What poison is thought to be behind Socrates fatal ingestion?
Coniine in poison hemlock (Conium maculatum).
The description of Socrates death includes centripetal paralysis and loss of sensation spreading from feet to abdomen, and maintenance of alertness.
Coniine, an alkaloid of great importance in common hemlock, can cause muscle paralysis by blocking or reducing the response of the muscle to acetylcholine. It can also affect respiration, first by stimulating respiratory drive to take quicker and deeper breaths, followed by slower, shallower breaths.
Hotti H et al. The killer of Socrates: Coniine and Related Alkaloids in the Plant Kingdom. Molecules. 2017 Nov; 22(11): 1962. Published online 2017 Nov 14. doi: 10.3390/molecules22111962
Submitted by: Abigail Sharpe, PharmD on behalf of Acute and Intensive Care Section