Not Just a Bucket of Bones – WIF Medicine

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Fascinating Facts

About the

Human Body

It’s no wonder that so many of us take our bodies for granted; we take them with us everywhere we go. We’ve all been there when it comes to complaining about aches and pains. People have been known to spend more than a million dollars altering the appearance of their bodies. There are some, such as neuroscientist Randal Keone, who want to end human dependence on bodies by creating computers into which our consciousnesses can be uploaded.

This is overlooking what a beautiful, elegant machine the human body is. Its many intricacies, quirks, and surprises. So let’s break out the microscopes and give the wondrous body a little more of its due.

10. The Prodigious Data of Our Genomes

In 2003, after three years of work, the International Human Genome Sequencing Project declared they had finished ordering the data that would allow them to write a human genome. It was noted that this was two years ahead of schedule. Why would it have been expected to take five years to write out the amount of data in a human genome?

Well, a genome is a complete set of human DNA., which as we all know is basically the code that is ordered to make out a specific human and their traits. Though specific traits such as hair color, height, and such only comprise about 2% of DNA while the rest is more or less a standard human template. The code is usually broken down into patterns of the letters U, G, A, C, and T (CC, AT, TG, etc.). A single genome of DNA will have 3.5 billion pairs of data in it to program a human being. This means that when the International Human Genome Sequencing Project completed their mapping, they had finished the equivalent of translating 100 encyclopedias worth of information! You’d think almost no one would have that much to write about them, even after Twitter came around.

9. I’m Radioactive

Part of the reason human beings are radioactive is inadvertent. The radioactive element strontium-90 tends to accumulate in bones because the body tends to mistake it for calcium. Relatively large amounts of that were spread around around the world due to pervasive nuclear weapons testing, but since it has a half-life of 29 years the worst effects of that have passed. The more pressing concerns for many are those who absorbed the material from such nuclear disasters as Fukushima in 2011.

The body more directly creates radiation through its nervous system. Every time you use your nerves to move an organ, think, etc., that causes the fission of a potassium-40 atoms, and that fission releases gamma radiation. On an average human being, roughly 10% of that will leave the body (lower on a heavier person). This translates to a lifetime spent sleeping with another person being the equivalent of spending a few days in Denver or some similarly high-elevation city. This is to say that we’re not radioactive enough to produce much energy. If all the nerves in your brain were harvested for electrical power, it would take roughly 2.85 days of charging time to fill up an iPhone.

8. Seeing with Your Ears

If you look at someone in the eye, you’re looking at one of the body’s most counterintuitive contraptions. When you see something, first light passes through the lens of an eye, then it casts itself on the retinas in the back of the eyeball. In the process of passing through the convex material of the lens, the light is refracted onto the retinas upside down. So how does it process as right-side up by the time that the information gets into the back of the cerebrum where the brain is located?

This is where the ear comes in. It’s the vestibular nerve in the ear that connects your eyes to your balance center and corrects your vision for the brain’s benefit. This has some handy benefits merely having the retinas connected directly to the brain wouldn’t provide. For example, it’s the reason that you can tilt your head at a 90 degree angle without the world appearing tilted. This discovery has led to the belief that newborn babies, with their nervous systems that are still coalescing, actually do see the world upside down. So far, though, none of them have said one way or the other.

7. Glowing Bodies

Sure, you’ve heard about how people with a certain mood or style are glowing, but this is a bit more literal. In 2009, researchers Masaki Kobayashi, Daisuke Kikuchi, Hitoshi Okamura photographed the first known images of a human being glowing, although the basic science of measuring biological photon reactions had been known since the 1960s. They placed five test subjects in a light tight environment, brought out a charge-coupled device camera, and spent seven hours photographing them. While the temperature remained constant, it was found that the amount of light/photons that their bodies emitted changed through the course of the day.

This is not to say that you should be hoping for people that can save many on lightbulbs anytime soon. The amount of light is roughly 1/1000th that of what would be visible to the naked eye. Still, since the rate of photon emission was found to be linked to metabolism, Kobayashi suggested that after more study the technique could be refined to use to diagnose metabolic conditions. In the years since, some studies have been conducted with photon emissions to test the effectiveness of meditation. The results are reportedly promising but inconclusive.

6. New Body Parts at Different Rates

Everyone knows from lessons about the dangers of excess alcohol back in their teen years that we only get one set of nerve cells that never replenish. But what about the other organs? How long does it take to replace them?

Well, for one, the lining of your stomach only takes a few days to replace due to the corrosiveness of stomach acids. Your skin cells are comparatively long-lived with an average of three weeks. The liver cells stick it out a robust 150 days.

The longest lasting of the cells that do get replaced are bone cells. Those last long enough that your bones last an average of 10 years each. Each cycle, though, they tend to regrow a little thinner. This is why they’re especially vulnerable among the older generations. As of 2020, the National Institute of Health estimates that roughly 50% of Americans over the age of 50 have chronically weak bones.

5. Growth Hormones Can Cause Shrinkage

In the early 20th Century, experiments in injecting growing males with testosterone and females with estrogen began. The idea with the females was that it would normalize their menstrual cycles, and for males that were not growing satisfactorily to get taller. In the long run, the results would show the effort was a misfire. The estrogen injections increased breast cancer rates for women in their sixties, and for the males the testosterone could backfire in a more immediate way: their pituitary glands shut down because the body was already full of testosterone, so there was no growth.

