Amyl Nitrite: Therapeutic use

Last modified: Thursday, 25. December 2008 - 5:27 am

Amyl nitrite was originally manufactured and prescribed to treat angina pectoris, a heart condition marked by severe chest pains and shortness of breath. More effective treatments now exist, and it is rarely prescribed for this purpose.

Amyl nitrite is also considered an antidote for cyanide poisoning and is usually one of three medications found in cyanide poisoning kits used by the militaries of some countries, some emergency medical services, and at plants where cyanide is used. Cyanide is used by industry in many chemical syntheses, electroplating, plastics processing, gold and silver extraction, tanning, metallurgy, and as a fumigant against rodents. The most extreme use of cyanide is as a chemical weapon, since high doses can kill large groups of people almost instantly. This application, especially by terrorists, has become of increasing concern since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States and the subsequent anthrax attacks.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the U.S. military consider cyanide a possible weapon of so-called rogue nations such as Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, and terrorist groups. Iraq is believed to have used cyanide to kill thousands in the 1980s during its war with Iran and against Kurds in northern Iraq. With this in mind, the possibility of an antidote takes on added importance. However, the effectiveness of amyl nitrite as an antidote for cyanide poisoning has come under question by some medical authorities. The U.S. military removed amyl nitrite from its cyanide antidote kits, because of adverse side effects (low blood pressure, dizziness, and headaches) and other concerns.

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