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  IN THIS Article
 ::  Introduction
 ::  Case reports
 ::  Discussion
 ::  Acknowledgment
 ::  References

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Year : 1990  |  Volume : 36  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 233-4

Snake venom habituation in heroin (brown sugar) addiction: (report of two cases).

Department of Psychiatry, Seth G.S. Medical College, Parel, Bombay, Maharashtra.

Correspondence Address:
Department of Psychiatry, Seth G.S. Medical College, Parel, Bombay, Maharashtra.

How to cite this article:
Pradhan P V, Shah L P, Ghodke P R, Nayak P R. Snake venom habituation in heroin (brown sugar) addiction: (report of two cases). J Postgrad Med 1990;36:233

How to cite this URL:
Pradhan P V, Shah L P, Ghodke P R, Nayak P R. Snake venom habituation in heroin (brown sugar) addiction: (report of two cases). J Postgrad Med [serial online] 1990 [cited 2023 Jun 3];36:233. Available from:

  ::   Introduction Top

Occasionally it is reported in newspapers that some persons withstand poisonous snake bites, though taking these bites for intoxication is not known. To best of our knowledge no snake venom addiction has been reported in world literature. We have come across two cases in which snake venom intoxication as a habit was associated with addiction to heroin, cannabis and mandrax (methaqualone and diphenhydramine).

  ::   Case reports Top

Case No. 1: 35-year-old, male married, front lower socio-economic class, working in a gambling den for last 10 years was admitted for treatment of heroin withdrawal syndrome. Patient started taking snake bites since 1976 till hospitalization. On interrogation the patient mentioned that he started taking charas at the age 15 years mainly because of peer pressure. However, he became addicted to heroin and mandrax at a later stage of life and continued with the same till hospital admission. During this stage, snake bite habituation was developed out of curiosity. Initially he used to take snake bite on great toe once in a week, the frequency was then increased to two-three times a week. Everyday intake was not possible because of the cost -Rs 50 per bite. According to him he used to get sleep for 18-20 hours after the bite, which gradually reduced over period of few months to 12-14 hours.
The bite on tongue produced quick effect. On interrogation regarding the snake bite business, it was told that people from ethnic community give this bite only to those people who are known to them. This is being practised in certain areas of South Bombay. The visitors are at the risk of death. The people who come here for snake bites, are mainly from higher socio-economic class and are of certain religious groups. There are at least two to three people doing this business in that area.
Snakes used are cobra or green coloured snakes found on trees. The bites are generally taken on the sole or on tongue if it is a small snake. In the hospital the patient had severe withdrawal symptoms but however he did not show any craving for snake bite. On follow-up for 1 month the patient was found to be free of all addictions.
Case No. 2: A 33-year-old, male patient was married and admitted for detoxification for charas and heroin addiction. Patient started gambling while at school at the age of 14 and later started abusing drugs like charas, alcohol and ganja. In 1975 patient developed habit of taking snake bites. The locations he visited were in South Bombay. Beside these he also had snake bite in Goa and Calcutta. The patient was taking these bites to get an “extra kick”. At each place called snake-den, various types of snakes in different sizes and colours were kept. According to the type of snake bite they were graded into three categories like mild, moderate and severe form of intoxication. A sharp tap with blunt instrument was given on snake's head. On tapping, snake used to bite on the site. This was felt as a pricking sensation locally, resembling prick of intra-muscular injection lasting for 10-40 seconds. After each bite no significant skin inflammation used to occur. The patient experienced grandiosity, a sense of well-being and happiness after each bite. At times he used to lie down quietly on bed for hours or on certain occasions he used to keep moving in the room. He did not experience any hallucinations, remained well oriented. No withdrawal symptoms for snake venom were noticed. He discontinued this habit as he feared that he may, by chance, die.

  ::   Discussion Top

It is known and reported in literature that snake venom liberates pharmacologically active substances in the body such as 5-hydroxytryptamine, bradykinin, slow-reacting substances, prostaglandins and lysophosphatides.[1] It has been mentioned that drowsiness is one of the cardinal symptoms of elapid snake bite, particularly cobra snake bite. It is a commonly recorded symptom even in early Australian and Indian snake bite literature.
The present cases are reported here to make the readers aware of this type of habituation, which is still being practised in big cities. However, both the patients did not show any withdrawal symptoms, indicating that they were not addicted. As the snake bite was not taken daily, mostly because of high cost and likely lethality, addiction to it could not develop. However one patient showed tolerance to its effect. It is noteworthy that both the patients preferred it to heroin. We feel that it is possible to collect the snake venom from such places with the help of local community social workers.
Analysis of its pharmacologically active substances, especially those responsible for sedative euphoriant and intoxicating substances could therefore be a challenging investigation for the Pharmacology Departments. We feel that snake venom may contain substances, which reduce mental anguish without addiction.

  ::   Acknowledgment Top

We thank Dr. GB Parulkar, Dean, King Edward Memorial Hospital and Seth GS Medical College for permitting us to use the hospital data. We also thank Director and staff of Haffkine Institute for Training, Research & Testing, Mumbai for providing us the relevant literature.

  ::   References Top

1. Campbell CH. Symptomatology, pathology and treatment of bites of elapid snakes. In: "Snake venoms-Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology". Vol. 52. YC Chen, Springer-Verlag, editor. Berlin: Heidelberg: 1979, pp 898-977.   Back to cited text no. 1    

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