The society of toxicology defines toxicology as “the discipline that integrates all scientific information to help preserve and protect health and the environment from the hazards presented by chemical and physical agents”.
The hazard of a chemical or physical agents is its capacity to produce particular types of adverse effect. Hazards are usually determined using information collected from studies conducted in animals, and also from studies in which human populations have been exposed to chemicals.
As it is stated above, the historical development of toxicology began with early cave dwellers who recognized poisonous plants and animals and used their extracts for hunting in warfare. By 1500 BC, written records indicated that hemlock, opium, arrow poisons, and certain metals were used to poison enemies or for state executions.
Paracelsus (Theophrastus Phillipus Auroleus Bombastus Von Hohenheim 1493-1541) determined that specific chemicals were actually responsible for the toxicity of a plant or animal poison. He also developed the concept of dose. His studies revealed that small doses of substances might be harmless or beneficial whereas larger doses could be toxic. This is now known as the dose-response relationship, a major concept of toxicology.
Paracelsus is often quoted for his statement:
All things are poison and Nothing is without poison; only the dose makes a thing a poison.
This is often condensed to:
dose makes the poison “.
Mathieu Orfila (1787-1853) is considered to be the father of modern toxicology, having given the subject its formal treatment in 1813 in his Toxicology generate (Trait des poisons). Orfila prepared a systematic correlation between the chemical and biological properties of poisons of the time. He demonstrated the effects of poisons on specific organs by analyzing autopsy materials for poisons and their associated tissue damage.
The 20th century was marked by advanced level of understanding of toxicology. DNA (the molecule of life) and various biochemicals that maintain body functions were discovered. Our level of knowledge of toxic effects on organs and cells is now being revealed at the molecular level. It is recognized that virtually all toxic effects are caused by changes in specific cellular molecules and biochemicals.
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