Getting High Injecting Snake Venom
The hemotoxins in a tree viper’s venom attack human blood cells and can result in an agonizing death in less than 30 minutes. The neurotoxins in a cobra bite can kill a person in half that time. So why has Steve Ludwin has been sticking all this lovely snake juice in a syringe and mainlining it for the last 20 years? Because he’s on a quest for immortality. Milking an array of deadly snakes including rattlesnakes and monocled cobras, with a few vipers thrown in the mix, Steve has been injecting what would for any normal human be fatal amounts venom into his body since the late 80s.
The basic principle—laid out by pioneer herpetologist Bill Haast, who died last year at the age of 100—is that regular exposure to the venom develops an immunity. Steve claims to never get ill, and that cobra venom is the ultimate pick-me-up, with effects lasting days after injecting, making Steve stronger, faster, and more resilient. And now, it looks like mainstream scientific research might be catching up.
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British School Kids in Dubai Are Getting High on Butane (and Dying)
Remember being 15, not being able to buy weed, and getting turned down at every bodega you tried to buy beer at because your “European driving permit” didn’t stop you sounding like a choirboy on a rollercoaster? If you were opportunistic, you may have stolen your parents’ booze. If you had access to it, you may have bought some poppers or laughing gas and called it a (kind of half-assed, shitty) day.
In Dubai, however, access to all those things is somewhat restricted, so instead, ex-pat teens with a passion for temporarily altering their brain chemistry have taken to inhaling butane gas from cans of lighter fluid, because why the hell not? This may come as a shock, but huffing the noxious fumes of a highly flammable liquid isn’t particularly good for your health. It can freeze your lungs if you’re not careful and at least six ex-pat teenagers have died from it in the last few years. With access to any fun-inducing chemicals severely restricted out there, I suppose you take what you can get, but inhaling butane still seems like the dumbest thing imaginable.
To try to understand why people don’t just wait a couple of years to buy booze and not inhale deadly gas, I spoke to “Steph” (Dubai’s authorities aren’t that keen on drugs, so she didn’t want to share her real name), who lived in Dubai for three years, before leaving her parents and two sisters there to come back to the UK. One of her sister’s friends died a couple of years ago after inhaling butane gas.
Everything an ex-pat teenager in Dubai needs for a great night.
VICE: When did you first hear about this whole huffing butane thing?
“Steph”: The first time I saw it was when I was at my friend’s place in 2007. He went and sat in a store cupboard, did some butane and was just a mess after that. I guess the closest comparison you could make is to laughing gas, or something, but it lasts longer. You just stand there laughing and giggling and being confused. Your depth perception goes and you end up laughing at your hands a lot. Only, unlike laughing gas, it can kill you instantly, which isn’t a lot of fun. And it’s not subtle, either. Everyone on it looks so fucked—that horrible fucked where your eyes roll back into your head and you look like you’re going to die.
Sounds like fun. Is it only big with ex-pat kids who go to private school?
As far as I know, yeah, because local kids can get hold of proper drugs and pretty much get away with whatever. If they get caught, they’ll just ring an uncle who knows someone, then everything’s fine. I think it’s because all these ex-pat kids, who could readily buy drugs in the UK, arrive in Dubai and realize they literally can’t get anything. So the easiest thing to get is a legal substance you can abuse. It’s definitely a teenage thing, though. My sister’s friend Anton—who died from huffing butane—was 16, and it definitely seems like something you stop doing when you’re 18, because you can go out to clubs around that age if you have fake ID and blonde hair.
I Learned How to Make Artisinal Blow in Colombia
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Colombia is the world’s biggest producer of cocaine, providing around 80 percent of the whole planet’s supply. In true entrepreneurial spirit, mom and pop coke shops, or “kitchens,” pepper the countryside, churning out 345 tons of the white stuff last year alone. As a commercially-minded fellow who understands the pitfalls of a consumer-driven culture and the importance of production, I decided to spend a day as an apprentice with a cook in the Colombian village of San Agustin.
Although San Agustin is only 200 miles from where I was staying in Ecuador, getting there took me two full days. In true South American tradition, my journey was colored with confusion and mishaps, including rain, mudslides, three-hour immigration lines, lack of tickets, unpaved mountain roads, and chicken buses with no suspension that came very close to cracking my tailbone.
When I arrived at my destination, however, all of those inconveniences seemed trivial. I was about to make some artisanal blow.
Some of the wildlife on Pedro’s property.
The proprietor of the cocaine factory’s name was Pedro. He greeted me warmly on a portion of his property that served as a coffee farm, and told me our class would last about two hours.
After a perfunctory glance at Pedro’s coffee field, I was led up to his ramshackle house, and into his cocina.
A heap of fresh green leaves sat atop a canvas bag on the table. They were so fresh that the fields they were picked from must have been very close. Not wasting any time, Pedro put a razor sharp machete in my hand and told me to start chopping.
Over vigorous hacking, Pedro’s story was revealed. He had learned his trade during eight years of service in a cocaine kitchen—a kitchen once visited by Pablo Escobar himself during a casual pickup of 70 kilos of pure cocaine, fresh off Pedro’s production line.
After the leaves were sufficiently minced, I was told it was time to add a binding agent. If he had asked me to guess what this agent would be, I would have said an egg, or something equally benign. I would have been wrong. Pedro pulled out a bag of cement, sprinkled it all over our wonderfully chopped leaves, and began to knead the dough by hand.
Inventing drugs is a tradition that dates back to Homer. From the Odyssey and its lotus-eaters to the psychotropic inventions of the substance-addled Philip K. Dick, from the ambrosia and manna of mythology to the psychedelic Spice of the desert planet Arrakis, fake drugs populate the literary canon in all kinds of unlikely places.
Why create fake drugs when there are so many varieties of existing substances in the world? Well, sometimes it’s a plot conceit: how else are those babies going to be born with telekinetic mutations, or those interstellar captains going to see safe paths through space-time? Most of the time, however, a fake drug in literature or film plays a very specific metaphorical role.
- by Claire Evans