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It is the most deadly poison known. Ten pounds would be sufficient to kill every single person on Earth -- yet many movie stars and socialites voluntarily pay steep sums to have this substance injected into their heads.

We are talking about Botulinus toxin -- popularly sold as "Botox" ® -- a powerful nerve-blocking agent that removes wrinkles by paralyzing the muscles of your forehead. But if you are infected with the ubiquitous spore-forming Clostridium botulinus, or have eaten food contaminated with botulinus toxin, an overdose of this substance can also cause a deadly syndrome that can mimic a stroke, paralyze your breathing -- or leave you dead on the floor.

You might notice the symptoms an hour or two after eating an old jar of your Grandma's home-canned chickpeas. Double vision and droopy eyelids might send you staggering to the bathroom mirror to witness drooling and paralysis of your face. It quickly becomes a struggle to breath. When you call for an ambulance, your voice has already gone weak and toneless. If they arrive in time, paramedics might intubate you and haul you to the emergency room where doctors attach you to a ventilator and puzzle over your condition. Lab and scans are normal. You are completely helpless and unable to communicate, but your mind is clear as you listen to them discuss your case. Is it a stroke, Guillain-Barre syndrome, or Myasthenia Gravis? The toxin is bound tightly to the neuromuscular junction, causing limp paralysis of your body. There is no antidote, but fortunately the prognosis for recovery is excellent. Over time, your body will rebuild the delicate proteins that allow your muscles to sense nerve impulses. You can be parked in an intensive care until you can start breathing on your own again -- in about three months.

Fortunately natural cases of botulism are rare. Leave your wrinkles alone and your chances of getting Botulism will remain remote -- unless you are the victim of a terrorist attack. Cheap to make, easy to disperse, Botulinus toxin is a terrorist's dream weapon. For that reason, industrial manufacturing remains carefuly regulated. One gram a year satisfies the entire medical needs of planet Earth. For now.

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