A List of Deadly Poisons

The Relative Toxicity of Chemicals

Any chemical becomes poison if you are exposed to enough of it and in the wrong way.
Any chemical becomes poison if you are exposed to enough of it and in the wrong way. Vstock LLC / Getty Images

This is a list or table of chemicals that can kill you. Some of these poisons are common and some are rare. Some you need in order to live, while others you should avoid at all costs. Note that the values are median lethal values for an average human. Real-life toxicity depends on your size, age, gender, weight, route of exposure and many other factors. This list just offers a glimpse at a range of chemicals and their relative toxicity.

Basically, all chemicals are poisonous. It just depends on the amount!

List of Poisons

This table is organized from least deadly to most deadly:

ChemicalDoseTypeTarget
water8 kginorganicnervous system
lead500 ginorganicnervous system
alcohol500 gorganickidney/liver
ketamine226 gdrugcardiovascular
table salt225 ginorganicnervous system
ibuprofen (e.g., Advil)30 gdrugkidney/liver
caffeine15 gbiologicalnervous system
paracetamol (e.g., Tylenol)12 gdrugkidney/liver
aspirin11 gdrugkidney/liver
amphetamine9 gdrugnervous system
nicotine3.7 gbiologicalnervous system
cocaine3 gbiologicalcardiovascular
methamphetamine1 gdrugnervous system
chlorine1 gelementcardiovascular
arsenic975 mgelementdigestive system
bee sting venom500 mgbiologicalnervous system
cyanide250 mgorganiccauses cell death
aflatoxin180 mgbiologicalkidney/liver
mamba venom120 mgbiologicalnervous system
black widow venom70 mgbiologicalnervous system
formaldehyde11 mgorganiccauses cell death
ricin (castor bean)1.76 mgbiologicalkills cells
VX (nerve gas)189 mcgorganophosphatenervous
tetrodotoxin25 mcgbiologicalnervous system
mercury18 mcgelementnervous system
botulinum (botulism)270 ngbiologicalnervous
tetanospasmin (tetanus)75 ngbiologicalnervous system

Poisons: Lethal vs Toxic

Looking at the list of poisons, you might be tempted to think lead is safer than salt or bee sting venom is safer than cyanide. Looking at the lethal dose can be misleading because some of these chemicals are cumulative poisons (e.g., lead) and others are chemicals your body naturally detoxifies in small amounts (e.g., cyanide).

Individual biochemistry is also important. While it might take half a gram of bee venom to kill the average person, a much lower dose would cause anaphylactic shock and death if you're allergic to it.

Some "poisons" are actually necessary for life, such as water and salt. Other chemicals serve no known biological function and are purely toxic, such as lead and mercury.

Most Common Poisons in Real Life

While it's unlikely you'll be exposed to tetradodoxin unless you eat improperly prepared fugu (a dish prepared from pufferfish), some poisons routinely cause problems. These include:

  • pain medicine (over the counter or prescription)
  • sedative and antipsychotic drugs
  • antidepressants
  • cardiovascular drugs
  • household cleaners (particularly when they are mixed)
  • alcohol (both grain alcohol and types not intended for human consumption)
  • pesticides
  • insect, arachnid, and reptile venom
  • anticonvulsants
  • personal care products
  • wild mushrooms
  • food poisoning