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Thanks to a comment by John Brockley on a New Scientist story about hoaxes, I’ve just discovered a fascinating paper. I’ve only got an abstract of it, published in The Analyst in 1944 (vol. 69, p. 97 – possibly free access thanks to the RSC’s archive), because the original work was published in Bull. Bureau Chemical Investigation (New York State Police, Dec. 1943, 8). I don’t think we subscribe!

Anyway, the article: Toxicological Significance of Laevorotatory Ice Crystals. The researcher, J. Beeman, isolates laevorotatory (left-handed) ice crystals from the right-handed by dissolving them in alcohol. “Quantitative toxicity studies showed that laevorotatory ice had a toxic index of +3.45 and the dextrorotatory ice an index of -3.45.” The left-handed crystals were injected into animal subjects, and they showed some quite unpleasant symptons: “diarrhoea, foul breath, rapid pulse and bulging eyes”, as well as being ‘extremely irritable’.

Now for the fun part: human subjects! “In human expts. 1 litre of commercial brandy was ingested in 3 hr. in 60-ml doses with a 2.5-cm cube of [left-handed] ice.” Perhaps unsuprisingly, the subjects showed some pretty extreme symptoms! “In the acutely poisoned subject, the sight and odour of an alcoholic beverage produced reflex nausea; in some cases the subject developed a split personality.” Fortunately, “Relief was afforded by cold milk and by aspirin (0.3g every 30min.).”

One litre of brandy! Can you imagine doing that experiment?! My mind is boggling. So next time you’ve got a hangover, blame the ice cubes…


Neil Withers (Associate Editor, Nature Chemistry)

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