Can you actually get high on snake venom?

Snake venom is not something one intentionally consumes — if anything, we tend to flee from snakes at any cost. But say you are at a rave and someone tosses you a pill touted to contain dried snake venom. From a biochemistry perspective, is it possible to use snake venom as a recreational drug?

Let's take a look at molecules within snake venom, what they do to the human body, and a case where venom might get you high.

Can you actually get high on snake venom?

The Chemicals In Snake Venom
Snake venom is a saliva cocktail of enzymes and lipids, and this concoction changes from species to species. The venom comes in a number of varieties, such as hemotoxic (damaging tissue and preventing blood clotting), cardiotoxic (causing cardiac muscle depolarization and irregular beating), and neurotoxic (yielding temporary paralysis and breathing cessation).

Due to numerous variations in the protein components of snake venom, not all snake bites yield the same physiological result. Rattlesnakes often contain hemotoxic venom, while cobras typically contain neurotoxic venom.

Cobras are often mentioned in reports of snake venom being used as a recreational drug. There is a little bit of biochemical background suggesting this recreational use works. The ideally named cobratoxin , a component of cobra venom, causes paralysis by preventing the small molecule acetylcholine from binding to your nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, shutting down synaptic transmission. A temporary, low level of paralysis is associated with some recreational drugs, making cobras an ideal target for use as long as hemotoxic effects can be avoided.

Expensive Rave Pills
In February 2012, reports from raves in India claimed that partygoers were ingesting pills using cobra venom as an active ingredient as well as dried venom sprinkled in soft drinks and alcohol. The pills, named K-72 and K-76, are noted to cost $400 to $500 per dose, ten times the reported cost of ecstasy in India. The chemical constituents and effects of K-72 and K-76 are not described, leaving the actual content of dried venom per pill unknown.

Previous news reports note that K-72 and K-76 are code words used by smugglers for liquid venom. Drug syndicates commonly use venomous snakes to smuggle illicit drugs, as customs officers rarely dare to open the cage.

Due to the consistency of snake venom, drying the liquid is not an easy task. The water in the venom will not readily evaporate if a sample is left out to dry, necessitating a multi-step process in which the venom is freeze-dried.

Can you actually get high on snake venom?

Venomous Snakes + Alcohol = Jar Of Fear
Cobras soaked in rice wine or ethyl alcohol is often used as medicine or to kick off a particularly bizarre weekend. This snake wine is an extremely intoxicating substance due to the solvent — grain alcohol — that drinkers feel infuses the liquid with the bodily fluids of the snake.

Drinking snake wine is essentially harmless — since snake venom is made up of proteins, these proteins are unfolded and made inactive by the alcohol. Consuming dried venom is considerably more dangerous than ingesting venom with alcohol, as the proteins enter the body in their folded, operational state. A small amount of dried venom, if solubilized correctly in your body, could lead to a cascade of physical effects events yielding an increase in the user's heart rate, dizziness, and numbing — in short, reactions akin to some narcotics.

After downing a bottle of snake wine, some adventurous drinkers cut up and eat the snake inside. Some go a different, more visceral route when they consume their snake with alcohol, with bartenders cutting a snake's entrails and pouring the fresh fluids directly into a shot of rice wine.

Get Bit To Get High
Getting bit by a snake is the most direct way to experience a "high," and, with some types of snakes, it's not deadly. A 1990 paper looking at the effect of snake bites on heroin addicts showed the addicts to prefer snakebites to heroin, and experience little or no withdrawal when the addicts went days without a bite.

Indian physicians reported two cases of individuals intentionally allowing cobras to bite them to get high. Both users had a history of drug use, and added snake venom to their repertoire due to its psychoactive effects.

With the scant amount of information about venom-laced rave pills available, it is impossible to confirm that the $500 pills contained any venom at all. If you are, however, ever interested in placing a snake in your house and expanding your liquor cabinet at the same time, snake wine is widely available for sale . The only real way to ensure you are receiving the soothing effects of a snake venom is to pick the right type of snake and then get bitten, an adventure I would bet most of us are unwilling to consider.

Top image of a rattlesnake snake being milked taken by Tom Ennis/DeviantArt. Image of snake wine courtesy of Khương Việt Hà/CC. Sources linked within the article.