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.