By far the most famous recipient of this misguided treatment was Rainbow Connection and A Star is Born songwriter Paul Williams. Since his father was over six feet tall, he thought the fact Paul was only four 4-foot-6 in fifth grade meant there was a problem and started therapy. Williams said that it stopped the growth of his bones and sent him into puberty at age 10. Some things it just doesn’t work to try and force.

4. We Needs Metals

It’s standard practice to include the heavy metal content on a nutritional information label, but why do we need copper, zinc, or iron? Well, we need copper to control heart rate and produce all sorts of cellular tissue, from bones to heart cells. Zinc is used for cell division and dissolving carbohydrates for heat and other forms of energy. Iron also is used in metabolism, but with the addition of helping transfer oxygen to cells.

The amounts of metal in a body vary significantly and in some instances can be surprisingly substantial. An average adult human only has roughly 50-80 milligrams of copper in them, barely over 2% of an ounce. By contrast, it’s often said that an average adult human has enough iron in them to make a nail three inches long. Let’s hope for your sake that this is the only way anyone will say you have one of those in you.

3. 98.6 and Falling

Of all the entries on this list, this one likely provides the single best piece of news. In 1851, the standard temperature for a healthy adult male body was set at 98.6° F. Since then, studies such as the one performed in 2019 by Dr. Julie Parsonnet of Stanford University of 677,000 measurements found that the average man’s temperature had dropped down to 97.9° F. It hadn’t been a rapid dropoff. The average had been roughly .05 degrees per decade. Women came in at around 97.3° F.

According to Parsonnet, the reason behind this isn’t related to a lack of activity on the part of most people. It’s because with the adoption of healthier lifestyle habits and improvements in antibiotics, the number of people whose immune systems are constantly fighting colds and flus while remaining functional has declined. Not to mention that the fact that more and more people are living in homes with reliable temperature control means that more peoples’ bodies no longer require inflammation to remain active. Who’s to say if it won’t turn out in the next century that optimal human temperature is a degree or two lower?

2. Calorie Counts

Now this, admittedly, a fairly grisly entry for this list. In April 2017, historian James Cole of the University of Brighton was researching cannibalistic practices in ancient tribes to see if they were performed purely for ritualistic purposes or for survival. To this end he decided to determine the fat and caloric content of human bodies to see if they would yield a worthwhile amount of sustenance compared to available prey. He came to a conclusion that an average adult male human body weighing 145 pounds contains roughly 125,000 calories. Since the generally accepted amount of calories a person needs in a day is about 2,000, that means a human body would feed another human for slightly over a month and a family of four for slightly over a week, though as we learned in the previous entry harder living certainly meant people burned through calories faster. A red deer from the time would yield roughly 160,000 calories for less risk, which left Cole inclined to conclude that humans were impractical as a food source and thus the cannibalism was likely more for religious or militaristic purposes.

Cole went into thorough detail in the analysis of a body’s calorie value. For example, a one pound heart provided 650 calories. The liver is 2,569. The lungs are 1,596 calories combined. Skin offers about 10,280; bones 25,330. The delicacy of zombies, the brain, provides 2,700 calories.

1. Makes Own Drugs

To think that in a few ways, every person is a mobile drug lab. For example, there’s dimethyltryptamine, which is a hallucinogenic Schedule 1 drug often extracted from mushrooms. It also naturally occurs in human cerebrospinal fluid and related to dreams. It’s speculated that near-death experiences are related to it. Then there’s the opiate pain reliever morphine, which in 2010 experiments indicated (inconclusively) the brain creates out of the chemical tetrahydropapaveroline.

More firmly established in the late 1980s was that the body produces its own cannabinoids, specifically CB1 and CB2. Beyond the intoxicating effects, the National Academy of Science reported in 2006 that CB2 is used by the body to regulate bone growth. Since then there have been findings that these cannabinoids are used for regulating a number of other physiological functions, which is why in some cases it’s better to rely on the body’s own cannabinoids than ingest some more.

Not Just a Bucket of Bones

WIF Medicine

Toxic Avenger’s Chemistry Lab – WIF Superheroes

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Dangerous and Deadly

Chemicals That Will

Ruin Your Day

We encounter them every day, putting things like water, chlorine, acetic acid and sulfuric acid to work for us in mundane ways. Yet amongst the chemical soup, there are some substances that are just too deadly. In this list, we discover chemicals that are lethal beyond comprehension and learn what to never touch, breathe, or taste, for the sake of survival. If it dissolves glass or is 20 quintillion times as strong as sulfuric acid, the danger is real, and we are not joking.

Just ask the Toxic Avenger:

10. Fluoroantimonic Acid

Superacids are scientifically defined as acids stronger than the infamous chemical sulfuric acid. And super they are, which makes them extremely dangerous. You probably wonder what the world’s strongest acid is, and that record goes to Fluoroantimonic Acid, a superacid that will actually dissolve glass. Terrifying. Of course, it would swiftly melt away any human body parts it came into contact with as well. The actual strength of this acid is a number that we cannot even imagine – just 20 quintillion times the strength of pure, full strength sulfuric acid, which is dangerous enough.

