Sarin Gas and the Images We Can’t Forget

  • Published
  • 3 mins read

When the news broke of the recent chemical attack on Syrian civilians, including children and babies, we were all disturbed and shocked that a weapon of mass destruction was unleashed. Sarin is its name and it’s 26 times more potent than cyanide. I did something I probably shouldn’t have: I looked at the photos posted online of the aftermath of the attack. Many of you did the same. It would be hard for anyone to view these images and not feel horrified. What the victims of this attack experienced was nothing short of devastating.

I researched sarin, and learned that this neurotoxin was outlawed in the 1990s. It’s in the same Schedule 1 category as LSD, heroin, marijuana, GHB and ecstasy. (It doesn’t work like those substances, it’s just categorized with them.) I was interested to know what the antidote to sarin poisoning is. When people are exposed to excessive radiation, research supports supplementation with greens (dulse, chlorella, spirulina, etc.) and iodine… but none of that works for deadly sarin gas.

Survival requires an antidote, usually atropine or pralidoxime. These are drugs classified as “anticholinergics”. Atropine is a drug available in the U.S. to treat not just pesticide poisoning, but also tachycardia, overactive bladder and pupil dilation (it’s available as an eye drop). Many herbs and over-the-counter medications have similar, but weaker anticholinergic properties.

Here’s how sarin harms people: it blocks an enzyme in the human body called acetylcholinesterase (ACHE) that normally breaks down your memory neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Some ACHE is good, as it supports learning and memory. In fact, memory supplements always put ingredients in their formula to gently block ACHE, so again, a bit more acetylcholine than your body naturally produces is fine. But too much will kill you.

Sarin shuts down ACHE completely, so acetylcholine levels skyrocket within minutes. This is the same mechanism of action that bug spray and malathion utilizes. Most insecticides block ACHE, so sarin is essentially human insecticide. If you walk by it and inhale it, you wouldn’t even know because you can’t see it or smell it. Death occurs within 10 minutes.

But how, you wonder? When acetylcholine increases, your muscles cramp. Like most pesticide poisonings, SLUDGE occurs: Salivation, Lacrimation, Urination, Defecation, Gastrointestinal distress, then Emesis (vomiting). Twitching and jerking occurs, then the lungs cramp, paralyzing the airways. It’s death by chemical asphyxiation.

We saw haunting videos of babies being hosed off and thrown into trucks. The watering down of victims dilutes the poison to reduce skin exposure and may possibly prolong lives, but the neurological effects cannot be healed. It’s awful when you consider that even those who survived the attack will suffer lifelong consequences.

A total recovery is possible if early recognition occurs and if exposure is low. Since sarin and many other nerve gases are completely colorless and odorless, you could walk right past someone who had a little on their clothes 30 minutes ago, and not know it.

So now you’re better informed as you watch the news, and here’s hoping we never face that kind of brutality in our country. May those who perished rest in peace.