Getting High Off Snakebites?

By Neuroskeptic | March 9, 2017 6:18 am

In a curious case report, Indian psychiatrists Lekhansh Shukla and colleagues describe a young man who said he regularly got high by being bitten by a snake.

The 21-year old patient sought treatment for his heavy drug abuse, which included heroin and marijuna. He also reported a less conventional habit: he visited a local snake charmer, where he was bitten on the lips by a “cobra” in order to get high:

He reported that his peers and the snake charmer informed him that he would have drowsiness, euphoria, and feeling of warmth followed by a deep sleep after the bite. Subjectively he reported experiencing all these symptoms and they lasted for 2-3 days.

However, Shukla et al. were suspicious of this account, not least because the Indian cobra is highly venomous and its bites are usually fatal. So they decided to visit the snake charmer to find out what was really going on:

During the discussion with the snake charmer, he revealed that the alleged snake, in reality, is not “Cobra” but a ‘Rat Snake’ [which] has high resemblance with Indian Cobra and is valued for the same. He related that this snake has bit him multiple times and he never experienced any change in his mental state or developed signs of envenomation… The patient identified snake charmer, snake and was shocked to learn that it is non-poisonous.

In other words, the snake was a fake: it was a non-venomous species, and the ‘high’ that the patient experienced couldn’t have been due to the bites. According to the snake charmer, the patient wasn’t the only one who believed in the snake’s power, though: other “young people come to him requesting a bite and he entertains them.”


The authors conclude that the effects of the snake bites were probably due to the placebo effect, and that this could explain other reports of recreational snake envenomation too.

We propose that a high expectation of rewarding experience, strong suggestion, personality traits and most importantly the dangerous nature of willfully receiving snakebites explains the reported feelings of high.

So the snake was just a placebo. Perhaps it was a place-boa? At any rate, this case is a nice reminder of the power of suggestion. Other substances which supposedly produce a ‘high’, but which are almost certainly nothing more than placebos, include banana skins and aspirin mixed with Coca Cola.

ResearchBlogging.orgShukla L, Reddy SS, Kandasamy A, & Benegal V (2017). What kills everyone, gives a high for some-Recreational Snake Envenomation. Asian journal of psychiatry, 25, 106-108 PMID: 28262128

CATEGORIZED UNDER: animals, drugs, papers, placebo, select, Top Posts
  • Uncle Al

    heroin and marijuna” The awesome mind-destroying power of boo is thus explicit. Heroin is an Inner City right protected by vast US agricultural subsidy then expedited exportation from Afghanistan.

    Mellow Yellow (bananadrin) motivated fungal warfare extermination of the Gros Michel banana, then replaced by the (what was animal feed) Cavendish.

    • Kamran Rowshandel

      You’re not my uncle, you’re not even your own uncle, so shut up. Go live somewhere without electricity.

  • Lee Rudolph

    By the same token’s other side, one might suppose that cases like that of the Toxic Patient (Gloria Ramirez) and—less dramatically—various substances dubiously efficacious as “downers” (even sometimes when they have not in fact actually been ingested; cf. MSG and “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”) are “almost certainly nothing more than” nocebos.

  • ejobalerts

    good info

  • smut clyde
    • Fryin Berry

      Thanks for the reminder. I read that as teenager, but couldn’t ever recollect the title (or author).

  • smut clyde

    I am surprised and disappointed that cone-shell envenomation has not become a hipster drug of choice. If only because cone-shell researchers coined the term “Nirvana Cabal” to describe the complex mixture of neurotoxins injected by the shell, which instantly became the name of my Duritti Column electro-Klezmer tribute band. Also, what am I supposed to do with this aquarium full of cone shells?

  • Barbara Zabielski

    Interesting to find out whether the man’s dopamine levels were actually altered markedly by his belief in the high.

  • Pingback: Getting High Off Snakebites? | StratCom()

  • Han Prince

    Good thing he didn’t decide one day to visit another snake charmer with a real cobra to feed his habit….

  • Pingback: Getting High Off Snakebites? | No. Betteridge’s Law()



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Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.


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