20.9.08

Suicide do's and dont's: Seven drugs, poisons, and other chemicals that are great to kill yourself with, provided you are into that sort of thing

Obligatory Disclaimer: The intention of this post is not to provide instructions on how to end your life. If you are seeking such information, there are plenty of places to find it on the Internet.

My personal view (since you obviously want to know) on suicide is that sometimes it's okay, particularly as a means of relieving terminal pain and suffering. However, it does bum me out when someone with a potentially treatable mental illness takes their life. I'm not saying that drugs can fix everyone, or even really 'fix' people at all, but they do have the potential to increase an individual's quality of life.

Anyway, if you're thinking about kicking your own bucket, perhaps I could humbly suggest two things? First, do some research. The Wikipedia article on sucide isn't a bad place to start. Or maybe it is, I'm not an expert. Second, there's this thing called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It's capitalized because it's important! If you want to give them a call, their number is 1-800-273-TALK. Just saying.

Okay, back to drugs. To complement my previous post, here are the "do's" of chemical-based suicide. I've kept it to single chemicals, so effective synergistic combos like ethanol and Valium have been excluded.

7. Old school tricyclic antidepressants
As far as prescription drugs go, these suckers are pretty darn toxic. They are associated with a higher rate of death in the event of an overdose relative to the newer nontricyclic antidepressants (e.g. SSRIs such as Zoloft or Prozac) [1]. In this regard, of all the tricyclics, desipramine (aka Norpramin or Pertofrane) is apparently the most 'effective'.

6. General anaesthetics
Ever been put under? They tell you to start counting down from 10, and you're out cold at 8. If your anesthesiologist is actually a highly deceptive, remarkably agile, incredibly intelligent, and yet stunningly incompetent grizzly bear, then it's likely that your heart stops around 2. Acquisition may be a challenge, but otherwise it's probably just a matter of making sure you push enough to shut your brain (and heart, and lungs) down permanently.

5. Any narcotic solvent (diethyl ether, chloroform, benzene, etc.)
The American government just had to go and make it confusing, but from a pharmacological standpoint, a narcotic is essentially any substance that in appreciably large quantities produces euphoria, stupor, and/or coma. Up the dose a little bit more, and add death to that list.

4. gamma-Hydroxybutyrate (GHB)
A big ol' bolus will cause rapid unconsciousness, respiratory depression, and heart failure. Vomiting and convulsions may occur but generally only while you're unconscious, so no biggie. In short, a big mess for whoever cleans you up but a built-in fail-safe (aspirating on your vomit) as far as ending things goes.

3. Opioids (heroin, morphine, fentanyl, etc.)
The primary purpose of these drugs are to numb pain, which is a good place to start when you're looking to meet the reaper.

2. Barbiturates
The number one choice of doctors who end their lives [2].

1. Carbon monoxide
Puts you to sleep before it knocks you off, is readily available (see: gas ovens, running vehicles in the garage, etc.), and you don't even have to swallow or inject something. There's a reason they make detectors for it.

[1] Kapur S, Mieczkowski T, Mann JJ. (1992). Antidepressant medications and the relative risk of suicide attempt and suicide. JAMA 268(24): 3441-3445.
[2] Hawton K, Clements A, Simkin S, Malmberg A. (2000). Doctors who kill themselves: a study of the methods used for suicide. QJM 93(6): 351-357. (link)

14 chemically inspired comments:

milkshake said...

Carbon monoxide poisoning will make you beautifully pink even many weeks later - you will never turn ghastly bluish like the other corpses. (The same carbon monoxide trick is used to treat fresh tuna sold in supermarkets, to prevent it from ever going brown). The downside of CO poisoning is that - should you get resuscitated - you likely end up with specific brain damage resulting in blindness, poor coordination, slurred speech and dementia. I have seen footage of CO poisoning survivors and it wasn't pretty.

Nitrogen-induced hypoxia suicide is much safer alternative IMHO, completely reversible until you die. And it happened (by accident) to lot of folks in the industry and they haven't noticed it.

Succesful suicide prevents the hair loss.

richard77 said...

How about ammonia? If I remember well, it has depressing effects on breath center.
Also tv crime series writers seems to agree on effectiveness of potassium chloride (injection required).

PS: I'm the commenter on the previous post. I also don't condone suicide, and I was not looking for advice.

Anonymous said...

I'm an aspiring writer who's fascinated by poisons (there's something seductive about substances that can kill you slowly and quietly). I need a recommendation, however. If you lived at the turn of the 20th century and wanted to create a poison essentially from scratch, how would you do it? How would you even go about it? I've been reading up on poisonous plants--hemlock, of course, foxglove, nightshade, etc.--would that be the best method? What are the effects of ingestion? Are there any other items that would have been available in a Victorian house that would work more efficiently than these plants?

Thank you so much. This is an amazing site you have here.

milkshake said...

In Victorian times they had much better selection than nowadays - arsenic, strychnin, morphin. One of the favorite poison plants was Wolfbane - it is easy to extract a highly potent taste-free poison from its roots, the aconitin is difficult to detect and produces symptoms of heart attack, the plant is very common and has been grown as a decorative plant in back yards. I remember Wolfbane was mentioned in the whodunit stories before - one particularly insidious poisoning plot involved bees being placed intentionally next to flowering Wolfbane, to produce poisonous honey.

