What is a poison? What is a medicine? How do drugs act on the living organism? It is vitally important that we distinguish scientifically between food and poison, because they are confounded in the popular mind and employed indiscriminately by physicians, it being frequently asserted, as a justification for the employment of drugs, that "there is poison in everything." Due to the fact that the question: what is a poison? has not been satisfactorily settled, there is much ambiguity of language indulged by speakers and writers who are unable to distinguish between a poison and a Hygienic means.

Who does not know that for over 200 years physicians, chemists, pharmacologists, etc., have sought to prove that alcohol (a protoplasmic poison) is both poison and food, or either, according to circumstance? Of this substance it was said: "Alcohol is like every other chemical, whether it be a poison like strychnine or a food like protein--that is, there is an amount below which it is not a poison, and above which, it is a poison. Too much table salt is a poison; a little is not." Thus, one fallacy is used to support another; in reality, the fallacy is the same in each instance. It is the fallacy that poisons are such by quantity and not by quality. Salt is a poison only because we get too much of it and not because it is intrinsically a poison, so with alcohol. Even if alcohol is partially oxidized in the body, all evidence is still lacking that this provides the body with any energy or usable substance or that it takes part in the useful functions of life.

As vital structure can be evolved only out of food, air, water and sunshine, we can distinguish between food and poison without reference to popular opinions. Every substance in the earth has a definite relation to the living organism; either it may be used with which to build and maintain the organism and carry on its functions or it may not. If it is usable, it is food; if it is not usable, it is, so far as its relation to the organism is concerned, a poison. This principle was early arrived at by Hygienists.

As Wm. Bailey Potter, M.D., said in an article entitled "Health Reform" (third in a series, the Journal, June 1859): "Eat a pound of bread--it will not injure a well person. The natural appetite craves it. The stomach digests it, and it is assimilated and becomes a part of the living organism. It is a food. Eat a pound of tobacco--it will kill you. The natural appetite rejects it. It is not digested by the stomach, nor assimilated, nor changed in the system. It is a poison. If you drink a pound of alcohol--it will kill you or at least seriously injure you. The natural appetite rejects it. Early navigators found that savages at first disliked it. So do children who have never used it; but such are scarce. It is not digested in the stomach, not made into tissue. It is certainly a poison. A pound of tea, cooked and eaten as food would kill any person." Thus, the distinction between usable substances (foods) and nonusable substances (poisons) is made quite clear.

We may now answer our question: what is a poison? Everything is poison that cannot be assimilated by the living organism and used by it to sustain life. Every substance that can have no place in the normal metabolic processes of the body wastes the body's energies in resisting and expelling it, thus inevitably inducing debility and premature death. In other words, poisons are those substances which the living organism cannot use, but must resist and expel.

That which cannot be appropriated to the growth and strength of tissue is neither food nor drink, but poison. If a substance cannot be appropriated to the development of living tissue and employed in healthy action, it is hurtful to the structures of the body. Poisons are such substances that are chemically incompatible with the structures and physiologically incompatible with the functions of the living organism. They are those substances which are not in any form or quantity, convertible into any of the structures of the human body, nor employed by the organism in the performance of any of its functions. This definition is true in itself; it lets all substances take care of themselves.

To reiterate: all things in existence are, in their relations to the vital organism, either foods or poisons. Foods are those things which the organism uses by appropriating them into the formation of tissue; poisons are those things which the organism cannot use in the formation of tissue and, hence, rejects. On the basis of this principle, we unhesitatingly declare that all those substances (drugs) that are employed as medicines are destructive of the structural integrity and functional vigor of the organs and tissues of the body.

All drugs are physiologically incompatible with the functions of the human body. Take epsom salts as an example: when a dose of these is taken into the stomach, there is immediate and great disturbance of function. Fluid is poured out to dilute it and to protect the tissues against its chemical incompatibilities, while the alimentary canal and the abdominal muscles contract violently to expel it. It is not conceivable that such a violent disturbance would follow the salts if they were compatible with or in friendly relation to the vital structures and functions.

When opium is first given, the preternatural excitement which is followed by stupor, delirium, convulsions and, if the dose is large enough, death, and in smaller doses, a lesser degree of the same symptoms, it is impossible to miss the physiologic incompatibility of the drug with the vital organism. A whole catalogue of drugs could be listed and the same and similar disturbances of function would indicate their physiologic incompatibility with the vital organism.

What phenomena indicate the alleged modus operandi of drugs? Pain, agitation, disorder of body, derangement of mind, nausea, vomiting, griping, spasms, trembling, dizziness, drunkenness, staggering, blindness, deafness, prostration, and so on to the end of the catalogue of abnormalities. Certainly these symptoms, feelings, effects, phenomena, operations, or whatever else one chooses to call them, are no part of the healthy or natural state. They are symptoms of disease, symptoms of poisoning.

When drugs are "chemically incompatible," as are all the metalic or mineral poisons, with the structures of the body, they corrode, decompose and destroy some portion of some of the constituents of some of the fluids and solids of some organ or structure. Take these examples from among the older drugs: carbonate of potassa resulted in ulceration and in corrosion in the stomach; an application of Spanish fly to the skin occasioned vesication (blistering), followed by corrosion or decomposition of the skin; tartar emetic or ipecec, applied to the skin, destroyed the cuticle and corroded or destroyed the true skin, leaving large scars where they were applied; calomel and mercury in other forms produced salivation, decay of the teeth, violent diarrhea and many other effects; sulphuric acid burned or corroded the structures like fire. Such results prove to a positive demonstration that drugs or apothecary stuffs are not assimilable by the living body, that they cannot be transformed into the substances of the tissues and that they are chemically incompatible with the structures of life.