• Curare is a strong neurotoxin made from two plants, the Chondrodendron tomentosum and the Strychnos toxifera. Curare does not affect smooth muscle like the heart, but can paralyze other muscles, such as the ones responsible for breathing.

    "The Flying Death"

    South American Indians use curare as an arrow poison, giving birth to the term "flying death." The plants are boiled and crushed until a black paste is formed and arrows are dipped in this lethal substance.


    When curare is introduced into the bloodstream, it paralyzes muscles. The victim begins to suffocate while completely conscious. Curare can kill a 1,000-pound mammal such as an ox in 30 minutes and a bird in as little as a few seconds.

    Nerves, Muscles and Synapses

    Curare paralyzes muscles by blocking transmissions between skeletal muscle and nerves. Acetlycholine is a neurotransmitter that stimulates muscles and sends commands through a synapse located between the muscle and nerve. Curare stops synapses and the movement of acetylcholine, paralyzing muscles.


    Curare consists of large, electrically charged molecules that cannot enter the digestive system, so is harmless if eaten. It becomes poisonous when absorbed into the bloodstream.

    Medicinal Applications

    Synthetic variations of curare are used as anesthesia today. Synthetic curare is preferred to other forms of anesthesia, such as chloroform or halothane, because large doses are not needed.


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