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Potassium cyanide

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Potassium cyanide
Potassium cyanide.pngPotassium cyanide.jpg
Systematic name Potassium Cyanide
Other names hydrocyanic acid
potassium salt
Molecular formula KCN
Molar mass Molar mass::65.12 g/mol
Appearance White deliquescent
granular solid
CAS number CAS number::151-50-8
Density and phase [[Density::1.52 cm3]]
Solubility in water 71.6 g/100 ml
Melting point Melting point::634°C
Boiling point Boiling point::1625°C
Main hazards Highly toxic and corrosive
NFPA 704

NFPA 704 svg.png

Flash point Non-flammable
R/S statement R: 26/27/28-32-50/53
S: (1/2-)7-28-29-45-60-61
RTECS number TS8750000
Related compounds
Other anions Potassium Cyanate
Potassium Thiocyanate
Other cations Sodium Cyanide
Related compounds Hydrogen Cyanide
Except where noted otherwise, data are given for
materials in their standard state (at 25 °C, 100 kPa)
Disclaimer and references

Potassium cyanide (abbreviated KCN), is known as a highly toxic, lethal compound. Produced by a British chemist in the 1800's by crude means of passing ammonia over a charcoal, Potassium carbonate mixture. Potassium cyanide has now turned into a sophisticated killing mechanism[1]. It was used in World War II by the Nazis [2] and is the third most common form of execution in the United States [3]. It is important to be careful around such a dangerous substance and understand the risks that it carries.


KCN is very toxic

Potassium Cyanide is a highly toxic cyanide salt with the chemical formula of KCN. The Potassium molecule makes up 60.04% of the total mass, Carbon 18.45%, and the Nitrogen 21.51%. The potassium and carbon molecules bond together with a single ionic bond and the carbon and nitrogen are held together by a covalent double bond [4]. This compound is colorless, looks similar to sugar, and has the bitter smell of almonds[5]. KCN is very soluble in water and slightly soluble in ethanol. It also reacts very violently with oxidizers. When exposed to water it can form HCN, Hydrogen Cyanide, which is another very poisonous compound. [6]


Potassium Cyanide is created when Hydrogen cyanide (HCN) is treated with potassium hydroxide (KOH).


About 50,000 tons of potassium cyanide are created each year, but this is only one tenth of the amount of sodium cyanide that is produced [7].

The most common use of Potassium cyanide, and probably the first one that comes to many people's mind, is its involvement in death and suicide. Between only .15 and .4 of Potassium cyanide needs to be consumed in order to produce a lethal affect [8] [9]. KCN can be taken in a pill tablet or used in gas chambers, but it also can be taken in accidentally by absorption through the skin or by breathing it in [10] [11].

Gas chamber

KCN works by causing problems in one's respiratory system. Once it enters a person's body Potassium cyanide forms a permanent bond with cytochrome c oxidase, an electron acceptor, thus blocking the cell's electron transport chain. The cells are unable to use the oxygen in the blood and thus unable to produce energy for the body [12]. The effects of a low to moderate does of KCN are headaches, dizziness, and difficulty breathing. In a case of extreme poisoning the victim may go into a coma right away, perhaps accompanied by convulsions and a soon death [13] A large ingestion of glucose can though, work against the adverse affect of Potassium Cyanide. The glucose binds to the cyanide quickly, disallowing it to bond with the cells. The glucose is not promised to completely dissolve the affects of the cyanide, but it can slow down the poison's work. Rasputin's alleged immunity to KCN was actually the result of glucose interference. His enemies were making the wrong choice by putting this poison into Rasputin's wine and sugary pastries. The high glucose levels in the food helped to save his life [14].

Symptoms of potassium cyanide poisoning include: pink or ruddy colored cheeks, red or dilated eyes, and in severe cases a bluish color of the skin [15].

Many Nazis used potassium cyanide in order to commit suicide, these included: Hermann Göring, Heinrich Himmler, and Adolf Hitler [16]. 900 members of the People's Temple were killed in Jonestown, Guyana, when Potassium Cyanide was put in the kool aid[17].

There are other not as well known uses for Potassium Cyanide also: insecticides, electroplating, photography, and the making of plastics [18].

First Aid Measures

A first aid sign

Potassium cyanide is extremely poisonous and careful measures should be taken to prevent this danger and first aid should be administered at first signs of poisoning. Make sure to immediately call 911 for an ambulance. Never give mouth-to-mouth or mouth-to-nose resuscitation to someone who has been poisoned, because the rescuer can easily become another victim. Damage to a victim can include: eye irritation and eye burns, a rash, gastrointestinal tract burns, and more seriously death.

Basic First Aid Measurements

In case of contact with clothes or skin, remove all contaminated clothing and begin to flush the skin immediately for at least 15 minutes. Contact the medical authorities and get help. Make sure to wash all clothing and shoes before wearing them again.

In case of eye contact, flush out the eyes for at least 15 minutes with either water or a saline solution. Contact the medical authorities and get help.

In case of inhalation, remove the patient from the contaminated area into fresh air and keep the patient warm.

Advanced First Aid measurements

If the patient is conscious and responsive, help the victim breathe in oxygen and amyl nitrate for about 15-30 seconds every minute. If the cyanide was swallowed immediately make the victim throw up the substance [19]

If the patient is unconscious, but is still breathing, administer oxygen and amyl nitrate through a respirator.

If the patient is not breathing, a physician or first aid responder can administer oxygen and amyl nitrite through an artificial respirator [20]. If they have no pulse begin cardiac massage by exerting rhythmic pressure with the lower, heel part of your hand [21] [22].

Helpful Sources

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Public Response Hotline (1-888-246-2675)
  • Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (1-888-422-8737)
  • Regional Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222)