Little Details

A Fact-Checking Community for Writers

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Botulism Poisoning/Paralyzation
violentmedic wrote in little_details
Sorry if this is too similar to some of the other questions out there. (There was one relatively close, but more focused on temporary paralyzation.)

So, for something I'm writing, I wanted to know if there was a way to purposefully paralyze someone without using violence. Preferably while being as discreet as possible. Decided to focus on botulinum toxin, but just wanted some clarification on some minor details.

Research says that botulism poisoning can paralyze people (though there's of course a sizeable chance of death) and I'm assuming that it would be possible to slip someone some botulinum toxin. If that assumption is wrong, then this whole thing is basically meaningless, but wanted to just run a few questions to see if anyone know certain things.

- Would it be possible to slip the toxin in via smuggling it in with the victim's medication?
- Would it take a long time to kick in? (Given that it has to be consumed and likely can't be injected.)
- What is the worst that the victim could be paralyzed without dying? I know breathing's a problem, and arm and leg weakness and such, but I was curious as to the absolute worst without death. At least not immediate death. (Having to use one of those breathing machines is fine.)
- How long will the results, specifically the paralyzation aspect, potentially last for? Can the results be permanent?

The person in question is pretty old (sixty-eight years old, though quite spry and healthy for his age) and is often subjected to medication for psychiatric illnesses. The person inflicting the paralyzation is a therapist who is trying not to get caught doing this, has both a severe grudge against the victim and a huge fear of him, and wishes to immobilize him, preferably permanently, without killing him. Though if it does kill him eventually (but very, very eventually) that's acceptable.

If there is a better poison or medicine that can paralyze (preferably permanently) someone without killing them and can be administered discreetly, that would work just as well, but I haven't the faintest idea what'll work better. (I've had a look at some other other entries, particularly the other non-lethal paralytic poisoning one, but nothing mentioned there seems quite right for this.)

Search terms: botulism poisoning, botulinum toxin, botulism autopsy, botulism lethal amount, botulism non-lethal amount, botulism symptoms, botulism poisoning intentional, and a lot of others I can't recall off the top of my head. Alas, there are not many pages on purposefully using this to hurt people.

I feel like a lot of what I've learned about this is somehow wrong (just because I often have trouble grasping it) so I'm sorry if this is all ridiculous and impossible to answer.

This is kind of a side issue, but the usual medical term is paralysis rather than paralyzation. That would be especially so if you were talking about a permanent state, as you appear to be.

I am so pleased I wasn't the only one to think this an important issue! I was only coming at it from plain English though, rather than medical terminology, which is why I held back from saying anything before.

I knew paralyzation didn't feel right, but for some reason the word paralysis just kept slipping my mind. Thank you. : )

I very much doubt you'd be able to slip an amount into someone's food sufficient to paralyze them while not being sufficient to kill them outright, at least not deliberately.

It's the most toxic substance known to science by a pretty substantial amount - 40-60 nanograms will reliably kill. Injecting someone with a similar amount of plutonium - or antimatter, for that (though that would still be a pretty bad day) - would cause less harm. Putting it in someone's food is going to put huge uncertainties in how much of a dose of it they get. That method of poisoning someone isn't nearly as subtle as fiction often portrays it, and it would be far less so with something that potent.

That makes sense. Thanks for correcting me before I plowed ahead with writing something so ridiculous. :)

I agree with the previous comment that botulin toxin would be extremely difficult to work with because it is so potent. My understanding is that its cosmetic + therapeutic uses are by injection, where the dose and affected area can be precisely controlled.

I was going to suggest curare, but I believe its paralysis is only short term (if one survives the dose), and it also works by injection.

I think that for permanent nonlethal paralysis you would mostly have to look at injuring a major nerve or the spinal cord at a particular point, which would be difficult under the conditions you're describing.

Otherwise, I suggest researching "neurotoxins," "neurotoxicants," and "paralytic agents."

I could probably use an injection, though it would require some more thought. If it's not possible without physical injury, I'll probably look into doing something else entirely.

I'll try researching those. Thanks very much. :)

There was a case of botulism poisoning when I was in high school that I remember well because I ate the same kind of soup that caused it.

The article is from Time Magazine -,9171,905373,00.html

I snagged these paragraphs from a free version of said article at

Monday, Jul. 19, 1971
Death in Cans

The day had been stifling, so chilled vichyssoise straight from the can seemed like the perfect dish when Banker Sam Cochran, 61, and his wife Grace, 63, sat down to dinner at their Bedford Village, N.Y., home a fortnight ago. But they did not finish their shallow bowls of cold soup. It tasted spoiled, Mrs. Cochran later told their doctor.

Proper Precaution. It was. By 8 the following morning, Cochran complained of double vision. Shortly thereafter, he began to have trouble speaking. By the time he was admitted to a hospital later that afternoon, he had difficulty moving his arms and legs. Shortly before midnight he died. Only after his wife was admitted to the hospital with similar symptoms did doctors, who had not seen a case of the disease in nearly 40 years, suspect that the couple had contracted botulism, a deadly form of food poisoning. Mrs. Cochran, though in critical condition at week's end, may still be saved by the antitoxin that was rushed to her from an out-of-town laboratory.

That's really helpful, especially given that it shows a plausible timeframe that the toxin could kick in during. While I'm reconsidering the whole 'permanent paralysis without death' thing, I do still want to use botulism poisoning in some way due to it being a known danger in prisons via jailhouse liquor. So thank you very much. :)

Your welcome. Good luck with the story!

I think your best bet may be to arrange an "accident"--for example, spilling some likely substance such as lotion under the victim's bath mat, so it'll slip--and have your therapist get lucky and hit the sweet spot between "he'll make a complete recovery" and "He's dead, Jim"

Bless the likelihood of managing ridiculous odds in fiction. xD

Well, especially if you go for incapacity from broken bones and similar injuries, rather than paralysis per se (or, at least, make him a paraplegic rather than a quadruplegic), the odds aren't *that* ridiculous, with an old man and a nasty fall.