Rare case of black licorice poisoning kills man in Massachusetts

Bulk black licorice candy.

Enlarge / Bulk black licorice candy. (credit: Getty | Andia)

Because 2020 hasn’t provided enough extraordinary ways to die, the universe offers a grim reminder that eating too much licorice candy can be deadly.

A 54-year-old construction worker died in Massachusetts recently after eating an excessive amount of black licorice—which naturally contains a toxin called glycyrrhizin, aka glycyrrhizic acid. Doctors published a case study of his poisoning in the New England Journal of Medicine this week.

According to the study, the poor fellow was at a fast-food restaurant when he abruptly went into cardiac arrest. He “gasped suddenly, with full-body shaking and loss of consciousness,” the doctors report. Paramedics arrived within minutes and revived him with four shocks and CPR. But when he was admitted to the hospital about 30 minutes later, doctors found he had multi-organ failure, “profound metabolic derangements,” dangerously low levels of potassium in his blood, and cardiac arrest associated with ventricular fibrillation, which is when the lower chambers of the heart twitch erratically without pumping blood. All of these conditions are consistent with licorice poisoning.

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