Home > Biology, chemistry, History, Science > Nitroglycerin is crazy awesome

Nitroglycerin is crazy awesome

I always knew that nitroglycerin was an explosive and a kind of heart medication, but I didn’t realize that they were the same thing. They’re not usually talked about at the same time, so I figured that one was nitro-glycerin and the other nitroglycerin or that one was nitroglycerine. Like the way that alcohol and rubbing alcohol are both alcohol, but you don’t want to drink rubbing alcohol (trust me on this one). Or that one of the nitros stood for nitrite while the other was nitrate. In short, I thought they were different.

Nope, same thing. Same exact thing. The medicine they give people for heart attacks is identical to the stuff they use to make stuff explode, the only difference is the concentration.  When it was first produced in the 1800s nitroglycerin accidentally blew up quite a few people. It’s an extremely volatile compound and until safer ways were invented to produce it there were numerous, shall we say, incidents. Since there were numerous deaths associated with these incidents, they became quite the news items and nitroglycerin became known as something to avoid. When it was discovered to be a good vasodilator (vaso meaning vein and dilator meaning dilator) and doctors started giving it to people exhibiting symptoms of chest pain, they needed to call it by a different name so as to not panic the patient.

Alfred Nobel (the Nobel prizes Alfred Noble) discovered that if you mix nitroglycerin with silica, it forms a much more stable paste. Stick that in a tube with some sawdust and a blasting cap and you have dynamite. This is different from TNT (trinitrotoluene) which means that AC/DC lied! Nitroglycerin causes veins to dilate. While this alleviates heart pain, it can cause migraines. If exposed to too much of it, the body becomes accustomed to it and nitroglycerin loses some of its effects. This wears off over time, and people who work in nitroglycerin processing often suffer from ‘Monday morning headaches’. During the week, they’re exposed to so much nitroglycerin (since it can be absorbed through the skin), that their bodies become accustomed to it. Over the weekend this wears off and when they return to work Monday morning, the nitroglycerin is effective again, which causes the workers blood vessels to dilate and creates headaches.

Nitroglycerin is uses nearly every day where I work (the medicine, not the explosive), and I never realized how long it had been around for. I tend to think that anything that is used so effectively would have to be relatively recent.  The same thing that doctors give to patients as a little pill in stronger concentrations and greater quantities is a highly volatile explosive. How awesome is that?

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  1. February 17, 2010 at 8:44 am

    Thanks for doing the research. I did a Google search to see if they were different and this was in the top 10. I also know that rat poison is a medication for arteries. Warfarin is a blood thinner and it makes the rats bleed internally. This is the difference with herbs and drugs. A drug will force a change if not needed. So if your blood pressure is too low and you take a blood pressure lowering medication, it will lower it more. An herb will lower it if it is too high but not if it is too low.

  2. February 27, 2010 at 11:35 am

    Good info, thanks for that. I also always thought the explosive nitro and the heart nitro where different.

    • DJ
      February 27, 2010 at 3:13 pm

      Thanks, Don Veto!

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