Why strychnine was an early performance-enhancing drug
Which makes it odd that people injected it, or ingested it, well into the 20th century. Then again, you can't argue with results: one scientist in 1917 did notice that rats injected with strychnine navigated mazes faster, but by that time people had already been using it as a pick-me-up for three-quarters of a century. People took it as they would a stronger version of coffee. This makes sense, because strychnine and coffee share some odd habits. Both bind to the glycine receptor, although coffee binds to the adenosine receptor as well. Strychnine doesn't entirely block the receptor and paralyze the nerve — in fact, quite the opposite. Neurotransmitters — the chemicals that bind to the neuron and get it to fire — occur at different levels. Strychnine allows the neuron to fire, and pass signals along, even when neurotransmitter levels are low. It's sort of a hair-trigger for the body.