The super-acid has to be stored with extreme caution in containers made from PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) to prevent deadly accidents. Just about any organic compound will be protonated by this acid, which also forms vapors with a high level of toxicity. The components of the acid at an elemental level are combinations of antimony, hydrogen and fluorine. The raw materials are pretty mundane, but the right combination is extraordinary in its power. Chemical engineering and organic chemistry operations make use of this chemical for its ability to protonate organic compounds without having to find a specific solvent.

9. Nicotine

It might surprise you, but nicotine, an addictive plant-derived alkaloid, can be deadly toxic and we are not talking about a slow death from smoking-related health complications. Simply being accidentally overexposed to nicotine can cause a fatal overdose. Small amounts of nicotine function as a stimulant, but too much interferes with the autonomic nervous system and skeletal muscle cells. Furthermore, nicotine is poisonous enough to have been used as an insecticide, which has caused some very unfortunate accidental human deaths.

Nicotine poisoning is becoming more widespread in society thanks to increased availability of alternative nicotine products, such as liquid nicotine, according to Healthline. Symptoms of overexposure may include vomiting, increases in blood pressure, heart arrythmia, dehydration, dizziness, headache and visual and auditory disturbances. In insecticide applications, nicotine is sprayed on sites of insect infestation, swiftly killing the pests. Nicotine’s toxicity is such that only 30 to 60 milligrams may kill an adult. Fortunately, fatalities are not very common in adults, but data shows that if a child gets ahold of nicotine products, fatalities are more likely. Even picking tobacco plants without sufficient precautions has been identified as a potential cause of nicotine poisoning.

8. Hydrogen Peroxide

It’s almost water… but not. It is hydrogen and oxygen, just like water, but in a different ratio. While you have seen it in the home and drug store for a variety of uses, what you get is the diluted form (3 to 6%). Hydrogen peroxide in more concentrated amounts is explosive, extremely dangerous, and able to unleash tremendous damage (so handle with great care).

Hydrogen peroxide in so-called food grade concentrations has caused a number of deaths when misused or accidentally ingested in quantity. The stuff is poisonous, as it behaves very differently in the body compared to the water to which it is so relatively close, chemically. Even worse is the fact that violent criminals have used hydrogen peroxide in deadly attacks.

In one especially tragic case described by the British Broadcasting Service, subways in London were attacked by four crazed bombers who used hydrogen peroxide-based explosives to kill a shocking 52 people in London tube and bus attacks. Due to the mundane nature of hydrogen peroxide, police were not notified of the purchases of the chemical despite the large quantity being bought on repeated occasions, prompting criticism from the coroner commenting on the case.

7. Dimethylcadmium

Cadmium is not very well known compared to the nearly cliched “big three” poisonous metals and metalloids, arsenic, mercury, and lead. Yet cadmium is exceptionally dangerous, especially in the readily bio-available and extraordinarily anti-organism and reactive compound known as Dimethylcadmium. Possibly the most toxic thing a chemist could reasonably be unlucky enough to come across, the compound consists of Cadmium, Hydrogen and Carbon mixed in just the right way to be unusually unsafe. Dimethylcadmium is not something to wash away, for it will explode upon exposure to water.

Furthermore, the chemical is carcinogenic, though that might be one’s last worry considering how immediate the threat of acute poisoning and physical injury presented by this chemical is. A colorless liquid, Dimethylcadmium quickly turns to vapor, allowing it to inflict even more damage should people allow themselves to get into its proximity. The nasty effects of Dimethylcadmium include quick attacks through the bloodstream on the heart and lungs, which it targets with incredible biochemical force.

6. Azidoazide Azide C2N14

This bizarre acid is the most explosive of all created chemical compounds on the planet. Literally anything can cause it to detonate, making it an unmanageable compound. Azidoazide Azide has the seemingly mundane chemical formula C2N14, but what a bad combination that is.

The raw materials for the chemical exist in the air we breath every day, but in different molecular combinations. Classified as a high-nitrogen energetic material, this azide is so reactive that the slightest chemical change may create disaster. Furthermore, changes in temperature or slight disturbances will cause the chemical to explode, making it an extremely unstable substance. Chemists found that the compound was explosive even in solution, and would explosively decompose even as a result of infrared scanning. While a curiosity as a record holder for most explosive substance, this is no chemical for any amateur chemist to check out.

5. Ethylene Glycol

The worst chemicals are not just the most immediately toxic, corrosive, or explosive. Being commonly accessible and also tasting good are most unfortunate in case of mislabeling. A key part of antifreeze used in cars, ethylene glycol is metabolized in the human body by the same enzyme that digests ethanol found in wine, beer or whiskey. Yet the chemical has disastrous effects on the kidneys and central nervous system.

Children and pets are vulnerable, but even fully-grown victims may not realize what they are ingesting in cases of mislabeling due to bottle reuse until it is too late to dodge death or serious harm. Effects can include nervous system disfunction that leads to death within a short time from contamination, which occurs easily upon exposure. Accidental ingestion, exposure to fumes in concentration and spills, or skin absorption are all among the ways that the deadly goo can come into contact with victims.

