Getting High on Scorpions: The Afghan Drug War

Posted: May 10th, 2012 | Filed under: drugs, hallucinogens, marijuana, opiates | 13 Comments »

Getting High on Scorpions

David Macdonald argues in his 2007 book, Drugs in Afghanistan, that Afghanistan’s increased drug usage is driven by an impoverished battle-scarred population trying desperately to relieve its suffering.* Western-led efforts to universally criminalize drugs are futile because distressed people will always be able to find chemical relief.

As an example, Macdonald notes that in Afghanistan even the ubiquitous scorpions can be used for intoxication. Tartars in Bamiyan province prepare scorpions by smashing them between stones and letting them dry. The main part of the tail, with the sting, is then crushed into a powder and smoked with tobacco and/or hashish (marijuana).

A friend of Macdonald’s who witnessed a man smoke scorpion in the Afghan town of Peshawar described the reaction:

The effect was instantaneous with the man’s face and eyes becoming very red, “much more than a hashish smoker” …. He also seemed very intoxicated but awake and alert, although he stumbled and fell over when he tried to rise from a sitting position …. the smoke tasted “sweeter” than that of hashish, although … it smelled foul, and the intoxicating effect lasted much longer. (1, p. 247)

As with most drugs, anecdotal reports of scorpion’s effects vary widely. It is likely that the numerous Afghan scorpion species have divergent psychoactive properties. Scorpion has been reported to keep one awake, cause severe headaches, and rival the effects of a “strong mescaline trip.” (1, p. 248) One Kabul man who had smoked between 20 and 30 times reported the effects to last three days. During these periods he had difficulty opening his eyes, his head spun, and he had constant visual hallucinations.

Globally, scorpion smoking is still rare. The failure of the war on other drugs has not driven people to seek it out … yet. If drug war success sparking scorpion use sounds unbelievable, in India’s Western states police crackdowns on mainstream illicit drugs have already led to “sting sellers.” A police officer in the city of Bharuch said:

Because of our successful drives against the sellers and addicts of alcohol, opium, cough syrup, and heroin in urban areas, young people are flocking on the highways to try the new craze of scorpion stings. (2)

The futility of drug criminalization may become comically clear if more drug war “victories” bring about a war on arachnids.

* Macdonald is a sociologist who has specialized in drug control for over 20 years. From 1999 until his book’s publication in 2007 he served as the demand reduction adviser for the UN drugs control program in Afghanistan with UNODC and also with the Ministry of Counter Narcotics in Kabul.


1. David Macdonald, Drugs in Afghanistan: Opium, Outlaws, and Scorpion Tales (2007). LINK
2. “New Drugs Craze Has a Scorpion Sting in the Tail,”, 25 Apr. 2004. LINK

13 Comments on “Getting High on Scorpions: The Afghan Drug War”

  1. 1 Word of the Day: Aporia | Dustin Boyer said at 2:54 pm on May 18th, 2012:

    […] The word is from a recent NYTimes op-ed from a NY state supreme court judge asking for the legalization of MJ.  It’s the same article we’ve seen before but notable for the characters involved and the general eloquence.  The real question, of course, is when will we finally legalize smoking scorpion tail?!?!? […]

  2. 2 Apparently Scorpions Can Get People High on Greg In The Desert said at 7:08 am on June 5th, 2012:

    […] article titled “Getting High on Scorpions: The Afghan Drug War” notes from David Macdonald, Drugs in Afghanistan, book: As an example, Macdonald notes that […]

  3. 3 Getting High On Scorpions | Light Sound Dimension said at 4:20 pm on June 5th, 2012:

    […] to mescaline. But before you run to the pet store: the trip can last for days. Read all about it here. Macdonald notes that in Afghanistan even the ubiquitous scorpions can be used for intoxication. […]

  4. 4 The Scorpion High | The Penn Ave Post said at 5:15 pm on June 9th, 2012:

    […] High Posted at 5:15 on June 9, 2012 by Andrew Sullivan Perhaps the only obscure drug the Dish hasn't covered: [Drugs in Afghanistan author David Macdonald] notes that in Afghanistan even the […]

  5. 5 Afghanistan's U.S.-Funded Counter-Narcotics Tribunal Convicts Nearly All Defendants - Page 2 - Forums said at 8:16 pm on June 10th, 2012:

    […] prohibition. Do you think everyone just going to start using meth if it were to be legalized? Getting High on Scorpions: The Afghan Drug War Drug Freedom Works in Portugal The Surprisingly Low Addiction Rates of Crack, Heroin, and Meth […]

  6. 6 Never Yet Melted » Not Even Illegal said at 10:30 am on June 11th, 2012:

    […] Narco Polo reports that, in Afghanistan, motivated seekers of intoxication will resort to smoking the stingers of local scorpions. […]

  7. 7 DFA King said at 11:10 am on April 21st, 2014:

    In Afghanistan many people are smoking the died scorpions
    it is realy heavy than any kind of Drugs

  8. 8 10 Hallucinogenic Animals: Do Not Try this at Home | A Quarter Life What? said at 7:00 am on July 31st, 2015:

    […] the high. A man from Kabul who had smoked scorpion multiple times reported the effects as follows: “difficulty opening his eyes, his head sp[inning], and…constant visual hallucinations” for three days. It has also been described as rivaling a “strong mescaline trip.” Some people […]

  9. 9 tim said at 7:06 pm on January 7th, 2016:

    It’s true,I have an Iranian friend who told me about scorpion tail smoking,crazy bastards.

  10. 10 Hasse Karlgreen said at 9:27 am on March 25th, 2016:

    E-cigarettes is very popular today because Electronic cigarettes have become a hot item. Many smokers feel that e-cigarette is less harmful because it contain less nictione and that’s also in liquid form.

  11. 11 Scorpion Smoking – the Latest Pakistani Craze? | NY Leaf said at 2:24 pm on April 18th, 2016:

    […] 2012 post on the Narco Polo blog cites a discussion of scorpion-smoking in the book Drugs in Afghanistan: Opium, Outlaws and […]

  12. 12 Natural Solutions | Scorpion Smoking – the Latest Pakistani Craze? said at 4:36 am on April 19th, 2016:

    […] 2012 post on the Narco Polo blog cites a discussion of scorpion-smoking in the book Drugs in Afghanistan: Opium, Outlaws and […]

  13. 13 Smoking Scorpions in South Asia – A Dangerous Addiction - odditycentral (blog) - Self Help Education Arena said at 7:33 am on April 21st, 2016:

    […] DAWN, Suburra, The […]