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Updated: January 12, 2013 14:24 IST

Venom as toxicant, at what cost!

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Strange: Snake brushing the tongue of a man.
Strange: Snake brushing the tongue of a man.

Intoxication from the fangs of snakes! This idea is as dizzily incredible as the stories and myths woven around these slithery creatures. Is intoxication from the fangs of snakes one of such superstitions? Does it cause more intoxicating than other stuffs and really give the desired euphoric effects? Let us get talking about it to a few doctors and NGOs. Read on…

S. Arivudai Nambi, Director, Wisdom Hospital, elucidates, “Do not be shocked. We are not taking about a combination of cigar and beer, but about a real bite, snake bite”. Talking about the so-called intoxicating power of snakes, he says that it cannot be scientifically proved or explained. This shocking behaviour can be appealing only to those people who look for a novel experience and thrill-seekers who are highly impulsive by birth. He shares his experience in treating one such patient.

“Karupaiah (name changed), one from the fringe group, was addicted to liquor and smoking for a decade. Over the period of time, he had started using marijuana, ganja, heroin and other kinds of illegal drugs. At one point of time, he felt that his body needed more intoxication,” Mr. Nambi said.

 “I happened to hear about the ‘snake bite’ shots and tried my hands at it. With months of practice, I learnt how to catch a snake in a waterbody and have it bite my hands. At the beginning, I had a snake bit only my index finger and over the days, I started having the snake bite on my hands, tongue too,” continued Karupaiya, who has now given up the habit.

 Mr. Nambi said that when he started talking to Karupaiya he learnt that snake charmers and people from the ‘irular’ community had goaded him to go for the creepy creatures for intoxication.

Initially Karupiah allowed the snake to bite his little finger. In a month’s time he advanced to have a feel on his forearm, lips and tongue thrice a week. Said Karupaiya, who is now rehabilitated, “I am ashamed of having done such silly things”. P. Ramesh, founder of Nethaji Snake Trust, Madurai-based NGO, says the belief that shots of snake venom give powerful intoxication is ridiculous and baseless. There are 242 varieties of snake in Tamil Nadu and of them, four are venomous and the other species are non-poisonous. Normally, a snake bite need not turn fatal; it is only the fear psychosis that saps one’s life in the case of a snake bit. Likewise, it is only a hallucination and imaginary feeling that snake venom could make someone high. Mr. Ramesh said, “It is mere a false statement that snake’s venom contains intoxicating substances.” Rom Whitaker, Trustee, Centre for Herpetology/Madras Crocodile Bank, criticises the very idea saying that getting high due to snake bites are rumours, idiotic and bogus claims. He cautions youngsters saying, “A bite from a venomous snake will cause pain, debilitation or even death, but it will not make you high”. An official of the Guindy Snake Park too corroborates this.

Mr. Nambi said that he does not want to delve deep into the analysis of whether snake bite causes intoxication or not, but that he says it is true that a snake bite gives analgesic effect, blurred vision, dizziness, euphoric effect, lethargy and muscular paralysis. “It is true that I have treated a patient who had that practice and now after months of treatment and rehabilitation, he has been relieved of the habit”.

Thus there is nothing intoxicating about a snake bite and it is more an illusion and an addict’s hallucination.

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