You might think that lighting up a spliff makes you cool but you’re nowhere as hardcore (or exposed to danger) as Afghanistan’s dried scorpion smokers.
Look, we get it – mankind needs its fix or wars are started. And humanity has been getting stoned by licking toads and lightly chewing on mandrake roots long before you and I were born. But few remedial practices match the danger and overall oddity of smoking dried scorpions.
Although an isolated habit, people from South Asian countries have been hitting the stinger for centuries. But in recent years, the practice has been steadily picking up pace. Scorpion smokers report undergoing intense trips but the overall architecture of the experience is a complex and painful one. You know, because scorpion venom should be pretty high up the list of substances you want to avoid having in your body.
There’s not much science behind the method of ingestion; the scorpion is killed and dried in the sun or simply roasted on hot coals, after which it is lit up and the smoke inhaled. Aside from posing major risks to one’s health, the practice is also said to be highly addictive.
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In his 2007 book Drugs in Afghanistan, author David Macdonald suggests that people have resorted to finding their fix inside the body of a highly venomous creature only as a last resort. Living in countries where war has been intermittently ravaging the land and decimating entire populations takes a toll on the human psyche. In their search for alleviation, those who have lost everything but their lives stop caring how they get their high.
Since the active constituents the scorpion enthusiast is after are located in a venom gland in the tail, some choose to ground the dried tail, mix it with tobacco and hashish and then smoke it. Effects include increased energy and awareness and visual hallucinations not unlike those experienced during a strong mescaline trip. The other side of the coin includes severe vertigo, nausea and headaches, and an increased risk of cardiac arrhythmia and pulmonary failure. Memory loss, paranoia, derealization and depersonalization are just a few of the psychological side-effects.
A scorpion’s venom is a complex cocktail of chemicals and several species of the arachnid are smoked so it would be hard to judge which substance or mix of substances is responsible for the effects. A friend of Macdonald’s who got to inhale some second hand scorpion smoke when he witnessed the act describes the whole thing as being immediate and hard-hitting:
The effect was instantaneous with the man’s face and eyes becoming very red, “much more than a hashish smoker” …. He also seemed very intoxicated but awake and alert, although he stumbled and fell over when he tried to rise from a sitting position …. the smoke tasted “sweeter” than that of hashish, although … it smelled foul, and the intoxicating effect lasted much longer.
Much longer actually means closer to ten hours or so. The first six are said to be painful due to the body’s natural reaction to the toxin but after that, the smoker experiences an enjoyment that turns into waves of intense feelings of pleasure. 74 year-old former scorpion smoker Sohbat Khan recalls the second part as being pure bliss:
Everything appears like it is dancing. The roads, the vehicles, everything in front of me.”
The trip is so intense it has hardcore users reaching for an even more dangerous administration: stings. In some parts of India, users pay up to 150 rupees ($2.2) for a chance to chase the scorpion.