Mad Honey History: Consumption, Poisoning Effects, Treatments


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Mad honey Intoxication and remedy 

Mad honey, also known as red, pale, or semi-liquid honey, is characterized by its distinct aroma reminiscent of a blend of mud and flowers. This unique variety of honey is derived from the wild honey bee species known as Apis dorsata laboriosa.

These honey bee breeds are among the largest in the world. Due to the pollen source being primarily Rhododendron, the coloration of mad honey can vary based on the bee forage and the age of the honey. It ranges from red, orange-yellow, whitish crimson to dark brown hues.

Mad honey is renowned for its unique medicinal properties, including its hallucinogenic and toxic effects, as well as its anti-cancer, aphrodisiacal (stimulating sexual desire), and dietary benefits.

The bees forage on flowers from the Ericaceae family, particularly Rhododendron species, which contain a unique chemical compound called “grayanotoxin,” along with tropane alkaloids. When bees collect nectar from these flowers and store it in their hives, the presence of these compounds contributes to the hallucinogenic properties found in mad honey.

History of Mad Honey:

After the extraction of Mad Honey

It is documented that mad honey has been utilized as a weapon of mass destruction by invading armies throughout history. The earliest known mention of mad honey dates back to 401 B.C., as documented by Xenophon, an Athenian author and military commander. Xenophon recounted how his troops were poisoned by mad honey while returning from a battle in the Turkish province to Persia.

Furthermore, in 67 B.C., during the Roman invasion of the Black Sea region under the command of General Pompey, soldiers encountered similar tactics involving mad honey.

The admirers of the existing King Mithridates at that time strategically placed honeycombs of mad honey along the invaders’ path, intending to incapacitate or even kill the Roman soldiers by poisoning them. This historical account highlights the potent and dangerous nature of mad honey when wielded as a weapon in warfare.

During ancient times, soldiers undertaking long journeys often relied on food sources found in the forests along their route. In the case of the Roman troops, they likely consumed the honey they encountered while traversing through the region.

Unaware of its hallucinogenic and toxic properties, the consumption of mad honey led to the poisoning of the soldiers, resulting in adverse effects and potentially compromising their military operations. This incident underscores the importance of knowledge about local flora and fauna, especially when foraging for food in unfamiliar territories.

After the 18th century, there was a deliberate shift towards harvesting honey for its recognized health benefits. As awareness grew regarding the medicinal properties of honey, including mad honey, it became increasingly valued. Consequently, people began to sell mad honey at a significantly higher price than regular honey, given its reputation as one of the rarest types of honey in the world. This elevated value reflects both its scarcity and the unique properties that distinguish it from other varieties of honey.

It’s important to note that mad honey, due to its hallucinogenic properties, should not be consumed by children below the age of 10. Additionally, it is advised not to combine mad honey with alcohol, as honey itself can induce strong psychedelic effects when ingested.

Furthermore, individuals who have consumed mad honey should avoid using any other hallucinogenic products afterward, as combining these substances can lead to unpredictable and potentially harmful effects on the body and mind. It’s crucial to exercise caution and moderation when consuming mad honey or any other substance with psychoactive properties.

Poisoning effect of mad honey:

There is this saying, “If you take too much medicine, it becomes poisonous.” It is the same with mad honey as well. The consumption of mad honey in more than one tablespoon results in poisoning, i.e., honey intoxication. 

The intoxication is due to the compound called Grayanotoxin. The symptoms of poisoning are seen after 2 minutes to 3 hrs. The symptoms include Vomiting, Dizziness, Nausea, Salivation, Lacrimation, Urination, Defecation, Gastrointestinal distress, low blood pressure, and a drop in heart rate. In the case of high doses, the person might die as well. However, there are only a few death cases. 

As described by Justin Brower, a forensic toxicologist, the Grayanotoxin binds with voltage-gated sodium ion channels in the cells located in the membrane of neurons. Thus, this results in depolarization wherein the sodium is freely flowing in the cells, and calcium is increasing. 

The increase in calcium leads to the release of acetylcholine. Thus, excess acetylcholine shows the above-mentioned symptoms. In serious cases, the intoxication might lead to convulsions, muscular weakness, hypotension, altered mental status, life-threatening bradycardia, extrasystoles, and ventricular tachycardia.

According to the Royal Society of Chemistry, In various countries like South Korea, Turkey, Nepal, Germany, Austria, Japan, China, and Hong Kong, mad honey intoxication/poisoning cases have been reported since 2010.

The commonly reported complaints of mad Honey intoxication are Fainting, Vomiting, Nausea, Syncope, Presyncope, Cramp, Chest pain, Dizziness, Headache, Hypersalivation, Chills, Impaired consciousness, Gastroenteritis, Ataxia, Mental confusion, Collapse, Coma, Bradyarrhythmias, Diaphoresis, Diarrhoea, Paraesthesia, Diplopia, Cold Sweating, Dyspnoea, Malaise, Lightheadedness, Colic, Agitation, Abnormal sensation,

Excessive perspiration, Muscular weakness, Fatigue, Dysphagia, Hyperthermia, etc. Grayanotoxin excretion and metabolism start taking place within 24 hr. The intoxication level varies in different patients as the grayanotoxin content is not the same in all honey. Similarly, the symptoms and effects also differ from person to person. 

There are around 18 different forms of Grayanotoxin, and not all of them have a toxic effect. Grayanotoxin 1 is responsible for cardiovascular disease resulting in A.V. block, Grayanotoxin 2 is less than any other grayanotoxin, and Grayanotoxin 3 causes arrhythmia( all this happens when taken in excess than required; otherwise, it has proven to be beneficial for many problems including heart diseases). 

The Grayanotoxin present in the Rhododendron not only affects the life of humans when taken in large amounts but also results in the death of honeybees. Some bees do not have resistance to it, so when they go to collect nectar in such flowers, they tend to die. 

Treatment for Intoxication:

There is no such test that reveals the level of Grayanotoxin present in the body, and it also doesn’t have a lab for testing grayanotoxin intoxication, but; it can be diagnosed with the help of a history of intoxication and symptoms. As soon as the symptoms start showing up, the patient should be given saline infusion and atropine. This has helped in many cases, to reduce intoxication.

As intoxication also results in heart block, in a few cases, a temporary transvenous pacemaker was required. Also, in some cases, if saline infusion and atropine aren’t enough, then Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) bradyarrhythmia protocols are required; dopamine infusion and transvenous pacing are suggested.

However, as per the reports, intravenous saline infusion or after normal saline infusion with atropine sulfate has cured many patients. Thus, there should be constant supportive care with electrocardiographic monitoring. The complete recovery may take 6 to 24 days.

The expiry date of Mad Honey:

Extracting pure mad honey

Archaeologists have found out that 3000-year-old pure honey in the Egyptian pyramid is still edible, which means that the pure mad honey has no expiry date. However, the hallucinogenic property differs according to time. It is at a peak at the time of harvest, and the hallucinogenic property decreases over time.

However, the medicinal values don’t decrease over time; they remain the same. The color of the honey changes gradually into dark black as time passes. People store it for 1 to 5 years and consume it. As the honey we ship at your door is the purest version, it carries no expiry dates. 


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