4. Chlorine

Chlorine might seem like a familiar substance, or less a poison than a disinfectant, despite its notorious wartime usage. After all, the water you drink is likely chlorinated, or at least you hope it is if there is concern over possible waterborne illnesses. Yet chlorine and chlorine derivatives can be exceptionally dangerous, and also easy to accidentally encounter in either excessive concentrations or in combination with other common chemicals that render it much deadlier. For starters, chlorine can cause serious lung damage in pure form.

The chemical reaction that produces chlorine can occur from mixing cleaning products that were never meant to be combined, such as bleach and acids like vinegar (acetic acid). This can be extremely toxic, and even fatal. Chlorine is insidious. It may not kill outright, but exposure may trigger permanent lung damage that builds over time. One of the worst symptoms, apart from actual burns, are those associated with pulmonary edema, a fluid accumulation in the lungs. Greenish yellow, chlorine has a sickly smell that some might recognize from bleach made from sodium hypochlorite or swimming pools and treated drinking water, where it is used in lower concentrations.

3. Dimethyl Mercury

Mercury poisoning is often thought of as a chronic issue, which is more likely to be the case when mercury compounds like Cinnabar (Mercury Sulfide) or even in pure form in small quantities come into contact with the human body. Yet organic mercury compounds are more bioavailable, or readily absorbed and metabolized in the human body. Thus, they are far deadlier. Dimethyl Mercury, for instance, is a chemical to be greatly feared.

Volatile in its reactivity, Dimethyl Mercury is colorless, flammable, and is one of the most potent neurotoxins in the universe. Just 0.1 milliliter can trigger an acute case of mercury poisoning, which can kill. Exposure need not be through ingestion – skin contact is a potentially fatal incident. Death can occur even if gloves are worn, as latex is no barrier to the chemical. The tragic death of chemist Karen Wetterhahn saw the researcher die after being exposed to just several drops of Dimethyl Mercury, which went through her latex gloves. Following exposure, she thought she would be OK until symptoms arose and she passed away 10 months after the tiny spill.

2. Sodium cyanide

Frequently used in industrial applications, sodium cyanide can cause death in an extraordinarily short timeframe should exposure occur. The white, water soluble salt is mostly used as a chemical agent for extracting gold from ore, and is thus not illegal despite the danger it presents. In some extremely disturbing cases, the chemical has been used to murder (or attempt to murder) people for insurance money. The most shocking fact in these truly depraved criminal cases was that the chemical was placed in products available in public for purchase, with the hope that the intended victim would be among the customers.

Sodium cyanide is also used for illegal cyanide fishing and is an all-around deadly chemical that should not be handled casually. Acutely toxic, sodium cyanide kills by interfering with human respiration and is an inhibitor of electrons. Impairment of oxygen metabolism then occurs, with lactic acidosis to follow. Death can result from exposure to just 200 or 300 milligrams of sodium cyanide. Unfortunately, fatal effects come fast with this nasty chemical.

1. Chlorine trifluoride

A bizarre chemical of interest to Nazi researchers as a weapon of World War II, Chlorine Trifluoride just didn’t make the grade as it was seen as too dangerous. A total of 30 tons were produced by Nazi Germany to create bombs and flamethrowers before being discontinued for its sheer impracticality. The bizarre chemical is an oxidizing agent that is corrosive to the point of conflagration. Formed from an unstable mix of halogen elements chlorine and fluorine, Chlorine Trifluoride is explosive, toxic, and exceptionally reactive. It might shock some that there are chemicals that can dissolve glass, but this chlorine compound is another glass buster in a different way.

With this chemical you can literally set glass on fire. Most chemists do not want to work with the chemical given the extraordinary danger it presents. (Definitely forget the test tube!) The reactive chemical will start fires upon any disturbance that cannot be put out with water; water just grows the fire. This stuff burns the fireproof – even asbestos, the deadly fireproofing material will burn with Chlorine Trifluoride. The only way to store it is in containers with a thin fluorine coating, but an accident will spark disaster. When a storage facility with the now banned chemical weapon caught fire, the flames continued until they had burned a foot into the ground before stopping.

Toxic Avenger’s Chemistry Lab

WIF Superheroes

Things That Kill, Not All from China – WIF Lists

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Urban Hazards

That Could

Kill You

The urban environment can be scary. While the dangers of the outdoors and wilderness survival are well publicized, city planners, businesses and the public alike struggle with how to mitigate the dangers with which the urban environment is fraught. Let us now explore the chilling survival dangers that may face us vulnerable humans in the wild, wild world that is the city. Eerily, some of the worst hazards come from attempts at charity, efficiency, or green innovation.

10. Monster Icicles

It is less well known than it should be that urban environments juxtapose walking areas for pedestrians with perfect places for icicles to drop from great heights. This can be deadly. In cities with cold winter climates, sufficient precipitation and the presence of tall buildings, such as St. Petersburg, Russia or New York, USA, a perfect storm exists that has, tragically, caused numerous injuries and in some cities, repeated fatalities. Environmental sustainability measures centered on making buildings more energy efficient have perversely created increased danger to the public in certain cases.

