According to legend, Mithridates studiously researched and examined all known toxins and experimented with potential remedies by using prisoners as his guinea pigs. Supposedly, Mithridates’ toils paid off because numerous ancient authors, including Pliny the Elder, claimed that he created and regularly ingested a universal antidote for all identified toxins, and it became known as mithridate (mithridatium).

It was said that he was pretty much ingesting small amounts of poison to develop an immunity to it.

Whether universal poison or ingesting each type one by one, is this possible to build up your body to resist or be immune to poison/venom/toxins in general?

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    $\begingroup$ Hi mph85 and welcome to Bio.SE. I hate to be boring, but the answer is that it will depend on the specific compound. Perhaps you could narrow down the question to a specific poison? $\endgroup$
    – James
    Nov 18 '19 at 10:58
  • $\begingroup$ May I remember you that Mithridates' body actually got tremendously marred from such treatment, (according to the same sources you have quoted). $\endgroup$
    – Algae
    Nov 18 '19 at 15:05

Welcome to SE. Edit: The answer is in two parts based on the mechanism of action of the toxin. Courtesy: @David and @jamesqf


The white blood cells in the body are responsible for recognizing self or non-self peptides and form the adaptive compartment of the immune system. The B lymphocytes have a receptor that can bind to various peptides. Upon recognition of foreign peptides in the body, they go through a reaction (somatic hypermutation) to become further specific to the foreign peptide. They also differentiate into Plasma cells which can now secret another protein (antibodies) which neutralizes the foreign peptide.

Small amounts, which are non-lethal, but in enough concentration to drive the B cell reaction creates an immunological "memory". This memory allows a faster response to the same peptide compared to the reaction. This in order allows the body to withstand a higher concentration of toxic peptide, which otherwise would have been lethal as its being neutralized.

Vaccines work on a principle very close to this.


Every toxin interacts which some biological process and drives it out of balance. The body actively tries to restore the balance by some means.

For example, if a ligand is depleted the body can increase the number of receptors to counter the effect and vice versa.

By ingesting small amounts of toxins body can adjust the equilibrium by very small amount at a time adjusting the concentration of relevant ligands or receptors.

Again, the person who has been through this process can withstand a higher dosage of the toxin compared to a person who hasn't.

  • $\begingroup$ At least two problems with this answer: size of antigen and mode of presentation. Also, answers are answers to questions, not to people. This question is about immunity to poisons such as cyanide, arsenic, alpha-amanatin. Do you have any evidence that these can provoke an immune response? $\endgroup$
    – David
    Nov 18 '19 at 13:45
  • $\begingroup$ @David I agree that it is dependent on the size of the antigen and mode of presentation to a certain extent. The last line in the description asks for a general possibility and I have only included details which I thought are relevant for the answer. OP also doesn't mention Cyanide, Arsenic, alpha-Amanatin specifically or any other particular category or toxins. $\endgroup$ Nov 18 '19 at 14:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Cheesebread: Or things to which you can become habituated, as for instance opiate addicts who can tolerate doses that would kill a naive user. I've also read that one can develop a tolerance to arsenic (and perhaps other things) by taking gradually-increasing doses, to such an extent that suddenly stopping the dose will cause death. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Nov 18 '19 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf — me too. Wasn't Rasputin supposed to have done that in relation to arsenic? But the point, then, is that this is nothing to do with lymphocyte-based immunity, so a good answer needs to consider the different situations. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Nov 18 '19 at 22:31

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