to science. It takes 1 nanogram per kilogram associated with mass, or one billionth of a gram per kilogram of mass, to produce a lethal dose. Although botulinum toxin is deadly to humans, it is used medically to treat neurological disorders. Also, this substance is widely used in cosmetology in order to fight wrinkles. Of course, in these cases a purified and weakened toxin is used, which is administered to the person within microdoses.
How the biggest poison became the elixir of youth
In December 2021, one of the particular creators of Botox – the ophthalmologist Alan Scott – died. He was looking for a cure for squint, but the world fell in love with his medication not because of that. How was the deadly botulinum toxin tamed, and why is it not just to fight wrinkles? The word “Botox” has long since become a household word. And only 30 years ago, people thought the very idea of injecting a bit of poison straight into their face has been crazy. After all, Botox is actually made up of the same contaminant that accumulates in puffy jars and other spoiled products.
The particular Sausage Problem
In the particular 18th century, a wave of outbreaks of a mysterious disease engulfed Germany. Patients’ vision deteriorates, their eyelids droop, it becomes difficult for them to speak and swallow. Many suffer from great weakness. In particularly severe cases, paralysis of the respiratory muscles leads to death. At first, out of habit, the residents blame the witches. But there are those who do not accept this explanation. Germany at that time was conquered by the ideas from the Enlightenment. Universities train doctors that seek in order to rationally explain observed phenomena. One of them is Justinus Kerner. Right after graduating from university, he worked as a doctor in the small town and, because befits an enlightened person, wrote poetry and played music. But he goes down in history thanks to botulism research. Kerner became interested in the particular mysterious poisonings and began collecting information about them. Justinus works like a true contemporary scientist: after describing dozens of cases, this individual suggests that will the fault lies in a toxic substance in unfresh sausage. Then he conducted experiments on animals, isolated and described the “sausage toxin” (the name of the disease – botulism – comes through the Latin word botulus, “sausage”). Kerner found that the toxin did not really affect the cognitive abilities plus sensory systems from the patients, but weakened their muscle tissue, which was the cause associated with the paralysis. Through painstaking experiments, he or she concluded that the particular poison blocked signals within the nervous system, thereby disrupting what he called the chemical process of life. “This poison disrupts the conduction of nerves in the same way that rust destroys the particular properties of an electrical conductor, ” he wrote. But Kerner doesn’t stop there. He was the first to propose the medical application of the particular toxin – for the treatment of diseases associated with involuntary movements. Kerner writes, with regard to example, that will in very small doses the particular toxin can alleviate the symptoms of the so-called dance of Saint Vitus (rheumatic chorea). Kerner’s conjectures were brilliantly confirmed many years later – but were simply ignored in his day.
The failed weapon
In the 20th hundred years, botulinum contaminant attracted the attention of the particular military. Laboratory experiments show that it is the most powerful organic toxic known in order to mankind. According to research by the particular American Medical Association, just 1 g of the material in crystalline form is usually enough to kill a million people. If dispersed from the air in the form of an aerosol, it may neutralize a good entire army. In the 1930s, Japan built an extensive study complex to study biological weapons in Manchuria. Director Shiro Ishii admits to exposing Chinese, Korean and American prisoners in order to botulinum toxin.
Anti-Hitler intelligence had serious (but as it turns out, groundless) suspicions that the Nazis were also studying this poison and planned to use this against infantry. After the particular end associated with World War II, it was United states military chemists who learned how in order to synthesize botulinum toxin type A. Ironically, type A was the most lethal, but it would later be used for facial rejuvenation because it worked best on motor neurons. A few decades later on, the UN General Assembly banned the development, production and stockpiling of toxic weapons, including botulinum contaminant. But the particular specialists remain. One of these specialists, Ed Shantz, who was involved in the purification of the toxin, got a job at the particular University associated with Wisconsin. In the 1970s, ophthalmologist Alan Scott, who had been working upon a drug for strabismus, wrote to him. In that time, the only effective treatment had been eye muscle surgery. Scott was looking for a less invasive method plus came across a good article about botulinum contaminant. In search of the substance itself, he comes across Shantz, who else, without much thought, sends him powder with the deadly poison within a metal box by regular mail. Fortunately, no one was injured.
