Botulinum toxin (aka Botox or dysport) is a neurotoxin produced by a genus of bacterium named Clostridium. First discovered in Clostridium botulinum, evidently. What's funny is that it was first discovered growing in off meat. The toxin was given the nicknames "sausage poison" and "fatty poison" as a result, botulus is Latin for "sausage".
What has always fascinated me was that people never realised how powerful and deadly this toxin was. It has an LD50 (lethal dose for 50% of the population) of 40-56ng for humans, which makes it one of, if not the most, toxic substances known to man.
To put that in perspective, there are a trillion (1 000 000 000 000) nanograms in a kilogram. It's about 1ng of botulinum toxin to every kilogram in your body that makes a lethal dose. As little as 4kg of the stuff could kill everyone on earth.
Compared to some other drugs and toxins:
95 000 000 x Cocaine
50 000 000 x Nicotine
20 000 000 x Western diamondback rattlesnake venom
3 000 000 x Cyanide
9000 x Coastal tiapan venom
700 x Abrin (from a tropical plant with red pea fruits)
100 x Diptheria toxin (from a bacterium)
And what are people doing with man's most deadly substance? Well first and foremost botulinum toxin paralyses, and that includes your heart and thoracic muscles (for breathing). However, at almost a homeopathic dilution this toxin has some uses. The most common one, that sees half of Hollywood's stars looking like stunned mullets, is its cosmetic use. I originally assumed that botox was filling the wrinkles up to make one's face look younger, but it's actually paralyzing the person's face muscles, hence why they find it hard to show emotion for a while after. It also covers a whole range of other medical issues:
Blepharospasm and strabismus
Upper motor neuron syndrome
Sweating (only non-muscular use of the toxin)
What's amazing is that even though the substance is so toxic it's only attributable to about 30 deaths a year, and even then this isn't due to cosmetic or medical usage. I still get a little annoyed at the fact that many other substances remain illegal, even though they have a great deal more medicinal uses than botox, which is first and foremost used for cosmetic reasons. That is, to improve the look of oneself. Yet these other substances, namely cannabis, but also LSD, psilocybin and MDMA, are not exploited anywhere near as much as they should be for medicinal uses. We seem to shelve them simply because people want to use them recreationally, while forgetting they first came to light because of their medicinal uses and only after they were banned did issues with recreational use really compound. These issues aren't going away anytime soon, so we might as well chuck these substances back on the research table. If they're use will help save or merely improve the life of a single person out there we will have gained something.