'Venom highs': men in India get deadly snakes to bite their tongues for a buzz

Saptarshi Ray
The men were bitten on the tongue by cobras to give them a high - but scientists are confused over how they survived, as the bite is powerful enough to kill a full-grown bull in some instances - AFP

Indian doctors have been left baffled after two men registered themselves for drug addiction with an unusual, and often deadly, narcotic of choice: snake venom.

Two men from Rajasthan have been getting cobras to bite them on their tongues as no amount of more traditionally intoxicating substances gives them a buzz anymore, according to a medical research study.

Addiction and toxin specialists at Chandigarh’s Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research are now examining the two subjects of the study to determine whether they have consumed drugs to the point of immunity, or they are genuine medical curiosities.

The case history of the duo has just been published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine. The study, ‘Snake venom use as a substitute for opioids: A case report and review of literature’, was done by Dr Aseem Mehra, Dr Debashish Basu and Dr Sandeep Grover.

The Times of India reported that the two men apparently paid snake charmers to help get the animals to bite them on the tip of the tongue, producing in the pair “jerky movements of the body, blurry vision and unresponsiveness for an hour”, said Dr Grover.

“However, after waking up, they experienced heightened arousal and a sense of wellbeing, which according to them was more intense than the high of a normal dose of alcohol or opioid.

“The study was undertaken to make clinicians aware about such substance abuse for recreational purposes as not much medical literature is available.”

The two men are in their late 30s and it is unclear how they developed the ability to withstand the bite of a cobra - which in some instances can kill a fully-grown bull.

“The patients were from Rajasthan and had been opioid-dependent for more than 15 years," said Dr Grover. “Only four reports of use of snake venom for recreational purposes have been published so far from India. These (two) users were from well-off families.”

While extremely rare, snake bite highs have been documented among communities in north-west Rajasthan before - but usually in the form of an ointment or balm placed on the skin as a hallucinogenic.

“It’s not known how someone can develop antibodies and survive the bite during addiction,” dependency specialist Dr Savita Malhotra, told the TOI.