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I've heard in school of the story of a king, who used to take small amounts of conium. When someone tried to poison him he was immune to that poison.

Is that even remotely possible ?

  • Specific poisons can indeed exhibit this behaviour. The body becoming tolerant to a substance is basically the same process, whether that substance is addictive drugs like heroin, ecstasy or nicotine, heavy metals like arsenic, etc. Usually the story is told with arsenic. – DeadMG Jul 19 '11 at 16:11
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    #include "obligatory 'Princess Bride' reference" – user5341 Jul 19 '11 at 17:09
  • @DVK Already taken care of … – Konrad Rudolph Jul 19 '11 at 20:42
  • @PeterTurner Unfortunately, that video no longer seems to exist. – JAB Sep 21 '17 at 17:32
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Straight Dope has an article on this practice (exposing yourself to incrementally greater doses of poison; called mithridatization, after King Mithridates VI of Pontus, who reputedly pursued such a regimen as per Roman writer Pliny):

http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2757/what-poisons-can-i-safely-take-to-build-immunity-to-toxic-substances

The article confirms the known case of arsenic mithridatization in Austria, as well as the fact that you can mithridatize yourself to an extent against poison ivy reaction


One of the earliest scientific mentions I was able to find is "PROFESSOR VON BEHRING'S TREATMENT OF TUBERCULOSIS" published in British medical journal, Volume 2, Page 577 in 1906.


A somewhat later material was "Journal of medical genetics, Volume 8" published by British Medical Association in 1971, referenced mithridatization as a process but I can't get access to full text discussing it.

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  • So... is the answer an unqualified "Yes," or might there be a list somewhere of substances for which this is both possible and not possible, or perhaps a set of criteria for the chemical properties that make it possible or impossible? Does that make sense? – Hendy Jul 20 '11 at 15:27
  • @Hendy - The answer is an unqualified "yes" for the very generic wording of the question ("Is that even remotely possible ?"). It obviously has differing lefels of efficacy for different toxins but I haven't found any systematic place collecting such. – user5341 Jul 20 '11 at 15:55

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