1. Botulinum (ingested)
It’s hard to rank the lethality of toxins, but experts agree that botulinum – several orders of magnitude deadlier than sarin – is the gold standard. Your nervous system fails and you die in extreme pain. Works miracles on wrinkles, though.
2. Ricin (ingested or inhaled)
Made from the lowly castor bean, ricin causes respiratory and organ failure, followed by death within hours. Even chewing a few beans can kill you.
3. Anthrax (inhaled)
Cutaneous exposure can kill, but the most deadly, panic-inspiring form of anthrax is inhaled. It starts with flu that doesn’t get better – then your respiratory system collapses.
4. Sarin (inhaled)
Sarin is one of the deadliest nerve gases, hundreds of times more toxic than cyanide. Just one whiff and you’ll foam at the mouth, fall into a coma, and die. Originally synthesized for use as a pesticide, it was outlawed as a warfare agent in 1997.
5. Tetrodotoxin (ingested)
Found in the organs of puffer fish (the famous Japanese delicacy fugu), tetrodotoxin persists even after the fish is cooked. If the toxin is consumed, paralysis and death can strike within six hours. Up to five Japanese die from badly prepared fugu every year.
6. Cyanide (ingested or inhaled)
Cyanide exists in a number of lethal forms that are present in nature or easily manufactured. Exposure leads to seizures, cardiac arrest, and death within minutes.
7. Mercury (inhaled)
Low levels of mercury are not especially toxic to adults. However, inhaled mercury vapor (the metal starts turning to a gas at room temp) attacks the brain and lungs, shutting down the central nervous system.
8. Strychnine (ingested or inhaled)
A common pesticide, strychnine isn’t as toxic as other poisons on our list, but it gets style points for causing one of the most horrific deaths of all: Every muscle in your body spasms violently until you die from exhaustion.
9. Amatoxin (ingested)
Derived from the death cap family of mushrooms, amatoxin destroys your liver and kidneys over several days. You remain conscious – and in excruciating pain – until you slip into a coma and expire.
10. Compound 1080 (ingested or inhaled)
As an animal poison, compound 1080 proved a little too effective: The bodies of creatures killed with 1080 remain poisonous for up to a year. Odorless, tasteless, water soluble, and without antidote, 1080 blocks cellular metabolism, leading to a quick yet painful death.