|MadSci Network: Biochemistry|
You pose an interesting question. Apparently the use of arsenic in the 18th century has not been very widely documented. I did find a reference to it in a review of "The Pursuit of Oblivion: A global history of narcotics," by Richard Davenport-Hines (W. W. Norton, publisher). Apparently arsenic was believed to increase a gentleman's sexual potency. This could lead to an unfortunate psychological addiction -- a desperate individual with strong feelings of inadequacy might be compelled to partake out of the drug out of an obsessive need to improve his performance. One might think that shockingly short-sighted, but then, how many unhappy men in today's society eagerly purchase shady "generic viagra" from the internet when those pills have an equal chance of being filled with powdered sugar or rat poison? Among the symptoms of arsenic poisoning I have noted in several references "euphoria" and "delirium." A craving for these sensations might indeed cause a person to become addicted to the drug, although it is difficult to understand why. Other symptoms include severe abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and a host of other very nasty things. Once again, one might be shocked to imagine that someone would knowingly ingest a deadly poison simply to get a cheap high, but today, we have some people who engage in "huffing," or deliberately inhaling the solvent vapors from aerosol paint cans. Huffing can also produce some of the symptoms seen with arsenic poisoning, yet people still do it. As for face whitening, that will not lead to a true addiction, unless one assumes that being a slave to fashion is equivalent to an addiction. It has been repoted that Elizabeth I of England used an arsenic-based cosmetic to give her face its characteristic white appearance. Apparently she did not ingest or absorb a sufficient amount to cause toxic effects. Is anyone addicted to arsenic in modern times? It is possible, but I would believe that such are few and far between. Arsenic has gained so foul a reputation that most people panic at its very utterance. Wouldn't people die before becoming addicted? Not necessarily. If they manage to stick to small doses at first, such that they can experience the euphoric effects without the unpleasant side-effect of death, they will happily try it again and again and again. We see the same thing with huffing, as people do it over and over, slowly taking in more and more of the toxin in the pursuit of more potent "highs," until they inhale a lethal dose.
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