In Pain, Pus & Poison, Dr. Michael Mosley tells the extraordinary story of how scientists learnt to use the world around us to heal our bodies and conquer the common afflictions of pain, pus and poison. He explores how certain chemicals – once invisible and almost magical in their effects - were discovered, captured, understood and finally exploited. In the three-part series, Michael discovers how a crisis in the French wine industry led to the discovery of what actually causes disease; how a German scientist obsessed with colour found the world's first targeted drug and how, if it weren't for a group of Oxford scientists and American industrialists, penicillin - the most powerful life-saving drug the world has ever seen - might have remained no more than a lab curiosity.
Runtime: 60 minutes
Pain, Pus & Poison: The Search for Modern Medicines - Chinese alchemical elixir poisoning - Netflix
In Chinese alchemy, elixir poisoning refers to the toxic effects from elixirs of immortality that contained metals and minerals such as mercury and arsenic. The official Twenty-Four Histories record numerous Chinese emperors, nobles, and officials who died from taking elixirs in order to prolong their lifespans. The first emperor to die from elixir poisoning was likely Qin Shi Huang (d. 210 BCE) and the last was Yongzheng (d. 1735). Despite common knowledge that immortality potions could be deadly, fangshi and Daoist alchemists continued the elixir-making practice for two millennia.
Pain, Pus & Poison: The Search for Modern Medicines - Warring States period - Netflix
The earliest mention of alchemy in China occurs in connection with fangshi (“masters of the methods”) specialists in cosmological and esoteric arts employed by rulers from the 4th century BCE (De Woskin 1981: 19). The 3rd-century BCE Zhanguo Ce and Han Feizi both record a story about King Qingxiang of Chu (r. 298-263 BCE) being presented a busi zhi yao 不死之藥 “immortality medicine”. As the chamberlain was taking the elixir into the palace, a guard asked if it was edible and when he answered yes, the guard grabbed and ate it. The king was angered and condemned the guard to death. A friend of the guard tried to persuade the king, saying, “After all the guard did ask the chamberlain whether it could be eaten before he ate it. Hence the blame attaches to the chamberlain and not to him. Besides what the guest presented was an elixir of life, but if you now execute your servant after eating it, it will be an elixir of death (and the guest will be a liar). Now rather than killing an innocent officer in order to demonstrate a guest's false claim, it would be better to release the guard.” This logic convinced the king to let the guard live (Needham and Ho 1970: 316).