Poisened without poison

Three days ago, an emergency call shut down an entire letter-sorting center of the Swiss federal postal service. The workers noticed a white powder spilling out of two envelopes. A large team of firefighters, workers, the police, and medical service evacuated the center. Thirty-four workers had serious symptoms of intoxication, and eyewitnesses reported that the atmosphere outside the building was shocking.

The white powder turned out to be corn starch used for baking and completely harmless. But the symptoms turned out to be real. In medicine, this effect is called the nocebo effect (the opposite of the placebo effect). It’s when the patient’s pessimistic belief produces negative consequences that are manifested in real symptoms. I found this very interesting.


Martin Inderbitzin