You know this sentence which says: the difference between medicine and poison is the dose? Well, many people wonder if it’s true that if we took small doses of poison we might be immune to it.
This concern is not new and already existed in antiquity. A famous story is that of King Mithrads, a Turk terrified of being murdered: in 120 BC. J.-C., his father had been poisoned, supposedly following a conspiracy of his wife.
Traumatized, Mitriades decided to drink a small dose of poison every day in an attempt to develop immunity. He would increase the amount: one drop one day, two the next, three the next, and so on.
In a battle against Roman Empire, in 66 BC. J.-C., Mithrads is overcome and imprisoned. He is then condemned to commit suicide taking the same poison that killed his father. But since he had already developed immunity, Mithrads survived.
In his honor, this practice was called mitridization. The word refers to the process of sensitizing living organisms with increasing doses of venom, in order to develop antibodies against them. But does it always work?
Does mithridization work?
The answer is yes and no. An organism’s ability to tolerate poison will depend on its ability to metabolize that substance into a less toxic form. This is done by the liver, which contains enzymes that act on this composition. This is what the body does, for example, with the alcohol. We manage to digest it, but in large quantities it can be fatal.
This is the same principle of operation of several vaccines. one day smallpoxfor example, was discovered after an English aristocrat named Mary Wortley Montagu noticed that women in Asia applied small doses of pus to their children and therefore did not develop the disease, which was fatal.
But again, the problem is the dose and the body’s capacity. In a person who drinks frequently and in large quantities, the liver can be boosted to speed up this metabolism, creating greater tolerance. The result is that the person starts drinking more and more and eventually develops liver disease.
The man who injects snake venom
(Source: Pal Hansen)
This practice of regularly ingesting poison continues to be used today, although it is not recommended by doctors. An American musician named Steve Ludwin keeps 17 snakes in his home (15 of them poisonous) and says he’s been injecting their venom for over 30 years. The first time he did it was in 1988.
He says he believes the venom makes him look younger, but there is no scientific evidence for this. However, he regularly travels to Denmark, where a group of researchers from the University of Copenhagen takes his blood for analysis. It is expected that this research may generate a universal antidote for all snakebites.