A 2010 article in the International Journal on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat describes how buildings built to be energy efficient (or renovated to be energy efficient) release less heat, saving energy but dramatically increasing the accumulation of potentially dangerous ice formations on the outside of skyscrapers. When temperatures rise, ice chunks fall to the city streets below. Icicles forming as water drips down the edges of buildings has caused tragic deaths, most notably in St. Petersburg, Russia where in a single year (2010) a shocking five people died and 150 were injured after being hit by huge falling icicles or ice chunks. Senseless carnage! Novosibirsk, the third most populated city in Russia, also saw a cold tragedy toward winter’s end in 2015 when a 20-year-old woman was killed by ice falling 14 stories from a canopy. Blame has been placed on officials for failing to ensure dangerous ice was removed.

9. Killer Dumpsters

Dumpster diving is a popular activity for the homeless, those trying to save a few dollars, or certain “freegans” trying to make a political or economic statement about thrown away food. Yet another kind of dumpster diving (for dumpster contents that are not garbage) have claimed several lives, prompting calls for a ban. These are the clothing donation bins that have caused seven deaths Canada-wide since 2015. The complicated mechanism of these bins, designed to prevent theft can crush people between metal plates aided by their own body weight as they reach into the bins in an attempt to retrieve clothing.

The problem is worst in Canada, for reasons still in question, but deaths have occurred elsewhere globally but in fewer numbers. People have been found dead in clothing donation bins, while in other cases, screams were heard but the victim died of crushing and suffocation before they could be helped. For example, help came too late to save one woman whose vehicle was still running beside a bin that she entered at night, only to get caught up and be left hanging from broken limbs. Efforts to curb the deaths include outright bans or voluntary removals of bins in certain jurisdictions, along with engineering team efforts to design a safer system.

8. Stray Bullet Strikes

Stray bullets can arise from surprising sources and travel in the strangest trajectories, killing people in cities who had nothing to do with either celebrations, gang violence, or warfare. Bullets travel farther than people commonly understand, less accurately than often believed, and can ricochet or achieve a lethal potential falling in an arc after being fired into the air. A growing number of people in the United States have lost their lives when a bullet entered their home or hit them in the street. Just one Baltimore street saw a three-year-old killed and then a nine-year-old girl injured by stray bullets in two separate incidents. These cases of accidental urban shootings are examples of a growing problem. Between March 2008 and February 2009, over 300 people were hit by stray bullets in the United States.

A variety of demographics were represented in an analysis of those hit, and those who were identified as responsible in stray bullet cases. Shockingly, children formed 30 percent of the victims. The urban threat is not primarily a street issue, as 68 percent of victims were struck indoors, including 40 percent being accidentally shot in their own homes. There is also an urgent need to stop the celebratory firing of live rounds at events such as New Years around the world. Senseless fatalities, such as the 2014 deaths of two children in the Philippines when bullets fired to celebrate New Years struck them in their home, serve as an example.

7. Airplane Crashes

Urban airplane crashes kill more people than you would think. Look out: the sky is not falling, but its contents just might. We might think of aircraft travel as safe, but when accidents happen, they are notably catastrophic a lot of the time. Furthermore, those on the ground are at risk, especially in cities. Tall buildings present easily struck obstacles, while lower buildings and roads may be hit if a runway is missed. Global aviation disaster records show around 200 crashes that caused fatalities on the ground. The single worst ground fatality event in aviation history resulting from an accident was the crash of an Air Africa Antonov-An-32B into a street market in the Democratic Republic of Congo that killed at least 225 and injured.

In 1992, a notable disaster took place when approximately 100 people in an apartment building in Amsterdam lost their lives as an airliner flew into the building, causing an immense fireball. Terrorism caused the most serious incidents, the 9/11 terrorist attacks killing more than 2,500 people on the ground. Large aircraft are also known to shed heavy parts, but a more common danger comes from small planes crashing in suburbs, such as one recent case in Southern California where four people in a house died when an 8-seater Cessna broke up in mid-air and caused the house to explode into a fiery mass upon impact.

6. Accidental Drug Exposures

The use of illegal “recreational” drugs presents significant risks to users. However, as prohibited street drugs get more potent and deadly, the potential for collateral damage in urban areas to non-users rises. The appearance of fentanyl as an illegal substance often used to cut less potent drugs poses an extreme threat to law enforcement and the public. An increasingly abused substance on the streets that is of medical origin, fentanyl often comes in a fine powder. If inhaled, even a tiny amount of this drug (that is around 50 times stronger than most forms of heroin) may dangerously inhibit respiratory function, easily causing death. In one case, first responders assisting an overdose victim themselves experienced symptoms of an overdose, prompting emergency management authorities to highlight the risks of accidental exposure.

If this was not enough, another substance originating from fentanyl, carfentanil, is around 100 times more potent than regular fentanyl. Terrifying! In addition to the growing threat caused by these rogue opioids proliferating in world cities, drug use poses other threats. Discarded needles are becoming ubiquitous, showing up in garbage cans, at bus stops, and in playgrounds, parks, and even townhouse common grounds. Accidental sticking with discarded needles may lead to exposure to bloodborne diseases if accidentally touched in a way that the skin of the unwitting handler is broken. Means of exposure include handling garbage, walking in grass, or picking up clothing in which a needle is present.

