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Nerve Gas

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What is Nerve Gas?

A nerve gas or a nerve agent is used as an agent of chemical warfare to paralyze one's nervous system. These gases act as a poison for the nervous system as they are acetylcholinesterase inhibitors. Exposure to a mild or moderate amount of nerve gas can lead to severe symptoms. Exposure to a huge amount of gas or exposure for a long time may lead to death.

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Among nerve gases, the most widely-known ones are Soman, Sarin chemical, and Tabun, all developed in Germany during World War II. However, they were never used. On the other hand, newer nerve gases like VX had been developed during the Cold War but are now used in trace amounts in weapon-making. A nerve agent is usually a tasteless and colourless or amber-coloured liquid that can evaporate in the air easily. Soman has a light odour of camphor while Tabun has a light fruity odour and VX and Sarin is completely odourless.

Classes of Nerve Gas

There are mainly two classes or types of nerve agents. They are known as, G-series and V-series nerve gases.


The G-series nerve gas was first synthesized before or during World War II. The nerve agents of the G-series were GA or Tabun, the GB or Sarin chemical, the GD or Soman, and lastly GF or Cyclosarin in 1936, 1939, 1944, and 1949 respectively. Out of them, only GB or Sarin has been consistently used by the USA while making artillery shells, aerial bombs, rockets, and munitions. 

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The V-series came next and is a much more persistent gas than the G-series ones. Their variants included the VX, VR, VM, VG, and VE. Out of these VX was the most well-known one. It was first utilized as a pesticide under the name Amiton but was withdrawn soon due to its toxic effects. The VX is also used by the USA in landmines, airplane spray tanks, artillery shells, and rockets.

Nerve Gas Effects

Nerve gas will attack your nervous system when it gets absorbed into your system through the bloodstream. Sarin gas effects include attacking the ACh which is responsible for controlling muscle tissues, paralyzing the muscles, and restricting their movement. This leads to more severe complications within seconds and in most cases, is followed by death.

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Initial symptoms of a nerve gas attack of Sarin include pupil constriction, tightness in the chest, runny nose. This is generally followed by salivation, nausea, and difficulty in breathing. One starts to lose control of their body which will be followed by muscle jerks and a type of epileptic seizure known as status epilepticus. If one has been exposed to a large amount of gas or has been exposed for a long time, one will die due to cardiac arrest or asphyxiation.

The first symptoms of a nerve gas attack will start appearing in 30 seconds leading to a massive cardiac arrest or asphyxiation (reduction in the supply of oxygen to lungs) leading to death. These nerve gas effects are severe and can last for a very long time. Every nerve gas attack survivor has suffered from psychiatric and neurological damage. Some Sarin gas effects stay for a long time and induce symptoms like tiredness, blurred vision, memory loss, eye strain, and others.

Method of Spreading

Nerve gas like Sarin nerve gas can spread through:

  • Aerosol munitions

  • Generation of smoke

  • Dissemination of explosives

  • Foggers, humidifiers, atomizers

How the nerve agent is spread depends on the properties of the nerve gas itself, the type of target, and how much the gas needs to be concealed.

Did You Know?

  • VX of the V-series nerve agent was first accidentally discovered by Ranajit Ghosh in Porton Down in the UK in the 1950s. 

  • Nerve gas attack treatment includes oxime to be used as an antidote and anticholinergic to control the symptoms.

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FAQs on Nerve Gas

1. What is nerve gas detection method?

If you are wondering what is nerve gas detection method, well, there are several but the most common ones are laser photoacoustic spectroscopy, Non-dispersive infrared, IR absorption, and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. Out of them, laser photoacoustic spectroscopy is the common method of detecting nerve gas in the air. Under this technology, there are three different lasers fixed at three different frequencies to produce different sound waves. These different wavelengths are then sent into a sensor known as the photoacoustic cell where the nerve gas vapors are present. Some nerve agent stimulants that can be identified with this method are DMMP, SEMP, DIMP, Sarin nerve gas, and others.

2. Is there any treatment for nerve gas effects?

While nerve gas affects the body quite fast and can lead to death, a little amount of exposure can be treated to save the individual's life. Standard procedure for treatment includes the use of anticholinergic to control the nerve gas effects along with the use of an oxime used as an antidote. The anticholinergic is used to treat the symptoms of the nerve gas by controlling the acetylcholine effects. Meanwhile, the oxime concentrates on displacing the phosphate molecules from the cholinesterase enzyme’s active site to help in the acetylcholine breakdown. However, in the military to save time, to reduce the effects of Sarin nerve gas, this combination is issued in an autoinjector.

3. How were nerve gas agents first discovered?

The G-series of nerve gas was the first class of nerve gas to be ever discovered. Its discovery was a mistake made by Gerhard Schrader and his research team when they were trying to work on IG Farben in 1936 in Germany. Instead of making an insecticide, they ended up making a potent nerve gas, the Tabun. Schrader also went on to discover the famous Sarin chemical later on. His experiments concluded that the Sarin gas effects were ten times worse than Tabun.

Soman, another nerve gas was discovered by Richard Kuhn while Cyclosarin was discovered during the WW II.

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