Cyanide can cause serious health effects and even death, thus it’s poisonous.
Although you are likely exposed to various cyanide compounds more often than you might think, causes of cyanide poisoning is usually a result of an intentional act, e.g. chemical weapon, assassination or suicide. Otherwise, the typical exposure to cyanide is at a level your body can rapidly get rid of.
Cyanide does not accumulate, so chronic exposure will not result in toxicity because of a buildup. Yet, chronic sub-lethal cyanide poisoning may cause certain health effects, such as:
Routinely, cyanide compounds are inhaled or consumed from a variety sources, but not typically in an amount necessary to cause noticeable cyanide poisoning symptoms. Some cyanide containing sources include:
- engine exhaust
- extracting gold & silver from ore
- cigarette smoke (tobacco leaves)
- produced by bacteria, fungi, algae
- in solution to develop photographs
- manufacture synthetic rubber, textiles
- products used to remove artificial nails
Cyanide can also be found in foods, for instance:
- lima beans
- large fruit pits
- cassava roots
- bamboo shoots
Because these contain relatively low amounts of cyanide in a normal serving, eating them is not likely to cause poisoning symptoms or health effects.
The effect of cyanide is it blocks cells from receiving their life sustaining oxygen. And the resulting health effects from it depends on how you were exposed, how much, how long and in what form. As such, lower end cyanide poisoning causes symptoms of:
- fast heart rate
- nausea & vomiting
- bitter almond breath odor
A life threatening dose of cyanide poisoning causes a far more serious range of symptoms, like convulsions, severe hypotension, lowered heart rate, unconsciousness, coma, respiratory failure and cardiac arrest.