From Oculinum in order to Botox
Initially, there is no hint of its harmful nature in the name of the particular drug. Scott registered it in the late 1972s under the brand name Oculinum to treat blepharospasm, the condition in which the eyelids freeze in a half-closed position. Oculinum contains precisely calculated microdoses of botulinum toxin. When injected into a muscle, it disturbs nerve conduction and the spasm disappears. From the same time, individuals immediately notice the side effect from the preparation: smoothing associated with “crow’s feet” around the eyes. But Scott himself does not attach any importance to this particular – and perhaps misses the chance to become a billionaire. Just two years after registering the drug, he sold it to the Allergan Corporation, which makes contact lenses along with other eye care products. Yet Botox appeared thanks to the persistence of sufferers. Once an angry patient came to Canadian ophthalmologist Jane Carruthers. “You didn’t fix what I have here, ” she says, pointing in order to the crease between her eyebrows. Carruthers doesn’t immediately understand what’s going on. “When you inject the particular drug, I get this beautiful, calm look on my face, ” the patient explains. Carruthers told her dermatologist husband about the experience plus quietly started practicing “beauty injections” on her patients and herself. According to legend, Ronald Reagan himself was among the first connoisseurs of such procedures. But this is unlikely. By 1990, Carruthers had only ten regular patients. At this time it is definitely very difficult to find volunteers even for analysis. “The typical reaction from people was, ‘What? What do you want to inject into the wrinkles? Isn’t it the deadly poison? ” shares Carruthers. The pair presented the first results in a meeting of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery within 1991, yet their colleagues dismissed this as a “crazy idea” that would lead nowhere. But the details about the rejuvenating effect leaked to the particular press. Within 1997, The particular New York Times published an article using the eloquent headline: “The Drought can be Over, Botox Has Arrived. ” Botox (as Allergan gives it its name) did not receive official approval for cosmetic use until 2002, when the company managed to convince regulatory authorities that the injections were safe. By this time, Botox had already unofficially treated a large number of conditions, albeit related in order to muscle spasms: from migraines to bedwetting.
The paradoxes of pharmaceuticals
Today, Botox is primarily known for its application regarding aesthetic rather than medical purposes. It is often associated along with the unnaturally young faces of stars and politicians, specific face expressions plus sometimes with news regarding victims associated with unscrupulous cosmetologists, and the procedure itself is offered not only in clinics, but also in spa centers, manicure salons and even in commercial centers. Since the particular botulinum contaminant penetrates all the muscle groups it can “reach”, the result can be unpredictable if the needle is not inserted correctly or the particular dosage is certainly not determined. Side effects occur within one in six customers. Among all of them – retraction of the eyelids, a feeling of freezing, the “flowing” smile, difficulty swallowing and speech, headache and nausea. In 2003 plus 2004, the FDA actually sent Allergan a requirement to reduce the particular risk associated with side effects. There is furthermore evidence that will the risk of negative effects increases along with frequent use. But the demand is only growing – according to the American Community of Plastic Surgeons, the number of Botox injections has increased by a third since 2010 among young people aged 20 to 29. Meanwhile, new healing properties of botulinum toxin have been discovered in recent years. In 2010, they approved the injection of Botox into the particular neck and head intended for the prevention of chronic migraines. And recently, an international group associated with scientists verified its antidepressant effect (this was also suggested earlier). Within patients which received Botox injections to get various purposes, symptoms of anxiety plus depression had been reduced simply by 22-72%. The exact mechanism is not really fully understood, but 1 hypothesis states that when the brain does not receive a signal through “tense muscles”, the processing of negative emotions within the brain is disrupted. Actually, in the particular same many years that this Carruthers were touting the aesthetic benefits of Botox, scientists discovered an unexpected impact of another already popular drug. In 1992, sildenafil, which has been tested since a heart drug, had been found to improve blood flow in the pelvic area. This is how our familiar Viagra appears.
“Life will be a mystery – states Alan Scott in a single of his rare interviews. – Anything can happen and that’s fascinating. ”
Photo: Landjäger German sausage by cottonbro / pexels.