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Strychnine formula.pngStrychnine 3d structure.png
Systematic name Strychnidin-10-one
Other names


Molecular formula C21H22N2O2
SMILES c1ccc2c(c1)[C@]34CCN5C3C[C@@H]
Molar mass 334.41158 g/mol
Appearance Translucent or white crystals or powder
CAS number 57-24-9
Density and phase 1.36 g/cm3
Solubility Water: 0.032258 g/100 ml @ 100°C
Alcohol: 0.666 g/100 ml
Benzene: 0.555 g/100 ml
Methanol: 0.38415 g/100 ml
Melting point 287°C
Boiling point 270°C
Acidity (pKa) 8.25
Hazards [3][4]
MSDS Safety data sheet
Main hazards Toxic if consumed, combustible,
produces toxic fumes when heated
NFPA 704

NFPA 704 svg.png

Flash point Non-flammable
R/S statement R: R27, R28, R50, R53 S: S36, S37, S45, S60, S61
Related compounds[5]
Other anions

Strychnine nitrate
Strychnine sulfate
Strychnine hydrochloride

Except where noted otherwise, data are given for
materials in their standard state (at 25 °C, 100 kPa)
Disclaimer and references

Strychnine is a coarse, crystalline powder known best for its use in rat poisons. Strychnine is toxic at high dosages and extremely bitter to the taste. Strychnine poisoning causes uncontrollable muscle spasms and fixed jaw muscles, amongst other symptoms. Strychnine is extracted from the seeds of the nux vomica tree mainly in India and East Asia.


Strychnine is a white to clear crystalline molecule and member of the alkaloid family. Strychnine appears as a powder or fine crystals like a powder. Strychnine is virtually insoluble in water, although given enough time, it will eventually completely dissolve. Strychnine is extremely bitter to the taste and is poisonous to humans at averages of dosages exceeding 50 mg in the average adult.


A diagram drawing of Nux vomica, native tree of India and primary source of Strychnine
The first sample of Strychnine ever isolated was by French chemists Joseph-Bienaimé Caventou and Pierre-Joseph Pelletier in 1818. They collected this amount in the Philippine islands from the vine Strychnos ignatia, commonly known as St. Ignatius's bean. [6]Today, however, strychnine is currently and most notably extracted from the roots of the nux vomica tree found primarily in India, although it can also be found in Australia, Sri Lanka, and the East Indies, among other Asian countries. [7]The seeds of the nux vomica must be dried first before Strychnine can be extracted from it. Additionally, similar species of plant, Strychnos toxifera and Strychnos spinera, both also containing Strychnine in their seeds, can be found in South America and Africa, respectively. Currently, Strychnine can be manufactured artificially in laboratories, but the process is both complicated and expensive, making it impractical for commercial production. As such, strychnine is chiefly extracted from the seeds of the nux vomica tree because of the mass quantities necessitated by the manufacturing industry.[8]


Regular oats in the middle, poisoned oats combined with various elements surrounding. Oats poisoned with strychnine in the top right have a green tint

Because of its toxic qualities, Strychnine is used most commonly and predominately as a poison. Ingestion of Strychnine stimulates increased salivary gland production in the mouth and increases gastric acid levels in the intestinal tract. Shortly after ingestion of the poison, symptoms begin to develop in as short as ten minutes and as long as two hours, although the average person begins to exhibit symptoms in twenty minutes. However, Strychnine poisoning generally develops gradually over an extended period of time. Strychnine attacks the lower part of the central nervous system, particularly the Glycine receptors, and over-stimulates the transmission of neurological impulses throughout the body. The resulting symptoms appear as the involuntarily arching the back or muscle spasms. Symptoms also include intense convulsions and loss of cognitive brain function and control over bodily functions. If left untreated, loss of respiratory control due to spasms or paralysis can cause asphyxiation and ultimately, death. Symptoms of Strychnine appear very similar to those of tetanus, but also cause the unsettling involuntary grin on the face, called risus sardonicus. [9]

In smaller mammals, most notably dogs and rats, the effects can be much more debilitating and have a much higher chance of inducing death.[10] Strychnine is the chief ingredient in most all rat poisons and is a registered pesticide in the United States Environmental Protection Agency. In rats, strychnine poisoning causes internal bleeding and corrosion of organs, killing the rat suddenly several days after ingestion. In addition to being a rodenticide, strychnine is also used for emu population control in Australia and for other various small animals. Unfortunately, many pets, mainly dogs, are also enticed by the poison and may die from ingestion as well.

Because of Strychnine's overworking of the glycine receptors, the increased nerve activity also causes increased speed and strength, acting as a stimulant to the body. As such, strychnine was used in the Olympics in the early 20th century to boost performance in races, most notably by Thomas Hicks who won the gold in the marathon event in the 1904 summer Olympics. Before the detrimental effects of strychnine were fully discovered, dosages of it were even prescribed by doctors as a tonic for increased energy. At that time, they viewed strychnine like caffeine, both having similar molecular shapes and effects. Currently, strychnine is sometimes used to stretch illicit street drugs, like cocaine, because of its abundance and effects on the nervous system.

Poison Treatment

Administration of medication intravenously by needle and IV tube

Recognizing the immediate side effects of strychnine poisoning is vital to treatment to lead to full recovery. Strychnine is detectible by its extremely bitter, slightly acidic flavor and ingestion of strychnine causes agitation, restlessness, jaw tightness, stiff or pained muscles, and difficulty almost instantly after ingestion. If symptoms of strychnine poisoning are recognized, remove the infected person's clothes, cutting them if necessary to avoid pulling the contaminated clothes over the head and face. Also, have the patient wash their whole body and face in addition to rinsing the eyes with water for 10 minutes if vision is blurred. If potentially lethal dosages may have been ingested, contact a local poison control center and take the poisoned victim to the hospital. There, doctors will extract the poison by detoxification and/or introduce intravenous fluids into the bloodstream to help control muscle spasms if necessary.


A brief video showing a procedure testing the toxicity and side effects of strychnine poisoning in toad species.


  1. Hazen, Brent. Material Safety Data Sheet Kelly Solutions. Web. Published September 9, 2009.
  2. Borges, A. Strychnine IPCS inchem. Web. Last accessed January 13, 2015.
  3. Strychnine TCI Europe N.V.. Web. Last accessed January 13, 2015.
  4. STRYCHNINE: Biotoxin Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web. Last updated November 20, 2014.
  5. strychnine PubChem. Web. Last accessed January 13, 2015. Author Unknown.
  6. Strychnine Encyclopedia Britannica. Web. Last updated July 18, 2013
  7. Facts about Strychnine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web. Last updated February 14, 2013.
  8. Makarovsky, Igor. Strychnine - A Killer from the Past Israeli Medical Association. Web. Published February 2008.
  9. However, because of the large quantity (50 mg, although some cases reported less than 16mg)of strychnine needed to be ingested to cause death, usage as a human poison is both impractical and uncommon. And although the extremely bitter taste alerts many to the presence of toxin, it can be well undetectable in alcoholic drinks. Using this method, two 19th century doctors were assassinated by Strychnine overdoses.Strychnine Electronic Medical Curriculum. Web. Last accessed January 13, 2015. Author Unknown.
  10. Overview of Strychnine Poisoning Merk Manuals. Web. Last revised November 2013. Author Unknown.