November 4, 2023

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How is snake venom used as a recreational drug

3 min read

Reality television show Bigg Boss OTT winner and YouTuber Elvish Yadav and four others were arrested from Noida’s Sector 51 on Friday (November 3) by the Gautam Buddh Nagar police for allegedly selling snake venom at rave parties in the National Capital Region.

According to the police, they recovered 20 ml of snake venom, five cobras, a python, 2 two-headed snakes, and a rat snake from the accused.

Snake venom is often used as a recreational drug. Its smuggling is a multi-million dollar illicit industry, media reports suggest. In November 2022, the Border Security Force (BSF) in West Bengal’s Dakshin Dinajpur district seized a jar containing 2.14 kg of snake venom, which was valued at Rs 17 crore in the international market.

However, not enough scientific studies have been done on the recreational use of snake venom, according to a 2018 study, ‘Snake Venom Use as a Substitute for Opioids: A Case Report and Review of Literature’, published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine.

How is snake venom consumed?

In the reported cases of snake venom use in India, snakes were deliberately made to bite on the consumer’s feet or tongue, the 2018 research pointed out. Snakes like cobras and Indian kraits were most commonly used for this purpose.

How does snake venom affect the human body?

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According to the study, which chronicled a case study of a 33-year-old male consumer with a history of substance abuse, “The snake bite was associated with jerky movements of the body, blurring of vision, and unresponsiveness, i.e. ‘blackout’ as per the patient for 1 h (hour). However, after waking up he experienced a heightened arousal and sense of well-being, which lasted for 3–4 weeks.”

Once the effect of the bite wore off, the man began to experience irritation and lethargy and craved drugs.

In the reported cases, consumers described the experience of a snake bite to be associated with “happiness, grandiosity, and excessive sleepiness,” the research said. Consumers didn’t report any withdrawal symptoms, however, in some cases, they became more tolerant and started to indulge “in more frequent snake bite trips.”

Why does snake venom give a high?

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It may have to do with the neurotoxin nature of snake venom that causes analgesia, or the inability to feel pain. According to the study, forms of a neurotoxin found in cobra venom, particularly, bind on nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) that are widely distributed in the human brain area and are involved in the euphoric or rewarding experience. Moreover, once the venom enters human blood, it releases active metabolites like serotonin that have “different psychotropic effects such as hypnotic and sedative”, a 2022 research found.

Why is using snake venom as a recreational drug dangerous?

The 2018 study said the reported cases didn’t witness any fatality as the consumers took too little venom. However, it isn’t well known what quality of venom can be fatal for humans. Therefore, experts suggest that recreational use of snake venom can lead to not only addiction but also death.

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