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Suicide by Aconite
Snape
dancing_chimera wrote in little_details
A healthy nineteen-year-old boy who is average height and boarder-line overweight is trying to kill himself by eating aconite. So, assuming that he sits down with a bunch of it and starts eating it with the intention of continuing to eat it at a normal pace until he can't any longer, in what order and how long after he begins eating will the symptoms set in? How long until he's dead? Is there any particular quantity the boy is going to want to eat if he wants to be absolutely sure that he has no chance of surviving, or will a relatively small amount of the stuff almost certainly kill him, as long as it's left untreated? Will the amount of aconite he ingests affect the time that it takes for it to kill him? If it will, what's the shortest amount of time that might believably pass from the moment he starts eating the aconite to the moment he's dead, and how much/how quickly would he have to eat to achieve that? Also, how will it change things if instead of eating the plant I have him handling it with an open wound on his hand?

This would be in England, circa 2000, but no one is going to find him soon enough to give him any medical attention. (And yes, I know aconite was far from the most popular way to kill yourself in 2000, but it makes sense for this character.)

Search Terms: Aconite, aconite poising, suicide with aconite, aconite kill time, etc. I've got a decent handle on what the symptoms are, but no idea how quickly they'll occur.

You might want to try Monkshood poisoning as the search term. It's the most common name, particularly within the UK.

I found this if it helps you:
http://www.thepoisongarden.co.uk/atoz/aconitum_napellus.htm

Can I ask, why aconite? It's not the most recognisable or accessible plant, I'd have thought that if a UK person were determined to kill themselves with a plant based poison they go with Yew. It's much, much, easier to find and recognise, and very well known as a dangerous tree.

Thanks. I'll try that. That link still doesn't have a good timeline of the death, though.

It not being recognizable or accessible is not really going to be a problem here. The character in question is very knowledgeable about this sort of thing and he'll definitely have plenty of options for getting his hands on some. Yew being more recognizable is actually a bit of a problem here, since I want the death to be initially ruled accidental. Only his friends are going to realize that he must have known what he was doing because, well, it's him. (Also, Yew has some other important associations in canon and I'm not really sure I want to go there...)

Depending on how much of the toxin is ingested (and if he's eating relatively steadily, as you described) and considering even a very small amount is toxic, a realistic time-line from inital ingestion to death would be about an hour. Handling the plant with an open wound might work, but AFAIK you'd be better off having him actually ingest the plant if it's actually going to be lethal. The symptoms are very similar to strychnine poisoning with dizziness, headaches, vomiting (although there have been cases of fatal poisonings with no vomiting at all), on to paralysis, convulsions and blood circuit failure. It also leaves no traces in the blood, and the victim might appear to have died of asphyxia.

Plant toxins also vary in concentration depending on time of harvest and part of the plant, which is why old recipes, herbalist references, and medical texts were fairly specific about what would work and how to harvest it. I understand aconite roots and seeds are more poisonous than the leaves, both of them fairly woody. I'm uncertain how much he would have to ingest of either, or how big a typical garden plant would be. Gardeners who keep such things will certainly notice it if he mowed down an entire six or eight-foot row of big lush plants, but given the right planting of evidence, such as mounds of dirt etc., they might be induced to mistake the culprits for moles or deer.
However, having to cut it up or grind it up just to be able to swallow it (if it is too woody to bite it off--I an unclear on this myself) might leave evidence that could be discovered later for plot purposes.
Regular garden aconite, aka monkshood, is one of 250 species (per wiki) and it is a distinctive plant to the more expert perennial gardeners of the UK and Canada. Skilled gardeners are well aware of plants that should only be grown in fenced sinister gardens, so just a fragment of leaf left somewhere would be enough to draw suspicion among that crowd.
There are small aconites known as wildflowers in the Appalachians and the Pacific NW, but it is uncertain how effective they might be as poison sources. Local herb people would be experts on that.
In the US, knowledge of the garden variety aconite would vary enormously by area. It would be much less known in the semi-arid desert Southwest, places anywhere south of Santa Barbara for instance, and eastward probably into Kentucky or so, based on their environmental requirements.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aconitum

Plant toxins also vary in concentration depending on time of harvest and part of the plant, which is why old recipes, herbalist references, and medical texts were fairly specific about what would work and how to harvest it.

Yep, true, that's still valid today. However, that's more relevant if you're simply having to take care to get a therapeutic dose of an alkaloid without killing off the patient. Consuming larger amounts of monkshood is going to be toxic any way you look at it, since aconite is one of the most lethal toxins in the plant kingdom, and it takes very little. Wasn't there an actor not long ago, who died from mistaking monkshood for a different plant? I'm guessing he ate just a very small amount of the leaves, not entire rows of plants (plus, the leaves are very bitter so it'd be hard to eat large amounts accidentally, they'd just taste too bad to be palatable at all). As to the size of the plants, I'm not sure about US species. The types I've seen growing wild here (Germany) are seldom over a meter tall, measured including the stalk with the blooms, and most are around half that size.

I would stick with aconite, it's the most potent and quickest with least nasty side effects I have found yet. Bear strongly in mind blinding headaches, and other nasty effects while you wait, alcohol may help. Quickest best way is heroin od + be very drunk before you do it - this shouldn't fail, but if it does try it with the aconite as well, im assuming blinding headaches wont be felt when knocked out with heroin, which is a very strong pain killer.

If you (whoever) wish to suffer, just take a 3 mile walk into the middle of nowhere in the countryside, then take the aconite alone + sit by a tree.