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poison, any agent that may produce chemically an injurious or deadly effect when introduced into the body in sufficient quantity. Some poisons can be deadly in minute quantities, others only if relatively large amounts are involved. Factors of importance in determining the severity of a poison include the nature of the poison itself, the concentration and amount, the route of administration, the length of exposure, and the age, size, and physical health of the individual. If poisoning is suspected a physician or poison control center should be called immediately. The remainder of the poison and its container should be saved; the label may list ingredients, first aid measures, or antidotes. For most ingested poisons emptying the stomach is the most important treatment; vomiting is best accomplished in the conscious individual by administering syrup of ipecac with large quantities of water. The major exceptions to this treatment are in cases of ingestion of corrosives, such as lye, and certain hydrocarbons, such as kerosene. In corrosive ingestions a small amount of milk may be given, but vomiting should not be induced since the damage that may have already been sustained by the mucous membranes of the esophagus and stomach may advance to perforation; the patient should be seen by a physician as soon as possible. Hydrocarbons are extremely volatile, and the dangers of their being aspirated into the lungs when vomiting is induced are greater than their toxicity if absorbed into the body. In gas or vapor poisoning the patient should be carried to a nonpolluted atmosphere; artificial respiration should be employed if necessary. If any poison has been absorbed through the skin, all contaminated garments should be removed immediately and the skin washed with soap and water. Poisoning is a significant cause of accidental death in children and is best treated by prevention; potential poisons in the home should be stored in locked cabinets. In chemistry, poison refers to a substance that inhibits or slows a chemical reaction. See separate articles on botulism; carbon monoxide; food poisoning; lead poisoning; mercury poisoning; poison gas; poison ivy; snakebite; toxin.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Although a true Witch is interested in healing, not in harming, witches are often erroneously associated with poison. Certainly a Witch, as local wise person, did need to be knowledgeable about poisons in order to be able to provide antidotes. In fact, the misquote, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" arose from this misconception. The original Biblical text employed the word veneficor, or "poisoner." King James's translators, deliberately or through ignorance, transcribed the word as maleficor, meaning "witch," presumably because witches were knowledgeable about antidotes to poisons. The correct translation, then, should be "Thou shalt not suffer a poisoner to live," which makes much more sense.

In an article in Man, Myth and Magic, Eric Maple states, "Renaissance physicians, not unnaturally, took every opportunity to cast the blame for their failures upon their unprofessional rivals, the witches; a policy for which there was ecclesiastical sanction, for the Inquisitor Bernard de Como had laid down the doctrine that all diseases beyond the curative power of medicine must be due to sorcery."

Throughout history women (and men) have resorted to poison to get rid of an unwanted spouse. Many times the poison would be obtained from a cunning man or woman, or "hedge witch." With the local wise person's knowledge of herbs, it is hardly surprising that the stigma of poisoner came to be associated with Witches.

The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-paganism © 2002 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a substance that acts on the body in such a way as to cause a marked disturbance of its normal activity—poisoning or death (seePOISONING). The classification of a given substance as a poison is arbitrary, since in many cases toxicity is determined by the circumstances or method of introduction into the body.

The effect of a poison is due to its chemical reaction with substances that are constituents of cells and tissues and that also take part in tissue metabolism, as in prussic-acid poisoning. The intensity and nature of the effect of poisons depend on the chemical structure and physicochemical properties of the poisons and on the structural and functional characteristics of the organism. This is responsible for the selective toxicity of poisons for certain species of animals or plants and for their “affinity” for certain systems or organs, for example, neurotropic poisons, which primarily affect the nervous system. Poisons are subdivided on the basis of origin into plant poisons, animal poisons, mineral poisons, and products of chemical synthesis (see; ; ; and PESTICIDES).

Poisons enter the human body mainly through the digestive and respiratory organs and are excreted by the kidneys, intestines, and lungs. Toxicology is the study of the action of poisons (seeTOXICOLOGY).


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

What does it mean when you dream about poison?

Poison in a dream may represent an attempt to get rid of something within oneself that is producing sickness. A violent rejection of a condition or a relationship may be causing the dreamer to suffer.

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


(atomic physics)
A substance which reduces the phosphorescence of a luminescent material.
A substance that exerts inhibitive effects on catalysts, even when present only in small amounts; for example, traces of sulfur or lead will poison platinum-based catalysts.
A material which reduces the emission of electrons from the surface of a cathode.
A substance that in relatively small doses has an action that either destroys life or impairs seriously the functions of organs or tissues.
A substance that absorbs neutrons without any fission resulting, and thereby lowers the reactivity of a nuclear reactor.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


its horn used to test liquids for poison. [Medieval Legend: EB (1963) XXII, 702]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. any substance that can impair function, cause structural damage, or otherwise injure the body
2. Chemistry a substance that retards a chemical reaction or destroys or inhibits the activity of a catalyst
3. Physics a substance that absorbs neutrons in a nuclear reactor and thus slows down the reaction. It may be added deliberately or formed during fission
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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