Some People Are Smoking Scorpions to Get High


What do you do for fun? Watch movies? Head to CrossFit? Sip wine with friends? Whichever activity pushes your buttons, we're willing to bet it doesn't involve being stung by a scorpion.

But that's not the case for a group of people who use scorpions as narcotics. Particularly in parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, some people are turning to scorpions to get painfully high. As host Lauren Vogelbaum explains in the accompanying BrainStuff video, there aren't any statistics on how prevalent the practice is, but narcotics experts report it's not a rarity.

For a cost of 70 to 200 rupees, or $1 to $3 in U.S. currency, a dealer will place a scorpion in a person's hand and bat it with a stick until it imparts venom with its tail. Others opt to smoke the scorpion, which involves burning it alive over coals while inhaling the venomous smoke. Still others will dry a dead scorpion in sunlight, mix its remains with hashish and tobacco, and either roll it like a cigarette or place it in a small pipe.

Why go to all the trouble? For starters, scorpions are a cheap high that can last anywhere from 10 hours to three days. The high is said to be so powerful that it outstrips heroin and provides a euphoric, floating feeling bolstered by the ability to remain completely alert. The downside — and it's a pretty big one — is that the person spends the first six or so hours in pain while their body adjusts to the toxins. Oh, and it's possible to experience short- and long-term memory loss, sleeping and appetite disorders, a constant state of delusions or death.

While the venom of different species seems to affect users differently, ranging from hallucinations to headaches, all the venom is nearly impossible to regulate. This is because the amount of scorpion venom varies from creature to creature, and is a complex cocktail of toxic proteins and peptides designed to target and shut down parts of the body. Being able to paralyze messages between their prey's nervous system and the muscles is handy for scorpions when they're hunting, but not necessarily a great side effect for humans. There's also the danger of corroding molecules and causing cell tissue to break apart, or causing blood to clot or become unable to clot.

Humans could have more use for scorpions though than just getting high with them. Scientists think scorpions could hold the key for much-needed medical treatments. Chinese medicine has used scorpion venom to treat pain for centuries. Developing painkillers based on scorpion venom potentially could provide relief that isn't dependent on addictive, opioid-based drugs like oxycodone.

Scorpion venom has been considered as a method to fight high-grade gliomas, a very aggressive form of brain cancer. The venom of the Deathstalker, a yellow Israeli scorpion, contains a protein that selectively attaches to glioma cells. Synthesizing these proteins could mean delivering a deadly blow to cancer cells by killing them, slowing their spread or lighting them up with infrared dye to help surgeons identify and remove the cancer.

Not bad potential for a creature most people fear, right?