Forensic toxicology is one of the oldest disciplines in forensic science history and dates back hundreds of years. However, the actual understanding and examination of forensic toxicology only dates back for about 200 years. Due to the development of technology, this discipline has been able to progress and flourish.
The term forensic toxicology is defined as examination of all aspects of toxicity that may have legal implications (James & Nordby, 2009 p. 61). In the past, poisoning was one of the most popular forms of murder. There are countless natural substances in the world that when ingested into the body in high doses, can become lethal to the human body. What made this form of murder so famous is that most poisons mimic common medical diseases, leading physicians to believe a victim died of natural causes (Ramsland, n.d.). Aside from murder, this forensic discipline is also essential for determining accidental deaths and suicides.
As stated earlier, forensic toxicology is the examination of toxic substances in human tissues, organs, and body fluids that may have contributed or caused death to an individual (Tilstone, Savage, Clark, 2006). When referring to toxicology, the important terms to focus on are “poisons” and “poisoning”. Poison can be defined as a substance which, when introduced into or applied to the body, is capable of injuring health or destroying life (Robertson, 1929). A simpler definition of poison would be that it is the malicious intent on giving a drug or substance to an individual.
Poisons come in different forms and act in different ways. They can act locally, absorption through the body, or both. There are three different categories that poisons are put into: inorganic, organic, and asphyxiants. Inorganic poisons are classified as corrosive acids, alkalies, caustic salts, and nearly all the metals and metalloids. Organic poisons are more elaborative. These types are categorized into irritants (animal bites, food poisoning, or toxic plants), neuronic (somniferous, deliriant, inebriants), sedative or depressants (neural, cerebral, cardiac), and excito-motory or convulsive (nux vomica and strychnine) (Robertson, 1929).
Forensic toxicologists are mainly concerned with the detection of drugs and poisons in samples or individuals. This being said, toxicology has many different applications. There are four main applications in which toxicology is used for: death investigations, testing for victims of crime or persons apprehended for a crime, employment drug testing, and human performance testing.
Death investigations are the most known application of forensic toxicology. Siegel, Saukko and Knupfer (2000) explained that this specific application provides clinicians with information of a possible drug taken in overdose, or authorities investigating a sudden death of poisoning with information on the possible substance or substances used. This essentially aids the medical examiners in determining the specific drug...