Is Carbon Dioxide Poisonous?

Carbon Dioxide Toxicity

Each carbon dioxide molecule consists of one carbon atom bonded to two oxygen atoms. While your body excretes carbon dioxide, too high of a concentration of the compound is toxic.
Each carbon dioxide molecule consists of one carbon atom bonded to two oxygen atoms. While your body excretes carbon dioxide, too high of a concentration of the compound is toxic. INDIGO MOLECULAR IMAGES / Getty Images

Question: Is Carbon Dioxide Poisonous?

Answer: You probably know carbon dioxide is a gas that is present in the air you breathe. Plants "breathe" it in order to make glucose. You exhale carbon dioxide gas as a by-product of respiration. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is one of the greenhouse gases. You find it added to soda, naturally occurring in beer, and in its solid form as dry ice. Based on what you know, do you think carbon dioxide is poisonous or is it non-toxic or somewhere in between?

The Answer

Ordinarily, carbon dioxide is not poisonous. It diffuses from your cells into your bloodstream and from there out via your lungs, yet it is always present throughout your body.

However, if you breathe high concentrations of carbon dioxide or re-breathe air (such as from a plastic bag or tent), you may be at risk for carbon dioxide intoxication or even carbon dioxide poisoning. Carbon dioxide intoxication and carbon dioxide poisoning are independent of oxygen concentration, so you may have enough oxygen present to support life, yet still suffer from the effects of rising carbon dioxide concentration in your blood and tissues. Symptoms of carbon dioxide toxicity include high blood pressure, flushed skin, headache and twitching muscles. At higher levels, you could experience panic, irregular heartbeat, hallucinations, vomited and potentially unconsciousness or even death.

Causes of Carbon Dioxide Poisoning
How to Prepare Carbon Dioxide Gas
What Is Dry Ice

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Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Is Carbon Dioxide Poisonous?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 22, 2016, thoughtco.com/carbon-dioxide-poisonous-607545. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2016, April 22). Is Carbon Dioxide Poisonous? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/carbon-dioxide-poisonous-607545 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Is Carbon Dioxide Poisonous?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/carbon-dioxide-poisonous-607545 (accessed November 23, 2017).