It’s a substance that would raise an eyebrow or two for its potentially deathly effects, but for some natives in Turkey, poisonous honey is a treat worth “dying for.”

Dating back to 401 B.C., Greek philosopher Socrates’ pupil Xenophon detailed his fascination with and discovery of a honeycomb that had inflicted the jittering in soldiers’ legs and a “fit of madness” among those who had consumed a large amount of the substance.

The pain-causing honey would be known as “mad honey,” and upon further discoveries, in 67 B.C., it proved useful as a lethal weapon for the Persians’ fight against Roman treachery, when opposing forces mistakenly “gobbled it up” and fell into an extreme state of hysteria.

Centuries later, the Black Sea would serve as an abundant harvesting zone for the honey, initiating trade with European regions in the 1700s for infusing the toxin with alcoholic beverages for high risk-taking drinkers. Since the exportation, mad honey has found its way into outside countries like Japan, Germany and Switzerland.

It wouldn’t be brought into the public eye until two centuries later: the toxic-coated honey made its rounds at public health clinics throughout the mid- to late 1980s, when 11 patients were admitted for poisoning pertaining to the intake of mad honey.

Determined by health analysts, the poisonous substance is typically found in the eastern Black Sea region of Turkey, where nearby northern Turkey-bred bees roam rhododendron flower beds retaining grayanotoxin, the offsetting poison trigger thriving within the nectar of mad honey. Although in earlier studies it was always noted for its hazardous aftereffects, the alleged benefits of consuming mad honey include treating diabetes and improving sexual performance.

The benefits have since then ignited forms of debate by fellow travelers and “honey experts,” who proclaim that such allegations are only marketed as “belief” tools to contribute to further purchases of the substance.

Every now and then, the product will be requested by a large number of consumers, especially adventurous travelers visiting Turkey.

In 2011, British publication The Guardian warned readers that no more than one teaspoon of mad honey should be consumed at a time, as it will immediately trigger an irregular heartbeat (yet “rarely” cause fatal damage).

Although the news source reported that one would have to track down rare, hard-to-find carriers if one wished to try the toxic delight, mad honey has been serviced via online purchase at prices over USD$160.

Though it is remotely legal upon purchase in Turkey, and may be viewed to some degree as a “responsible” intake substance, some are wary of the potential consequences it could have on the misinformed.

In a 2012 public health study conducted by lead researcher Suze A. Jansen, if cattle are to ingest the mad honey, they will be prone to an assortment of neurological side effects; their response is more hazardous than that of humans.

Unearthed, Jansen found that cattle were more susceptible to lethal aftereffects if they consumed large quantities of mad honey. Among humans, it is rare for there to be a case where more than a drop is ingested.

As research continues to develop, analysts are currently placing the proposed claims of increased sexual performance into clear perspective. They are also determining whether or not mad honey should be pulled off the shelves of selected Turkish stores, and if doing so will lead to the end of underground purchases from online vendors.

Jeff Varner

Sources: NCBI, The Guardian, NCBI, Modern Farmer, SFGate
Photo: Deep Roots At Home

Cocaine in Colombia Poison
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC, a research arm of the World Health Organization, published a report on March 20, 2015 categorizing glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world by volume, so its new label has created turbulence across science and industry. While experts, governments and industry groups debate the study’s merits, poor farmers in Colombia may experience the most drastic fallout from the IARC report. Meanwhile, cocaine in Colombia receives a break from U.S. production curbing strategy.

Quickly following IARC’s declaration, the Colombian government suspended the aerial spraying of glyphosate. Since 1994, aerial spraying has been part of the U.S. strategy for curbing the production of cocaine in Colombia. In the last 20 years, 4.34 million acres have been sprayed, costing U.S. taxpayers roughly $2 billion.

Although defying U.S. interests, the U.S. Department of State is recognizing Colombia’s sovereignty to implement its decision. How this will affect anti-drug campaigns in the country remains to be seen.


Glyphosate Spraying and Cocaine in Colombia


Vanda Felbab-Brown, a global security specialist with the Brookings Institution, believes “Aerial spraying is politically controversial, costly and causes a tremendous amount of counterproductive side effects such as destroying legal crops, negative environmental effects as the chemical washes into streams, and alienating coca farmers from government authorities.”

A large cost has also been borne by farmers in regions where coca, the main ingredient in cocaine, is grown. From 2001 to 2012, the Colombian government processed 7,800 claims of crop damage as a result from aerial spraying. For the moment, the department handling these claims will have a break, and poor farmers in Colombia’s rural regions will experience less crop damage and a healthier environment.

Colombia’s decision to change tactics will open the door for alternative drug fighting policies and development strategies. These must fill the void that experts believe will be created by the termination of the spraying program. The incentives to grow coca are still strongly in place: the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime figured that cocaine was fetching roughly $2,500 per kilo back in 2013.

Alternative drug policies exist and are effective. The Washington Office on Latin America, which promotes human rights, democracy and social and economic justice in Latin America and the Caribbean, has outlined factors that need to complement an anti-drug campaign. Among these factors, the existence of alternative livelihoods plays a central role. Without other options, eradication programs will push farmers deeper into poverty. Implementing alternative and sustainable income generating activities makes coca production less attractive to farmers and shields them from a business decision that is subject to the whims of global drug policy.

The moratorium on glyphosate spraying comes as a relief to those living in targeted areas and provides an opportunity for sustainable development in the region.

– John Wachter

Sources: Al Jazeera, Brookings Institution, International Agency for Research on Cancer, LA Times, Nature, NY Times 1, NY Times 2, US Embassy, Washington Office on Latin America, Washington Office on Latin America
Photo: MercoPress