Philosophy:The Dose Makes the Poison

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The Dose Makes the Poison: A Plain Language Guide to Toxicology
The Dose Makes the Poison A Plain-Language Guide to Toxicology.jpg
3rd edition cover
AuthorM. Alice Ottoboni, Patricia Frank
PublisherJohn Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Publication date
Media typePrint (Paperback)

The Dose That Makes the Poison: A Plain Language Guide to Toxicology, written by M. Alice Ottoboni and originally published in 1984 by Vincente Books, is a non-fiction book to help laypeople understand the environmental, industrial, and personal risks of using chemicals. As of March 2016, the book is in its third edition.

About the author

The author of the book is M. Alice Ottoboni, a toxicologist who served over twenty years in the California Department of Health Services.[1] Along with lecturing and consulting on toxicology and the environmental factors concerning public health, Ottoboni was also a scientific adviser to the American Council on Science and Health in New York.[2][3]

Patricia Frank, a consultant and President of Patricia Frank & Associates, Inc., helped edit the third edition. Her firm works with other companies to develop and register pharmaceutical agents for use with humans and animals. Frank is a member and former president of the American College of Toxicology and Roundtable of Toxicology Consultants.[3]

"All chemicals follow the same rules: the laws of nature. By knowing these rules, I have a perspective that protects me from needless worry and unreasoning fear. My hope is that this book will give you the same perspective."

Alice Ottoboni [4]


The Dose Makes the Poison: A Plain-Language Guide to Toxicology, written by Ottoboni, in its first and second editions, focused mainly on environmental and industrial chemicals. The author, defining toxicology as "the study of adverse systemic effects of chemicals,"[5] details factors which toxicologists use to determine the hazards of common chemicals to individuals: dose, duration, and route of exposure (dermal, inhalation, oral).[1] The age, sex, and general health of the individual also play a role in toxicity.[6] Ottoboni makes a distinction between acute toxicity and chronic toxicity, suggesting ways to assess risk and avoid lethal doses or accidental poisonings.[1]

Ottoboni provides readers with information about mutagens, teratogens, and carcinogens, which cause systemic changes at a cellular level, and raises the question "Can the carcinogenicity of a chemical be separated from its toxicity?" Because of scientists' differing views on this question, Ottoboni advocates working with environmentalists, agriculture, industry, and government officials to develop a unifying theory, devise public policy, and put in place regulatory systems for the use of toxic substances.[1]

The third edition of The Dose Makes the Poison continues with these themes, but adds to the discussion "drugs, food additives, cosmetics, vitamins, second hand smoke, lead in toys imported from China, the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) cyclooxyogenase (COX) issues, and bisphenyl A found in plastics."[7]


Ottoboni received praise for her measured, step-by-step approach to toxicology and writing style that makes accessible to non-scientists material that could otherwise be "overwhelmingly technical."[1] Examples and illustrations used in the book to reinforce concepts are "practical and realistic". Though not as detailed, referenced, or annotated as a toxicology textbook, The Dose Makes the Poison: A Plain Language Guide to Toxicology, is recommended by reviewers as a basic guidebook and entry point in learning about the field of toxicology.[7][8]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Stenzel, Paulette L. (Spring 1986). "Review". Administrative Law Review (American Bar Association) 38 (2): 209–212. 
  2. Doti, Rose (December 15, 1988). "Chemicals on the Menu". Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, CA): p. 41. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Wood, Laura (July 12, 2011). "Research and Markets: The Dose Makes the Poison: A Plain-Language Guide to Toxicology, Third Edition". Business Wire (New York). Retrieved 3 March 2016. 
  4. Netter, K.J.. "Book Review: The Dose Makes the Poison: A Plain-Language Guide to Toxicology". Toxicology 290 (2): 359–360. doi:10.1016/j.tox.2011.10.003. 
  5. Lowey, Mark (March 7, 1992). "Science of Toxicology". Calgary Herald (Alberta, Canada) (Final Edition). 
  6. Emsley, John (July 25, 2011). "The Dose Makes the Poison". Chemistry and Industry (14): 25. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Kapp, Jr., Robert W. (October 2011). "Review". International Journal of Toxicology (Sage) 30 (5): 591–593. doi:10.1177/1091581811415961. 
  8. Schnellmann, J.G. (September 2011). "The Dose Makes the Poison". Choice (American Library Association) 49 (1). doi:10.5860/CHOICE.49-0307. 

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