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So I have a scene where someone gets poisoned. I want the poison to have a couple qualities:

  1. It works fast, with in the span of a meal be to exact

  2. It can be put in food or drink, either covered up or without a taste or smell

  3. It has noticeable effects that people would assume is poison and not say an illness, i.e. choking or foaming out the mouth or something like that, leading up to death.

  4. It's easy to get a hold of.

  5. Preferably, but not as important, it should be available/has been invented/discovered by 1920

I'm already aware of cyanide, which works for most of this, but I'm looking for other possible options so I'm not constrained to one thing. So does anyone know any poisons that fit this description?

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A readily available reference is the works of Agatha Christie. People have even made on-line lists of the poisons she used in her works, e.g. https://owlcation.com/humanities/The-Poisons-of-Agatha-Christe

Perhaps the most obvious is strychnine "Strychnine blocks motor neuron post-synaptic receptors in the spinal cord’s central horn, antagonising inhibitory tone. Uncontrollable muscle contractions result, classically beginning with trismus and risus sardonicus, then spreading distally, with contractions increasing in frequency and intensity. Death occurs some two - three hours after exposure..."

Good old reliable arsenic can be used in high dosage to cause rapid death, with fairly obvious symptoms. It can also be used in lower doses for a chronic poisoning.

Monkshood and hemlock act fairly quickly, and have the additional advantage of being readily available if one gardens. There are many other garden plants that are poisonous, with more or less immediate & obvious symptoms. Yew is quite common, as is oleander in climates warmer & wetter than mine.

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Strychnine

It's been known since the 18th century. It's got well-known dramatic effects. It takes effect quickly. It's easy enough to get ahold of, if you have access to the right plants.

Seems like it fits the bill.

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If you can stretch the date a little, go with a nerve agent like VX. It's usually used in gas form but there's no reason you couldn't put liquid VX in someone's drink. It's deadly even just from skin contact, so even if it tastes bad and they spit it out, they will likely still die. 10 milligrams is lethal. The symptoms are pretty obvious if you know what you're looking for, I won't link to any videos of it because they're pretty gruesome, but you should be able to find them. VX is also deadly very quickly, symptoms start in seconds, respiratory and cardiac arrest in minutes. Antidotes do exist, but a bunch of party guests at a fancy gala aren't likely to have them. They won't be able to do much of anything but watch as the target loses control of his bodily functions, starts seizing uncontrollably, then stops breathing.

One big downside is that since it is lethal just from skin contact and in such small doses means it may be difficult to avoid collateral damage. The chefs and waiters who prepared that food might die too. I think the whole kitchen staff collapsing might tip off the target that something was amiss.

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Ambroise Pare is called the "Father of Surgery". He recounts in in Apologie and Treatise an experiment he did to prove to the King that bezoar was not an antidote to all poison. The poison is "sublimate" or sublimate of mercury. It sticks in my mind as a pretty graphic account of rapid poisoning.

...it was an easy matter to make trial hereof on such as were condemned to be hanged. The motion pleased the King; there was a Cooke brought by the Jailor who was to have been hanged within a while after for stealing two silver dishes out of his masters house. Yet the King desired first to know of him, whether he would take the poison on this condition, that if the Antidote which was predicated to have singular power against all manner of poisons, which should be presently given him after the poison, should free him from death, that then he should have his life saved. The Cooke answered chearfuUy, that he was "willing to undergo the hazzard, yea, and greater matters. not only for to save his life, but to shun the infamy of the death he was like to be adjudged to.

Therefore he then had poyson given him by the Apothecarie that then waited, and presently after the poyson, some of the Bezahar brought from Spain, which being taken down, within a while after he began to vomit, and to void much by stoole with grievous torments, and to cry out that his inward parts were burnt with fire. Wherefore, being thirsty, and desiring water, they gave it him; an houre after, with the good leave of the Jaylor, I was admitted to him; I find him on the ground going like a beast upon hands and feet, with his tongue thrust forth of his mouth, his eyes fierie, vomiting, with store of cold sweats, and lastly, the bloud flowing forth by his eares, nose, mouth, fundament and yard. I gave him eight ounces of oile to drinke, but it did him no good, for it came too late. Wherefore at length he died with great torment and exclamation, the seventh houre from the time that he tooke the poison being scarcely passed. I opened his body in the presence of the Jailor and foure odiers, and I found the botome of his stomacke blacke and dry, as if it had beene burnt with a Cautery; whereby I understood he had sublimate given him; whose force the Spanish Bezahar could not represse, wherefore the King commanded to burn it.

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  • $\begingroup$ Turns out that the substance in question, mercuric chloride, was used medicinally in the 1920s. How science marches on. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Mar 31 at 14:23
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There is a type of spider that you may have heard of that has very potent venom: The Black Widow. This Spiders' venom is a neurotoxin that, within minutes of ingesting or being bitten, show: Stiffness of muscles, nausea, difficulty breathing, excessive sweating,Rash and itching, swollen eyelids, weakness or tremors, and sometimes, paralysis. this all happens between the range of minutes to hours, depending on the symptom. If you could harvest it, it would be very potent for use in warfare. I hope this answers your question.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm pretty certain you're wrong about the "ingesting" bit. Like many other natural venoms it is a big molecule that can't easily pass into circulation exception via injection, and is readily denatured by digestive juices. Unless you're serving canapes with live angry spiders in them, it is a poor choice for a party poison. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Mar 31 at 10:58

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