Graveyard Shift

The Horrifying Effects Of Nerve Gas On The Human Body 

Laura Allan
Updated March 18, 2019 24.8k views 15 items

Nerve gases, or agents, have been a topic of much discussion - and for good reason. The effects of such gas are gruesome, horrifying, and painful, especially for the sick, the very old, and the very young. But few people know what these chemicals do to your body. Sarin (also called "GB") and VX both have their own horrifying quirks and complications, but they have many commonalities and are both banned in warfare for good reason.

As far as the symptoms of exposure go, none of them are pretty, and yes, this gas can end you. If you perish, you're likely to do so surrounded by your own bodily waste, convulsing, and unable to even cry out for help. And you will feel pain the entire time. If you're wondering why and how this kind of gas specifically targets the body, let's hope you have a strong stomach. The discussions of what military-grade gases can do are not for the faint of heart.

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Photo: U.S. Air Force Photo/Robbin Cresswell/Joint Base San Antonio
It Can Be Breathed In Or Absorbed Through The Skin

One of the most frightening things about this gas is that you may never see, hear, or smell it coming. They are, for the most part, odorless and colorless compounds that belong to the organophosphate family of chemicals. On occasion, they do have a yellow-brown color when in liquid form, but, once they get into the air, they're hard to detect, and that's where the trouble really starts.

The two most well-known types of nerve gas, Sarin (GB) and VX, can both get into your system by being breathed in or absorbed through the skin or mucous membranes (if you touch something with residue on it, then touch your eyes or mouth). In other words, you only need to touch this stuff for it to start to get to you.

It can also be mixed into a water supply, but, because it is most easily spread through the air as a gas, that's how it tends to be used. Unfortunately, that is the manner in which the damage can be the worst.

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Photo:  Ninian Reid/Flickr/CC BY 2.0
You'll Start Feeling A Little Drippy

One of the first things that happens when this as hits you is that your mucous membranes ramp up their fluid production to an absurd degree. Your mouth will create extra saliva, your eyes will begin to water, and your nose will begin to run. This seems like no big deal on its own, but the amount of fluid production you experience will be unlike anything you've ever seen.

Your nose and mouth may even start to create foam, which is a symptom of GB gas. When checking to see if someone has been affected by a nerve agent, this foaming and dripping are what many health professionals initially look for.

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Photo: Unknown/Max Pixel/Public Domain
Your Pupils Will Become Pinpricks

Once inside your body, the toxins set to work targeting your neurotransmitters. As the gas does this, your eyes will begin to strongly react. Not only will they be watering, but your pupils will also restrict and appear as just pinpoints. They will not react to light, refocus, or change as the gas wreaks havoc on your body.

This may also lead to you being unable to see, and, at the very least, your vision is going to be incredibly blurry. With only mild exposure to the gas, watering eyes, nose, and mouth and pupil constriction might be the only effects. However, with longer exposure, the symptoms get much, much worse.

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Photo:  National Eye Institute/Flickr/CC BY 2.0
It Will Cause A Disconnect Between The Brain And The Body

So, how exactly does this heavy-duty gas mess with your body so badly? It all starts with how your brain communicates with the rest of your body. Our nerves communicate with one another by releasing a kind of chemical called a neurotransmitter; neurotransmitters help determine whether a nerve fires or not. However, when nerve gas gets ahold of those neurotransmitters, it alters them, kinking the pathways so that the signals get confused.

This happens because the gas blocks the enzymes whose job it is to dissolve the neurotransmitters after they've done their jobs. With the neurotransmitters just sticking around - instead of being dissolved by the enzyme - they keep sending their signal, frozen in their functions.

So, instead of shedding a tear or adjusting the pupils, our body thinks the brain is saying "create ALL the tears, right now" and "constrict those pupils as tight as possible." Even little signals can turn into nightmarishly intense reactions, some of which can prove dire.