You saw The Simpsons episode where Homer ate it. You've heard those Food Network guys crack jokes about it for years. Poison blowfish - also known as fugu - is a delicacy around the world. But if you happen to get a plate of fugu that's not cooked quite right, can you die eating blowfish? Yes.
What is poison blowfish? It's a fish packed full of lethal tetrodotoxin. When the toxins are removed it's perfectly edible, but only the most skilled chefs are capable of making sure it's all been removed.
Tetrodotoxin is a tasteless, odorless, and colorless neurotoxin that won’t decompose even when heated up to 300 degrees. Fugu's skin, ovaries/gonads, and liver contain enough poison to kill 30 people. Bon appetit! Smart and powerful people don’t take chances with this stuff. The Emperor of Japan, for example, is forbidden from eating it because it poisons 30-50 people each year, and he’s got a lot of people depending on him. Are you sure this is worth it?
But how do you die? What exactly does blowfish that can kill you do to your body? Do you just croak, or is it a totally gnarly, messy death? Can you survive?
If you'd like to find out, read on - but be warned. You might wanna lay off the sushi for a little while afterward.
It’s not like there’s an EpiPen for tetrodotoxin intoxication: if you ingest too much, you’re pretty much doomed because there’s no known antidote. It can’t be treated with blood serum, like you would with a snake bite. There are cases of people living for six hours following a lethal dose, but that's it.
If you make it past the 18-hour mark, there might be hope.
What happens next is terrifying: you’re lying in a pool of diarrhea and vomit, paralyzed in three different ways - “progressive bulbar paralysis, extraocular muscle paralysis, and general body flaccid paralysis” - and unable to speak, but your head is weirdly clear. Even as the poison creeps toward your brain, you remain conscious, feeling “entombed” in a body you no longer have control of, like a zombie.
By now, you’re hopefully in the back of an ambulance, because it’s about to get worse …
Let’s say you’re having the worst possible reaction to fugu poisoning. In this scenario, while the numbness is spreading, you’re also vomiting, sweating profusely, and experiencing awful diarrhea. Hopefully, you’re dining with people you trust, because by this point, you won’t be able to talk.
Yeah, things are looking pretty bleak, but at least you won’t even be able to physically feel the body fluids all over your body. Silver lining, y’know?
When you die, it’s likely because of respiratory distress. The poison hits your diaphragm, paralyzing your breathing center. With an inoperable diaphragm, your lungs stop working properly, and you die because your throat swells up on itself, stopping your heart.
In extreme cases, there isn't anything doctors can do.