Does anyone know....what are some physical signs that someone has died from cyanide poisoning? Assuming that the character (since we are writers!) died from injesting cyanide, what tell-tale signs would someone/anyone notice on the body? Purple around the lips? Burning/blisters around the mouth? Skin color? Any specific smells that the cyanide would be responsible for?

Thanks to all!

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If you search for cyanide in this book, page 14 has what you want. Actually, if you're planning on learning more about poisons from a writer's perspective, this book is a great resource and worth buying.
There is a handy little book called "The Book of Poisons" Published by Writers Digest. Invaluable!

Cyanide:

Potassium cyanide, sodium and hydrogen are the most common. Prussic acid is hydrogen cyanide or hydrocyanic acid.

Note: Prussic Acid mimics a heart attach when inhaled.

Toxicity is 6 (very bad)

it can be swallowed, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin. It is generally released from its host compound by acids, such as the hydrochloric acid found in the stomach. The poison in the seeds is released only if the seeds are chewed.

Effects and symptoms:
Cyanide prevents the red blood cells from absorbing oxygen. It is called chemical asphyxia.
Smelling of a toxic dose of the gas can cause immediate unconsciousness, convulsions and death within one to fifteen minutes.
If swallowed a fatal dose can take up to twenty minutes or longer, esp. if swallowed on a full stomach.
If a near-lethal dose is absorbed through the skin, inhaled or swallowed the symptoms will include gasping for breath, dizziness, flushing, headache, nausea, vomiting, rapid pulse, and a drop in blood pressure causing fainting.
With a lethal dose, convulsions with in four hours, except in the case of sodium nitroprusside, when death can be delayed as long as 12 hours after ingestion. The victims blood may appear purple or cherry red, as in carbon monoxide poisoning, and the corpse may have pinker than normal skin.
the famous bitter almond odor can be a clue and maybe noticeable at autopsy, but not everyone is capable of smelling it.

****apricot kernels are associated with cyanide poisoning.

Reaction time is one to fifteen minutes depending on how much. in gas forms it can cause almost instantaneous death.

Antidote and treatment: if a victim is to be saved, treatment must begin with in 30 minutes. Many patients only get aggressive supportive care. Testing can be done but not usually in time to be any good.

In the cases where cyanide poisoning is confirmed they use amyl nitrite and an injection of sodium thiosulfate to counteract cyanides effects. However They must be used carefully as they are poisonous themselves.

Victims who live four hours will more than likely recover, although they will suffer for some time afterward from the symptoms.


I didn't see anything that mentioned purple in the mouth area. Just the blood deprived from oxygen after its all over with.

Hope this helps.

Have fun!

Deirdre
The Book of Poisons is the updated version of the Deadly Doses book. I've got it in my shelf, but I'm still working my way through Lee's book on Police Procedure and haven't gotten to it yet.

The Howdunit series is great, if you're writing crime fiction. Really useful books.
I've got a book called Forensics: A Guide For Writers by D.P. Lyle, M.D., and it says "Cyanide and carbon monoxide cause a cherry-red appearance to the blood and tissues and lead to pink lividity"

And also, "At autopsy, if the ME sees bright red blood, a reddish hue to the internal organs, and a pink lividity, he would suspect cyanide. In addition, he might detect the typical bitter almond odor of hydrogen cyanide. That is, if he is capable. Curiously, the ability to detect this odor is genetically determined ans about 50 per cent of people cannot smell it."

Also, you could read Alex Kava's Soulcatcher. She deals with the effect of cyanide poisoning very early in the book - the first chapter in fact, deals with a group of boys who kill themselves with cyanide capsules - so you might want to look at that.

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