Anonymous said...

What about Potassium Chloride, as written on another web site?....

Potassium Chloride (Injected In Solution)
Dosage: not known (try 20cc injection of strong solution)
Time: Seconds to minutes
Available: Widely available
Certainty: Certain given correct dosage
Notes: Causes heart attack (which is painful). May be difficult for coroner to realise it was suicide rather than a natural heart attack. An excess of K+ in the blood interferes with nerve signals, and stops muscles and nerves from working. So when it reaches your heart, the heart stops.

milkshake said...

Grossly elevated potassium in blood is easy to find post mortem if one is looking for it. You need to inject it intravenously and that will leave a mark. The injection is searingly painful because of the high salinity. Thats why convicts condemned to lethal injection are given strong general anethetic and a muscle paralysis agent first - so that they dont wriggle with pain, when finished off with KCl.

I think the most reliable/painless method is a BASE jump without a shute. Leaves a mess though.

BloodyTrollop said...

Hi There! I'm writing a story right now that I hope you can help me with. You see my main character is a bartender who has a very large collection of poisons and drugs. While looking for some interesting ones, I found your blog.

This may be a little forward of me but could we talk poison sometime? I love all the strange affects these things can have over people. Even thought and reason can be chemically overridden. My email's anime_wolf@hotmail.com, I really do hope we can chat.

Richard T said...

carbon monoxide is meant to be painful,
but if you want a pain free and pleasant (as it gets) death Nitrogen is the way to go hypoxia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitrogen#Safety

there was a documentary on the tv in the UK about the death penalty and the show found the gas was the best

Anonymous said...

Is it weird that this was the last article?

Synchronium said...

Great post.

You mentioned table salt in your previous article as something not to kill yourself with, but reduced sodium table salt would be a great addition to this post.

It's mainly KCl instead of NaCl. If you were to inject a saturated solution of that into your blood, the massive increase in potassium concentrations would almost certainly stop your heart.

I'm sure I read somewhere that it's KCl + Anaesthetic that's used in those euthanasia clinics around the world.

Diggitt said...

The May 15, 1965 New Yorker Magazine, in Annals of Medicine (by Berton Roueche) told an amazing story. An farmer in the Ozarks grafted tomatoes onto Jimson weed rootstock so that he would get a longer tomato-growing season.

Jimson weed (Datura stramonium) is a cousin to tomato, so the farmer's taxonomy was on target, sort of. However, the secondary metabolites of Jimson weed include atropine, hyoscyamine and scopolamine, and they wound up in the tomato fruit. The first tomato of the season pretty much wiped out the farmer's family.

It's a fascinating story. At the time Roueche wrote about it, I don't recall that the actual mechanism -- why the poisons wound up so concentrated in the alien fruit -- was known, but it may be now.

I found the whole story so interesting (including the historical elements of early European thinking that the tomato was poison)that I got my NY state botany certification with studies of the Solanaceae.

Anonymous said...

I've always felt that aside from suicide induced by exposure to extreme cold (such as on a mountain summit, or outdoors in a severely cold climate), an ideal method of preference would be through use of a one-way breathing circuit fitted with a C02 absorbing canister. A colleague used something along these lines many years ago to end his own life (he was a medical pulmonologist). Visualise a schematic that features a rubber, over-the-head mask fitted to a breathing hose (such as that found on the surplus Russian GP-5 or GP-6 gas mask); after the exhalation valve is tightly sealed shut on the mask, the distal end of the mask's breathing inlet hose is connected to a circular breathing circuit that features an in-line C02 absorbing canister (filled with color-indicating soda lime granules) and an in-line breathing reservoir (of about 50 liters capacity, such as in a small latex meteorological balloon). The breathing circuit also features two one-way check valves to keep respired gas circulating in the same direction. Since C02 provides the body's principal chemoreceptor warning of pending asphyxiation (and spurs increased respiratory efforts), the person using such a circuit would (in theory) feel none of the anxious, 'breathless' sense of panic that a hypercapnic state normally provokes as the available 02 in the circuit continues to be consumed. Assuming the C02 absorber is up to the task of scrubbing rebreathed room-air of all the exhaled C02 while the circuit is in use, and assuming the reservoir of room-air provided is sufficient to the task as well, the user should soon succumb to asphyxia without undue discomfort. Unconsciousness ensues well before terminal hypoxemia occurs (eg. death). Of course, any premature disruption of the process (prior to actual death) may leave the user alive, but in a state of severe permanent brain vegetation, so such an assembly is NOT to be attempted without a great deal of careful planning and calculation beforehand. The physical assembly of a system like this is rather easy to cobble together from available pulmonary hardware, but the usual warnings apply: "Kids, don't try this at home! Professional suicide by professional (and DETERMINED) death-wish pursuer."

Anonymous said...

This is your last post... gross irony? Graduated? Well regardless, as a Canadian I'd like to see more posts (:

Anonymous said...

Hi, Thanks for the post! my mum recently killed herself via carbon monoxide poisoning, and as painful as it was for me, i needed to know what happened and how etc...and to see CO is on the list of "do's" can somewhat ease a teeny edge off knowing she wasnt awake or slowly dying and things..and interesting someone says that u are left pink, as i wondered why her fingertips etc were still rosey..anyways thanks..from a women confused in N.Z...