The Science Behind The Rare Hallucinogenic Honey From Nepal

Not all honey is created equal. There are many recipes and foods that utilize honey but not all of them are the same. In fact, PureWow lists 12 different varieties of honey that are available to buy. According to PureWow, the honey that most people are familiar with across North America is known as clover honey, but they list plenty of other honey like wildflower, buckwheat, tupelo, and acacia that have various flavor profiles and colors associated with them. 

Yet there is another kind of honey that may be less known in North America and it is very different than the varieties of honey you can buy in local stores and markets. Mad honey is found in Nepal and can cause a variety of health effects according to BigThink. Low doses can cause dizziness or euphoria but in larger doses, mad honey can lead to hallucinations, passing out, vomiting, and in very rare cases — it can even cause death. 

Why mad honey is different

Mad honey is rare and hard to come by. According to BigThink, it doesn't require a certain kind of bee to produce mad honey — though the intoxicating honey is made by the biggest honey bee in the world — Apis dorsata laboriosa, or simply, the Giant honey bee. The honey's properties come from a particular kind of plant. BigThink writes that the flowering plant, rhododendrons, contains neurotoxins that are known as grayanotoxins. When bees feed on the flowers, the bees themselves ingest the grayanotoxins which then make their way into the honey. 

BigThink adds that in areas where there are rhododendrons, there are likely to be few other types of plants in the same vicinity. As a result, the bees in that region are more likely to feed on only the plants that have grayanotoxins and the result is a lot of mad honey. The rhododendrons grow best in higher altitudes so mad honey is a lot harder to come by than other forms of honey. People trying to harvest mad honey usually have to climb large mountains in order to get to it, according to BigThink.

How mad honey is used

Mad honey can impact everyone differently, though the National Institutes of Health, the "medicinal use of grayanotoxin is not well understood" and they caution to take care if using it to treat certain ailments. An individual who had just two teaspoons of mad honey told Vice that after consuming it, his body started to cool down though he felt "a deep, icy hot feeling" in his stomach, which last for several hours. He also said he felt a high similar to after smoking marijuana. Another mad honey consumer told The Rooster that he felt his head tingling, almost like he was getting a scalp massage, and then he started to feel a calm and tranquility come over his body. 

But BigThink reports that around the world, people view mad honey as something more than just giving someone a high. They say in some places, people use it to treat hypertension, diabetes, a sore throat, or arthritis. And they say in some parts of Northeast Asia, they believe mad honey can treat erectile dysfunction. This is why mad money harvesters will go through the work of climbing tall mountains to get it. The Guardian says that mad honey could sell for as much as $360 in Turkey. And on black markets in Asia, the stuff can sell for about $60 according to National Geographic.