Of the world's 300 honey varieties, none is stranger and more dangerous than mad honey.
- Mad honey is produced by bees who feed on specific species of rhododendron plants, which grow in mountainous regions like those surrounding the Black Sea.
- People have used mad honey for centuries for recreational, medicinal, and military purposes. Low doses cause euphoria and lightheadedness, while high doses cause hallucinations and, in rare cases, death.
- Mad honey is still harvested and sold today, though it's illegal in some nations.
On the mountainsides of Nepal and Turkey, bees produce a strange and dangerous concoction: mad honey.
It's a rare variety of the natural fluid. Compared to the several hundred other types of honey produced around the world, mad honey is redder and slightly more bitter tasting, and it comes from the world's largest honey bee, Apis dorsata laboriosa.
Mad about honey
But what really distinguishes mad honey are its physiological effects. In lower doses, mad honey causes dizziness, lightheadedness, and euphoria. Higher doses can cause hallucinations, vomiting, loss of consciousness, seizures, and, in rare cases, death.
Here's one account of what it's like to take a moderate dose of mad honey, provided by a VICE producer who traveled to Nepal to join mad honey hunters on a harvesting expedition:
"I ate two teaspoons, the amount recommended by the honey hunters, and after about 15 minutes, I started to feel a high similar to weed," wrote David Caprara for VICE.
"I felt like my body was cooling down, starting from the back of my head and down through my torso. A deep, icy hot feeling settled in my stomach and lasted for several hours. The honey was delicious, and though a few of the hunters passed out from eating a bit too much, no one suffered from the projectile vomiting or explosive diarrhea I'd been warned about."
Here's another account from Will Brendza at The Rooster:
"Within 40ish minutes I could feel the honey creeping up on me. The back of my head started to tingle, like I was getting a scalp massage. Then, from within, I felt a warmth around my heart, in my chest and abdomen. Things slowed down a little, and my state of mind became tranquil. By the time we left the restaurant I was feeling good and strange."
"There are no visuals, though. The high is very much a bodily one and a mental one; a warm and relaxed sensation more like a sedative than your conventional psychedelic."
What is mad honey?
The psychoactive effects of mad honey stem not from bees but from what bees feed on in certain regions: a genus of flowering plants called rhododendrons. All species of these plants contain a group of neurotoxic compounds called grayanotoxins. When bees feed on the nectar and pollen of certain types of rhododendrons, the insects ingest grayanotoxins, which eventually make their way into the bees' honey, effectively making it "mad."
Rhododendron ferrugineumCredit albert kok
Bees are more likely to produce mad honey when and where rhododendrons are dominating. The reason has to do with scarcity: With fewer types of plants to feed on, the insects feed almost solely on rhododendrons, so they consume more grayanotoxins. The result is especially pure mad honey.
But accessing honeycombs that contain mad honey can be difficult. One reason is that rhododendrons grow best in higher altitudes, and bees often build their hives on cliffs near the plants, meaning harvesters have to climb mountainsides to harvest the honey.
However, harvesters bold enough to go for the honeycombs stand to profit. The Guardian reported that a kilogram of high-quality mad honey can sell for about $360 in shops around Turkey, while National Geographic noted that a pound of mad honey goes for about $60 on Asian black markets. In general, the value of mad honey is much higher than regular honey.
That's partly because many people believe mad honey has more medical value than regular honey. In the Black Sea region and beyond, people use it to treat conditions like hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, and
sore throat, though the research on the medical benefits of hallucinogenic honey from Nepal and Turkey is unclear.
In northeastern Asia, some buyers believe mad honey treats erectile dysfunction, which might explain why the majority of cases of mad honey poisonings involve middle-aged men, as noted in a 2018 report published in the journal RSC Advances.
How does mad honey affect the body?
Although the medicinal benefits of mad honey aren't clear, what's certain is that humans can be poisoned by consuming too much grayanotoxin-rich honey, which can cause dangerous decreases to blood pressure and heart rate.
Forensic toxicologist Justin Brower elaborated on his blog, Nature's Poisons:
"Grayanotoxins exert their toxicity by binding to sodium ion channels on cell membranes and preventing them from closing quickly, like aconitine. The result is a state of depolarization in which sodium ions are freely flowing into the cells, and calcium influx is on the rise."
This process can lead to a series of symptoms involving increased sweating, salivation, and nausea, Brower said, noting that symptoms typically disappear within 24 hours, as they did for a man in Seattle who suffered mad honey poisoning in 2011. While the exact amount of mad honey it takes to become poisoned depends on the individual and the quality of the honey, the 2018 RSC Advances report noted:
"Consumption of about 15-30 g mad honey leads to intoxication, and symptoms appear after half to 4 [hours]. The level of intoxication not only depends on the amount of mad honey consumed but also on the grayanotoxin concentration in the honey and the season of production. According to Ozhan et al., consumption of one teaspoon of mad honey may lead to poisoning."
Although Turkey records about a dozen cases of mad honey poisonings per year, a 2012 study published in Cardiovascular Toxicology noted that it's rare for people to die from the substance, though cases of animal deaths have been reported.
