How much electricity can the human body take without killing

Getting strucked by lightning

Getting strucked by lightning

Every now and then I’m struck with a moment of inspiration. Sometimes it’s productive, forward-thinking and important, but more often it’s just a little weird. When I’m playing with all my homemade electricity generating gadgets, I always seem to think up the weirdest scenarios and questions. This brings me to my most recent one: How much electricity can the human body take?

Obviously I want to know how much it can take pre-death. I’m not talking about tasing a body and recording the results. That’s no fun, just slightly psychotic and disturbing. I’ve always wondered how much electricity it takes to push a human over the barrier. As useless as this information might seem, it could come in useful should you want to pull some electricity themed human stunt (which I certainly don’t recommend).

Now, it’s important to differentiate between the different measures of electricity. It’s a commonly held belief that voltage can kill you, which is less than true. The human body can handle thousands of volts without harm, which is why tasers and other electronic immobility devices can have such a high voltage rating without any danger of killing or permanently injuring people.

In order to kill someone, there would need to be a combination of voltage and current running through their body. Voltage along doesn’t kill a human, or even likely harm one. A steady stream of voltage and current running to the heart and other vital organs would cause damage to a human body, ranging from light damage to permanent damage and death as the current increases.

There’s a third factor that you need to consider, which is the variable resistance that a human body can produce to combat the flow of electricity. Human bodies aren’t fantastic resistors, but they do provide some resistance to electrical flow. The higher the level of resistance, the lower the lower the flow of voltages. How is this important to calculating how much electricity a human can take? Well, the lower the flow of voltages throughout the human body, the greater the amount of electricity the body can take, and the lower the risk of death by electrocution.

If you need an uber-geeky tutorial on electrical currents, check out this equation:

I = E / R

Think of ‘I’ as the current, E as the voltage, and R as the resistance. When you put a voltage next to a high level of resistance, it’ll diminish in its results. You’ve got to be careful about this calculation, as often on the human body outside factors are introduced. If you’re wet when you’re electrocuted, you’ll be less resistant and more likely to die of electrocution. On the other hand, a relatively dry body will provide more resistance due to the lower levels of highly conductive moisture.

Hopefully this nerdy science lesson answered a few of your questions, and imprinted you with the idea to never, ever try and test this theory. While it’s unclear how much electricity a human body can take, it’s generally accepted that even low amounts of current can permanently damage the human body. Let this one stay as a bizarre thought in your head, not a thesis for a science experiment.

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One Response to “How much electricity can the human body take without killing”

  1. Aaron Montgomery on February 24th, 2010 at 11:55 pm

    It is VERY important for you to know that a “stream” of voltage does not exist and will never exist. It is proper to refer to current as a steam, however.

    EX:

    A basketball is on top of a roof. Voltage, in reference to this example, can be seen as the potential for the basketball to roll off the roof. Voltage would be the height of the fall that the ball COULD take. The potential of falling. Current could be thought of as the actual act of the ball falling. The speed perhaps.

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