5. Extreme Smog

Major urban centres like Los Angeles, Beijing, and London continue to provoke health conditions and contain significant quantities of toxic smog. Extreme incidents involving smog have marked some of the low points of urban history, the London Killer Fog of 1952 being one of the most notorious examples.  The fog only lasted five days, but the chemical reaction between sulfur dioxide, natural fog, and nitrogen dioxide, creating highly corrosive sulfuric acid fumes in the city. Poisoned badly, 12,000 people died, while 150,000 were so sick they required hospitalization. By 1956, the Clean Air Act was passed to get control of the deadly risks of urban coal burning.

Despite the improvements, London today still has air that has become comparable to New Delhi or Beijing, two large cities known for their frequent air quality advisories. London’s problem with nitrogen dioxide continues, exacerbated by sunlight, which produces ozone pollution. Cities such as New Delhi, however, suffer from worse particulate pollution, yet the levels of potentially life-shortening nitrogen dioxide in London are significantly worse than conditions in a city as large as New York, putting a strain on health services. Air pollution in China causes around 1.1 million premature deaths annually, part of a constellation of problems that prompted Premier of the State Council Li Keqiang to declare “war on pollution” in China, with the intention of “making our skies blue again.” Efforts are focused on reducing steel production and coal-fired energy generation, which are key polluters.

4. Freak Urban Floods

Cities are often built in low-lying areas, while the removal of vegetation and construction beside watercourses in urban areas exacerbates flooding. Urban floods are especially dangerous due to the presence of electrical wires, with electrocution a noteworthy result of certain urban floods. Even in areas that might be thought of as being more dry, flash floods can pose an extraordinary risk in urban locales. In the large Saudi Arabian city Jeddah, 2009 and 2011 saw floods roar through the desert city, killing over 100 people. A lack of proper drainage and flood absorbing vegetation presents a challenge that must be addressed through better installation of natural infrastructure such as constructed wetlands and drains to slow and absorb floodwaters.

Furthermore, urban industry poses the threat of some very strange floods. Eight deaths resulted when thousands of gallons of beer were accidentally released into the streets in the “London Beer Flood” of 1814, while the “Great Boston Molasses Flood” in the United States in 1919 killed 21 people and injured 150, when a huge tank full of molasses broke and let out a wave of molasses 15 feet tall that rushed through streets and buildings, creating a half mile long swathe of destruction and death as people were trapped and drowned in the sticky substance.

3. Infrastructure Failures

We typically trust bridges, power pylons, overpasses, and roads to be well constructed. But a surprising number of deaths take place in cities around the world when the stress of everyday use does not match up to engineering projections and design provisions. Infrastructure collapses in developing countries or political jurisdictions without sufficient engineering codes are expected, but it may surprise people how many disasters have occurred in jurisdictions where infrastructure is thought to be quality and safe.

Between 1989 and 2000, more than 500 bridge failure disasters occurred in the United States! It is often not the result of an earthquakes, but floods or the negligence of a single motorist colliding with critical bridge support structures that sets off a collapse. Other times, engineering mistakes fail to take into account the enormous cumulative load from traffic, settling, and torsion or settling forces, leading to gradual failure or a sudden, catastrophic collapse. Collapses of overpasses above traffic are also some of the worst types of infrastructure collapse risks in cities. So, when you are traveling on a bridge, or below underpasses, you might want to think about the merits of not getting stuck under an overpass or on a bridge that possibly leads nowhere.

2. Asbestos Exposure

Urban exploring, where enthusiasts often illicitly traverse old factories, office towers, and tunnels, enjoys popularity but it can be very risky due to the chance of encountering asbestos. Asbestos, once welcomed as a problem solving “wonder material” with its fireproof insulator properties, is proof that the worst hazards are not always man-made, but natural in origin. Massive quantities of asbestos were once incorporated into urban structures of all kinds. Asbestos formed of minute, dangerous fibers can get into the lungs, where they cause serious inflammation and, eventually, lung cancer.

In the urban environment, almost any older building could be a dangerous storehouse of asbestos fibers. Even careful acts of urban exploration may cause ceilings, walls, stairwells, or old insulation panels to give way, releasing asbestos. No wonder asbestos exposure constitutes the number one threat to the urban explorer, according to Jason Robinson, who founded the Ohio Exploration Society. Not only urban explorers, but renovators and construction workers are confounded by the asbestos threat. Many urban construction projects have the potential to unleash massive quantities of asbestos when past construction work is disturbed. Dealing with asbestos is a liability but also a significant business activity, with workers suiting up until they resemble astronauts in a bid to get rid of the danger.

1. Gas Leaks & Carbon Monoxide

Colorless, odorless, and hard to notice, carbon monoxide remains an insidious and quick killer responsible for numerous deaths from small and large scale equipment failures and also installation mistakes. The substance is a dangerous, but formed of two completely harmless substances that make up your food, your body, and the air around you, albeit in a different molecular order. One molecule of carbon binds to one molecule of oxygen in a byproduct of certain combustion reactions, but the danger is much greater than the sum of the parts. Carbon monoxide is capable of physically replacing the oxygen in your bloodstream.

