June 15, 2011

Poisonous vs. Toxic vs. Venomous

 All of these different terms confused the hell out of me for the longest time.  I place part of the blame on the monster listings for "poisonous snakes" which would have been more accurately listed as "venomous snakes". 

When describing plants and animals "poisonous" or "toxic" means that you shouldn't try to eat it (or even touch it in some cases), "venomous" means that you shouldn't let it bite, sting, or scratch you.  Poisonous species are generally immune to their own toxins.  Venomous species keep their toxins stored safely within certain glands, but are generally not immune to them.  So, it usually goes badly for a venomous creature if it bites or stings itself.
  • Poison - Any substance that can cause severe distress or death if ingested, breathed in, or absorbed through the skin. Many substances (including water) that normally cause no problems, can be poisonous if taken in too large of a quantity. 
  • Toxin - A poisonous protein produced by living cells in some higher plants, animals, and pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria. A toxin typically has a high molecular weight (as compared to a simple chemical poison), is antigenic (elicits an antibody response), and can be highly dangerous to living creatures. 
  • Venom - a toxin produced in a gland and used by a species in order to subdue its prey.  Typically injected via a sting or bite.

I'm friends with some veterinarians, paramedics, nurses, and a budding toxicologist.  They say that it would be cool if we could help preserve their sanity by using the terms correctly.

That is all.

Go with Grod my friends.

Joesky Tax:

White Baneberry fruit
White Baneberry (Doll's-eyes)

A small flowering plant sometimes found in temperate forests.  The white flowers are produced in spring, developing into berries during the summer which last until the first frost. All parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested, but the berries are especially toxic. 

The toxins have an immediate sedative effect on the heart causing the victim to feel weak and tired and are likely to cause a heart attack and death. (Save vs. Poison: success = ½ Str rounded down for one turn, failure = death)

The plant is prized by assassins and poisoners because it is fast acting and it does not cause sickness or nausea like many poisons, so when it is used unsuccessfully it does not always raise suspicions.  Cultivation requires lots of shade, regular water, and a crumbly, loamy soil like a sandy clay for good drainage.

The berries are harmless to birds.  Birds eat them often, helping the plants to spread their seeds.


  1. Thanks for parsing those, and thanks for enlightening me about the immunities. I knew some snakes died when they bit themselves, but didn't know about the other distinctions.

  2. Cool. I'm glad you found it useful.

    I discovered another word today. Apparently there are also "toxicants" which include all toxins and a lot of man-made industrial chemicals. So calling pesticides "toxic" is technically correct.