Maybe You Shouldn’t Drink That?


Copyright — Madison Woods

“Ashish!” said Sal as he washed his glassware at the laboratory sink, “You look like shit!”

“I feel like shit, man!” said Ashish. “I’ve gained eight pounds in the last week, but I’m not fatter in the slightest: I’m just heavier. And I’m nauseous and dizzy, and my hands are shaking and I feel cold and clammy.”

“Maybe you’re dehydrated? Drink your wada.” Sal pointed at the bottle in Ashish’s hand.

“I’ve been drinking water like crazy,” said Ashish as he refilled his bottle from the spigot. “It’s not helping man. I think I’m dying or something!”

“Hmmm,” said Sal. “You will die before long, I suspect, if you keep drinking the deuterium oxide.”

An entry to this week’s Friday Fictioneers photo prompt. The exact quantity of deuterium oxide one would have to drink to actually die has long been a favorite cafeteria conversation among organic chemists. You would probably have to replace a substantial portion of your bodies water for it to be fatal: Possibly as much as 25% to 50%. Heavy water is a little more than 10% heavier than regular water, so you would gain a bit of weight without becoming any larger (your density would increase). Eventually, deuterium would become incorporated into various enzymes and proteins and your body would start to shut down. If you went in for an MRI, the hospital staff monitoring the MRI results might be surprised that you have no brain. Deuterium is invisible to an MRI. Since an MRI ordinarily is looking at protons (hydrogens), and since deuterium would replace a substantial portion of the hydrogen in your body in an extreme case of deuterium oxide poisoning, your deuterated brain would appear to an MRI to be a little faint. Although you would normally find deuterium oxide in an organic laboratory, you wouldn’t find big jugs of the stuff, so this story is a bit far-fetched in that regard. Still, when I saw this week’s photo prompt, I could imagine the photo being of a water dispenser in a laboratory of some kind, and I couldn’t resist the deuterium oxide angle. 🙂

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19 Responses to Maybe You Shouldn’t Drink That?

  1. Amy Reese says:

    Okay, I’m staying away from this stuff. Thanks for the chem lesson. Nicely done!

  2. I think apart from being lethal it’s quite pricey I would guess

  3. ansumani says:

    I liked the chemistry part….explains my weight gain 🙂

  4. micklively says:

    Interesting and novel idea.

  5. Great explanation, thanks.

  6. I loved the scientific explanation, and of course, the story!

  7. draliman says:

    See, this is why even water needs to be clearly labelled! I once got into “trouble” for not labelling water as “tap water” in a lab 🙂

  8. Dear Zombie,

    Is nothing safe? Lemme answer that. No. Good story and thanks for the chemistry lesson.



  9. Dave says:

    He’s got reactor coolant water on tap? Now that doesn’t seem wise…

    • Well, you will find D2O in an organic lab mainly for use as a solvent for NMR spectroscopy. NMR is basically the same thing as MRI, so you want to dissolve your sample in a solvent that is transparent. If you dissolved your sample in regular water, you would mostly just see the water in your NMR.

      Of course, you don’t need huge jugs of the stuff for that. 😛

  10. Thanks for the lesson! Even bottled water isn’t safe, me thinks. Alicia

  11. wildbilbo says:

    Love some science nerding – well done. And if it were freely available I’m CERTAIN Nestle would be bottling it as a bodybuilding supplement or energy drink where they would shout the tagline at you:


    (very funny)

  12. gahlearner says:

    LOL, showing a “faint” brain seems quite fitting for someone who drinks loads of deuterium oxide (and should know better). Still on topic, a while ago, I came across several of these ads: — glowing health indeed. And: great story.

    • LOL! Those are actually pretty good! 🙂

      Just to be clear though: Deuterium, while a heavy isotope of hydrogen, is not radioactive. Tritium is radioactive as hell, but not deuterium.

      What makes the ingestion of deuterium oxide an entertaining topic of conversation is that you would ordinarily consider isotopes as chemically indistinguishable from one another. Ordinarily, they are, and deuterium is mostly chemically identical to hydrogen. There are subtle differences though in bond angles and energies, and those subtle differences have an impact on things like proteins. 🙂

  13. gahlearner says:

    Ack, memory fail, I mixed them up. Thanks for the explanation. I could have sworn the heavy water was the radioactive stuff… that just shows how the memory goes down the drain. 🙂

  14. argh! Being heavier is a girl’s worst nightmare–even if our clothes still fit 😉 Excellent take on the prompt and thanks for the excellent explanation for those of us that are chemistry challenged

  15. Awesome and sad. I hope he can lose the “water weight”. 🙂

  16. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard of the stuff, but I’m certainly not going to drink any if I run across it in future. Good story. 🙂 — Suzanne

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