What is DNP?
DNP (2,4-dinitrophenol) is a highly toxic chemical that is often promoted as an aid for rapid weight loss and/or body building.
It is a yellow powder that is typically sold as a diet pill, either in the form of a capsule or a tablet.
Why is DNP dangerous?
DNP is dangerous because it prevents energy being stored as fat in the body. Instead, your body releases energy as heat.
When your body releases this energy as heat, your body temperature rises which can cause serious damage to the cells of your muscular tissues and vital organs, such as your brain or kidneys.
Toxic effects can include hyperthermia, abdominal pain, vomiting, rapid heart rate, convulsions, cardiac arrest and death. The UK’s National Poison Information Service reported that there have been at least 31 DNP-related deaths in the UK since 2007, including 23 since January 2015.
According to Public Health England, toxicity is common after a DNP overdose, however small doses have also resulted in severe and fatal consequences. For those that consume DNP, the transition to being seriously unwell can happen rapidly and there is no antidote for how DNP affects your body.
Many people who consume DNP are not aware of the threat it poses and are misled by the websites or suppliers who recommend it as a miracle weight loss or muscle building diet pill.
Is DNP legal in the UK?
DNP is not licensed as a food or medicine in the UK, and therefore it is illegal to sell the chemical for human consumption. The Food Standard Agency’s National Crime Unit are highly active in identifying, stopping and prosecuting sellers who are doing so.
However, it is legal to use DNP for industrial purposes, such as manufacturing dyes, wood preservatives, fertilisers and pesticides.
Typically, individuals illegally selling DNP for human consumption are doing so online, via social media or even on the dark web.
Sellers have been prosecuted for offences under the Food Safety Act 1990, but it is another complex challenge to prosecute sellers for the deaths of their customers.
In a landmark case, Richard Barraclough KC, barrister at St Pauls Chambers, along with Gordon Menzies, prosecuted Bernard Rebelo for manslaughter by gross negligence. This was the first time a manslaughter conviction had been delivered for selling DNP for weight loss.
In April 2015 Eloise Parry, Rebelo’s victim, ordered 250mg of DNP and less than 10 days later she died of DNP toxicity. Eloise Parry was not in a mental condition that enabled her to make a rational decision about consuming DNP. She suffered from an eating disorder, had a morbid fear of fatness and was unable to view her body in its true form. Plus, she had been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.
Barraclough and Menzies proved that Rebelo had sold DNP online for human consumption as a food supplement which promoted weight loss, that he owed Eloise Parry a duty of care as consumer in connection with his supply of DNP to her, that he negligently in the sense of intentionally breached that duty of care, that in consuming the chemical Eloise Parry was subject to an obvious and serious risk of death and that the circumstances were so truly exceptionally bad and so reprehensible as to be a crime. Consequently, Rebelo was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment for the manslaughter of Eloise Parry by gross negligence.
You can read more about how the supply of DNP result in a manslaughter conviction, learn about the case in more detail here or listen to Richard Barraclough QC speak about the case in the One Click podcast narrated by Elle Fanning.