Thursday, February 5, 2015

Death by Curare
Guaranteed, Quiet and Intense

Do you have any character in your book you want to kill quietly?  Perhaps they’re bad and you want to make them suffer.  Alternatively, maybe you have a whole bunch of folks you wish to expunge.  Consider some poison arrows coated with curare, a neuromuscular agent that will paralyze the bad guys until they suffocate to death. Curare contains two components, curine, which paralyzes the muscle fibers of the heart, and curarine, which paralyzes the motor nerve endings in voluntary muscles. Together, you guessed it, they’re devastating.
Curare is extracted from woody vines that grow in South America.  It is then hydrated. Native Indians living along the Amazon River and in the Amazon basin used arrows poisoned with curare to hunt game.  They would shoot the animal with a poisoned arrow and harvest the game after the creature was paralyzed and dead.  It is also suspected that the Indians used a blowgun to deliver darts tipped with curare. The blowgun was a hollow tube of cane or wood, about six feet in length. A dart, wrapped at the proximal end with a wad of cotton, was introduced into one end of the tube, the cotton acting as a piston gasket. The distal end of the dart was impregnated with curare. During war and the resistance of European explorers and solders, the use of blowguns extended from northern Bolivia to central Mexico as a weapon of choice in many situation.
Have you ever had surgery? Well, if so, you’ve experienced the effects of curare. Curare, and its most popular preparations such as curarine and turbocurarine, are used to relax skeletal muscles during surgery to control convulsions.
Curare can also be ingested (curare tea, perhaps?) and reacts quickly within the body, causing loss of voluntary muscle control, paralysis and death by cardiac arrest.  Curare can also be inhaled (as with anesthesia or as an aerosol) with the same consequences and is a powerful skin irritant.  Plain and simple, it’s bad stuff and has been used as chemical warfare for years.
The horror of curare poisoning is that the victim is very much awake and aware of what is happening until a loss of consciousness. Consequently, the victim can feel the progressive paralysis creeping up on them but can’t do anything about it.  Their vocal cords become paralyzed and they cannot call for help or gesture with their hands.  Now, how heinous is that for a memorable death in your book?
 Research suggests that curare causes a weakening or paralysis of skeletal muscles by interfering with the transmission of nervous impulses between the nerve axon and the contraction mechanism of the muscle cell. Specifically, the alkaloid interferes with the activity of acetylcholine (to depolarize the cell end plate) at the surface where it functions, thereby blocking the neuromuscular junction.
Changed your mind?  Want you victim to live?  Just administer some artificial respirations and call 911.  They’ll come, revive your victim, and put them on a ventilator.  The victim will recover and have no ill effects but there’s always a chance he or she will remember who did this to him. 
Curare-like drugs are sometimes used to relax muscles when doctors are correcting dislocations or setting bone fractures, and in the control of muscle spasms during convulsions like those seen with tetanus, epilepsy, drug overdose, and following the bite of the black widow spider.
I have some plans for curare in my next thriller… How about you?
Until next time,


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