While taking the place of oxygen, this impostor chemical fails to provide the life sustaining support that oxygen lends. Eerily, the chemical has no taste, smell or color and is often not detected until death results, particularly if the victim is asleep. Many deaths have resulted from blocked chimneys, use of fuel burning machines indoors, or leaving a car running in an enclosed space. A number of deaths result every year, while lower levels of poisoning that cause headaches, nausea, and dizziness — or even seizures — may be misdiagnosed. Maintenance of equipment and avoidance of unsafe practices, followed by installation of monitors, are key ways to avoid fatal incidents.

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Hallucinating Handbook – WIF Altered States


Strange Facts

About Hallucinations

Around the World

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Most people think of hallucinations as something only experienced by the extremely mentally ill, such as those with schizophrenia, or the realm of those who are using a lot of very powerful drugs. However, while hallucinations can happen for those reasons, there are many other ways that they can happen as well.

 We also tend to think of them as something to be entirely feared, or something at the very least to be ignored, but some cultures around the world actually have a more positive view of these experiences. Hallucinations are a very strange experience where our brains confuse the location of sensory input, and there is still much to learn about them.

10. Phantom Phone Vibrations Are Becoming an Incredibly Common Hallucination

  Most people tend to think of hallucinations solely as something that you see, or hear. Most people really give no mind to the idea of a tactile hallucination, or one that is entirely a feel based hallucination. However, this type has become incredibly common in recent years, due to the rise of cell phones. Ever since the “vibrate” function has existed in order to allow us to know we are being messaged without making noise, the problem has begun and started to worsen.

Many people who have never had any reports of mental illness have reported feeling phantom cell phone vibrations, and it is now a widespread phenomenon. In a study at the Georgia Institute of Technology, 90% of students reported feeling phantom cell phone vibrations, where they frantically checked their phone only to realize the vibration hadn’t actually occurred. The professor in charge of the study, Dr. Robert Rosenberger, believes that this hallucination occurs because people become so attached to their phones that mentally, it essentially becomes part of their body.

9. PTSD Can Cause Hallucinations Even With No Other Mental Illnesses

PTSD, short for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, was once known as shell shock and considered by most people to be something that was only obtained by soldiers fighting in wars. Now, most people understand that PTSD can occur in anyone who has a really serious, traumatizing experience, especially if the trauma is not properly dealt with at the time. Many people will also talk about PTSD sufferers dealing with something called “flashbacks,” and media will use this for plots where the person with PTSD doesn’t recognize the people around them, because they are supposedly so caught up in the past memory. This kind of inability to have any clue what your surroundings are is pretty rare and likely involves other underlying mental illnesses.

What most people with PTSD are often dealing with is a sort of hallucination often referred to as a flashbulb memory. These are intrusive memories, often visual, that will pop into the sufferers head and remind them of their experience. These memories can be triggered by all kinds of random things, and then can be difficult to get back out of the mind again. If triggered at a bad time, especially because of a bad dream, the experience can feel insanely real, as if it just happened again. This can cause extreme anxiety in those with PTSD, which is often the main symptom they have to deal with.

8. Being Tired Alone Can Make You Hallucinate

Some people will simply never be interested in taking any mind altering drugs, and they are also perfectly mentally healthy. They might imagine that they would never hallucinate in their lives, but the truth is that it is far easier to hallucinate than people might think. What it comes down to is the nature of hallucinations. In essence, they are your brain confusing itself into thinking that something coming from inside is actually coming from outside. When you think about it, simply wearing your brain out and making it more tired is going to make it far easier to get confused.

This is why some people who are completely drug free will often take several days with very little sleep and start occasionally seeing things, or having other altered perception. In fact, for those who have stayed up for multiple days at a time while they were young, most have probably reported a surreal feeling where the world doesn’t seem quite right. Of course, it’s not necessarily good for you to stay up in order to hallucinate – your brain needs to regularly rest and recover. If you are hallucinating from lack of sleep, your brain is probably tired.

7. Some People Around the World Have a Positive View of Hallucinations

In a study in the British Journal of Psychiatry, 60 adults with schizophrenia were interviewed across three countries: the United States, Ghana, and India. The idea behind the study was to learn how different cultures viewed their experiences with hallucinations – they picked sufferers of schizophrenia because it was an easy way to get a group of people guaranteed to have regular hallucinations. The interviews gave an interesting insight into how different cultural thinking changes how hallucinations are not only thought of, but how they are actually experienced.

Those interviewed from the United States tended to have very negative and gross hallucinations – stuff about blood and torture; really nasty stuff. However, those from India and Ghana reported their hallucinations as positive. Instead of viewing them as evidence of demons, they thought of them as friends or deceased family members talking to them and giving them advice. One of them even suggested that he needed no friends because he already had a great companion to talk to.

6. Peyote is Used Almost Entirely for Religious Purposes in Reverential Settings

When most people hear someone talking about using a drug for “religious purposes” they tend to laugh and shrug it off, because it is usually some stoner trying to justify the fact that he drops huge amounts of acid, and then eats Cheetos while watching TV all day and not moving from the couch. This should be no surprise, then, that when many people are informed of the fact that Peyote – a hallucinatory substance – is legal on Native American reservations, they think that the natives are just using it to get high all the time.

