Cyanide

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The cyanide ion. From the top:
1. Valence-bond structure
2. Space-filling model
3. Electrostatic potential surface
4. 'Carbon lone pair'

Cyanides are chemicals that contain the cyano-group. In that group a carbon atom has three bonds to a nitrogen atom. This group is present in many substances. Many of them are gases, but some are solids or liquids. Those substances that can release the compound CN are highly poisonous.

Certain bacteria, fungi and algae are able to produce cyanides. Cyanides are also found in certain foods or plants. The cyanides serve as a defense against being eaten by herbivores.

In popular culture, cyanides are said to be highly toxic. But there are many cyanides that really are, but many others that are not. Prussian blue, a cyanide compound, is given as a treatment to poisoning with Thallium and Caesium, for example.

The poisons referred to are usually hydrogen cyanide (HCN), and the chemicals which are similar to it, like potassium cyanide (KCN), and sodium cyanide (NaCN). (Such substances are called derivatives of hydrogen cyanide). Organic compounds that contain the CN group are called nitriles. Many of them are not as toxic. Some of them are even used to produce drugs.

Some people think that glucose (sugars) may be an antidote against cyanide poisoning. They think that sugar can bind the free cyano group, whereby some of the poison could be neutralized.