Smoking Scorpions in South Asia – A Dangerous Addiction

As bizarre as it sounds, smoking scorpions is not unheard of in South Asian countries, but according to regional media, the practice has recently been gaining popularity in several parts of Pakistan. The scorpion venom can apparently put the smoker on an intense high, becoming highly addictive with time.

So how does one smoke a scorpion, anyway? It’s a simple yet effective process – a dead scorpion is dried in sunlight for several hours or a live one is burnt on coal until it dies. The dried carcass is then lit on fire and the smoke is inhaled. Since it’s the tail that contains the poison addicts seek, some smokers prefer to crush the dried tail and mix it with hashish and tobacco, smoking it in the form of a cigarette.

In his 2007 book Drugs in Afghanistan, sociologist David MacDonald provides the account of a friend who witnessed first-hand the effects of scorpion smoke on an addict. “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,” the book suggested.


The high, it seems, lasts for as long as 10 hours. The first six are said to be painful as the body adjusts to the substance, but the feeling slowly eases into enjoyment and later, intense pleasure. “Everything appears like it is dancing,” recalled Sohbat Khan, a 74-year-old former scorpion smoker. “The roads, the vehicles, everything in front of me.”

Sohbat was addicted to scorpion smoke as a young man in his 20s – he would purchase the arachnid for one or two rupees apiece from a vendor, who got his stash from Peshawar’s Matani area, rich in scorpions because of the hot weather. At the height of his addiction, he would scour the land of his village, hunting for scorpions to smoke. When the need was overwhelming and there were none to be found, he would actually travel all the way to Peshawar, in Afghanistan, to get some. “It was the worst form of addiction,” he said.


Experts agree that scorpion venom is highly dangerous for the human brain, far more so than other drugs, especially when inhaled. “Scorpion smoking causes short and long term memory loss,” explained Dr. Azaz Jamal, a medical officer at the Khyber Teaching Hospital. “Smoking causes hallucination, the state where people have perception of something which is not present.” He added that prolonged exposure to scorpion smoke could cause sleep and appetite disorders, and eventually lead to permanent delusion.

But the addiction is hard to fight on a national level in Pakistan, mainly because there are no official statistics and very little research available on the subject. A few reports suggest that the habit is gaining popularity in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunwala (KP) region, where it is certainly not just a rare indulgence. “We need laws in place to stop the killing of scorpions,” said Azeemullah, a former official at KP’s narcotics control department, pointing out that their use needs to be regulated because scorpion addiction hinders the availability of the arachnid for medical research and therapy.


While scorpion smoking is still rare on a global level, it serves as a cheap, easy thrill among the youth of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and some parts of India. “Because of our successful drives against the sellers and addicts of alcohol, opium, cough syrup, and heroin in urban areas, young people are flocking on the highways to try the new craze of scorpion stings,” a police officer in the city of Bharuch said.

Meanwhile, Umer Gul, a young man who threw his life away to scorpion smoking, wanders aimlessly on the streets of Karak in KP, often stopping to stare at nothing while mumbling to himself. “Umer used to be a clerk in the army,” his brother Mohammed Younas said. “He would smoke a little hashish now and then with his friends, but I never thought that it was a big deal.” But he soon started smoking scorpions and lost his mental health to the habit. “He left his job and started indulging in unusual habits. Scorpions are highly toxic. That is why my brother is like this. He spends most of his time aimlessly walking around.”


In some parts of India, addicts prefer a much more direct and more painful method to get their scorpion fix – they get stung, paying anywhere between 100 and 150 Indian rupees per sting. Others turn to the common house lizard for their daily fix, roasting it and grinding it to a fine powder, and mixing it with opium to use as a drug. The powdered lizard is believed to improve the sedating effects of opium, leading to superior intoxication.

Sources: DAWN, Suburra, The Express Tribune

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