 However, the truth is that while some Native Americans have developed a regrettably dangerous alcohol habit, Peyote is not and was never a drug of vice. In fact, the Native Americans went to great lengths to keep the use of Peyote approved on reservations because it truly was part of religious ceremonies. A ceremony involving Peyote could have the tribe members in attendance ingest it and then pray and focus on an altar, taking part in a religious ceremony all the way from dusk till dawn. It is an aid for very long bouts of worship – not a way to casually get high.

5. There’s a Hallucinogenic Fish Swimming Around in the Oceans Right Now

Some may have heard of a fish that was once used to cause hallucinations, and just figured it was overfished… or otherwise people would be using it all the time. However, there is a reason that people don’t tend to try to use Sarpa Salpa in order to see the universe. The problem is that while ingesting this fish can cause you to hallucinate, the hallucinations are known to be almost universally unpleasant, come with awful nightmares attached, that last for days at a time.

These fish are actually fairly popular in the Mediterranean, where they are served carefully to avoid giving you the slightly poisonous parts that make you see strange things and have horrible dreams. However, if you were to come across the fish in the ocean and eat the wrong parts without knowing, you might be in for a big surprise. The fish has been found in waters far from its usual native source, and people have been hospitalized in the past after ingesting the fish, followed by days of horror.

4. Bread With a Natural Substance Similar to LSD May Have Created Some Witch Hysteria

Many people look back at the Salem Witch Trials and think of them as an example of the problem when religious extremism goes too far. Even today the town is a thriving center of commerce that now welcomes witchcraft as a sort of permanent apology for what occurred so many years ago. However, a Behavioral Psychologist named Linnda Caporael, of New York’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has been studying the trials of Salem and the history behind it and is convinced that there is a completely different cause.

A certain kind of rye bread that was incredibly popular and a staple grain in the part of Salem where those who were making the accusations hailed from, can easily create a substance similar to LSD when the right molds are formed. According to Caporael, the conditions for this mold were perfect during the time of the Salem Witch Trials. She also notes that many of the symptoms the accused were reporting were very similar to those of Ergot poisoning – the natural hallucinatory similar to LSD. This included symptoms like hallucinations, vomiting, crawling sensations, muscle spasms and other things that fit the mold almost perfectly. It is quite possible that the Salem Witch Trials were not a case of religious fervor, but of very extreme food poisoning.

3. Migraine Sufferers Are Hallucinating When They See Auras and Other Colors

Migraine sufferers are rarely thought of as people who would hallucinate, but it is very common for those with a migraine to see something known as an aura, often shortly before a migraine attack actually begins. While it doesn’t occur to all those who have migraines, it does seem to occur the same way to all those who suffer from them. Those who see auras before a migraine usually report seeing a sort of jagged shape of light obscuring part of their field of vision. The strength of the aura usually fades fairly quickly, but something called a scotoma often lingers for a while.

This scotoma is where, for a brief time after the aura, your field of view will be partially obscured in a shape similar to the jagged shape seen when you saw the aura itself. While scientists have come a long way in understanding the brain, they still do not entirely understand the mechanisms behind these hallucinations, or for that matter entirely why migraines happen in the first place. Scientists are mostly convinced that migraines start from the brain, and many think they may have some connection to epilepsy, but there is still much to learn.

2. The Strange Condition Known as Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, also known as AWS, is a strange neurological disorder where people will distort the shapes of things around them. This can cause them to think their hand is huge, or their foot very small. They could think that the wall is very far away, or the bookcase is gigantic – very much like how Alice’s perception is quite confused while she is in Wonderland. Scientists have long been baffled by this condition because they have had trouble finding any kind of direct answer as to why some people suffer from this. Finding a genetic link has been difficult and some people seem to grow out of it over time, with some even obtaining the disorder again years later.

Some have posited that it may have something to do with epilepsy, and have tried to find a genetic link, but with so few people with the disorder, it has been impossible thus far to put together any compelling evidence. Right now the best guess researchers have is that AWS, migraines and epilepsy are all connected, but the subject of brain disorders is still a very mysterious field in many ways.

1. The Bizarre Doppelganger Illusion That Some People Suffer From

When many people hear the word doppelganger they think of something akin to an evil twin, or a clone. However, the term was originally coined to describe people who see themselves, and cannot realize that what they are seeing is actually just an illusion, and not another version of their own person. In fact, some scientists believe that many self-portraits back in the day were drawn by artists suffering from doppelganger illusions.

 These autoscopic phenomenon can take many different forms, such as when someone sees themselves in the mirror, but recognizes it as another similar looking person instead of their own reflection. The phenomenon can range from full on out of body experiences, where people don’t see themselves as themselves, and can even include feeling a presence that convinces you another person is in the room with you. While many people may think this type of hallucination is only something that those with mental illnesses will have to worry about, that isn’t entirely the case. Under cases of sensory deprivation, these illusions have been found in even mentally healthy people.

Hallucinating Handbook

– WIF Altered States