Mad honey throughout history
The strange effects of mad honey have captivated people near the Black Sea for millennia. One of the oldest accounts comes from 401 BCE, when Greek soldiers were marching through the Turkish town of Trabzon and came across a bounty of mad honey. The Athenian military leader and philosopher Xenophon wrote in his book Anabasis:
"The number of bee-hives was extraordinary, and all the soldiers that ate of the combs, lost their senses, vomited, and were affected with purging, and none of them were able to stand upright; such as had eaten only a little were like men greatly intoxicated, and such as had eaten much were like mad-men, and some like persons at the point of death."
"They lay upon the ground, in consequence, in great numbers, as if there had been a defeat; and there was general dejection. The next day no one of them was found dead; and they recovered their senses about the same hour that they had lost them on the preceding day; and on the third and fourth days they got up as if after having taken physic."
Centuries later, in 67 BCE, Roman soldiers weren't so lucky. As the soldiers pursued King Mithridates of Pontus and his Persian army, they stumbled across mad honey that the Persians had intentionally left behind, intending to use the substance as a bioweapon. Vaughn Bryant, a professor of anthropology at Texas A&M University, explained in a press release:
"The Persians gathered pots full of local honey and left them for the Roman troops to find. They ate the honey, became disoriented and couldn't fight. The Persian army returned and killed over 1,000 Roman troops with few losses of their own."
But mad honey was more often used for nonviolent purposes. People in the Black Sea region have long consumed small amounts of the substance (about a teaspoon's worth), in boiling milk or on its own, both for pleasure and as a folk medicine.
In the 18th century, merchants in the Black Sea region sold honey to the Europeans, who infused liquor with a bit of the substance to enjoy its milder effects.
Mad honey today
Today, beekeepers in Nepal and Turkey still harvest mad honey, though it represents a small fraction of the nations' total honey production. Both countries allow the production, sale, and exportation of mad honey, but the substance is illegal in other nations, like South Korea, which banned the substance in 2005.
While interested buyers in the U.S. can purchase mad honey from countries like Nepal and Turkey, it might be worth sticking with the regular stuff. After all, the handful of experiences posted on the website of the non-profit psychedelic research organization Erowid.org don't sound too enticing.
One user said they "wouldn't even recommend trying it." Another user suffered mad honey poisoning after taking too much, writing that the "symptoms can seem life threatening" and that they hope their report might help "some poor bastard out there not make the same mistake."
Researchers find that the coffee pulp is valuable in its own right.
The coffee beans that keep us going don't grow on the vine in bean form. They grow as coffee "cherries," skin and pulp inside of which resides the precious beans. Before coffee beans can be fermented in water as many are, the cherries pass through a machine that extracts the bean from the skin and pulp. Miraculous as coffee beans are, new research suggests that their typically discarded pulp is even more amazing. It can restore tropical forests.
Researchers from ETH-Zurich and the University of Hawaii have found that this waste from coffee manufacturing is a fantastic growing agent after testing it out on some agriculturally depleted land in Costa Rica.
"The results were dramatic," reports lead author of the study Rebecca Cole. "The area treated with a thick layer of coffee pulp turned into a small forest in only two years while the control plot remained dominated by non-native pasture grasses."
Coffee pulp arrivesCredit: Rebecca Cole/British Ecological Society
The researchers delivered 30 dump trucks full of coffee pulp to a 35- by 40-meter parcel on Reserva Biológica Sabalito in Costa Rica's Coto Brus county. The land, previously part of a coffee plantation, is in the process of being reforested.
Starting in the 1950s, Costa Rica experienced rapid deforestation followed by coffee-growing and farming that resulted in a 25% loss of its natural forest cover by 2014.
Before spreading out the coffee pulp into a half-meter-thick layer for their test, the researchers measured the nutrients in the soil. They also catalogued the species living nearby, and made note of the size of woody stems present. The amount of forest ground cover was recorded, and drones were sent aloft to capture the amount of canopy cover.
Reforestation in the blink of an eye
(A) Coffee pulp layer; (B) control area after two years; (C) coffee pulp area after two years; (D) overhead view of canopy in control area, above the red line, and the coffee-pulp area, below the red lineCredits: A, B, and C: R. Cole. D: credit R. Zahawi/British Ecological Society
At the end of the two years, the control area had grown forest covering over 20% of its area. In contrast, 80% of the coffee-pulp section was canopied by trees, and these trees were four times the height of those in the control parcel.
The researchers analyzed the nutrients available in the soil and found significantly elevated levels of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorous, all vital agricultural nutrients. Curiously, potassium, also important for growth, was lower in the coffee-pulp area than in the control section.
The researchers also found that the coffee pulp eliminated invasive pasture grasses that inhibit reforestation. Their removal facilitated the reemergence of tree species whose seeds were introduced by wind or animal dispersal.
A much-needed growth agent
According to Cole, "This case study suggests that agricultural by-products can be used to speed up forest recovery on degraded tropical lands. In situations where processing these by-products incurs a cost to agricultural industries, using them for restoration to meet global reforestation objectives can represent a 'win-win' scenario."
Promising as coffee pulp may be, Cole cautions: "This study was done at only one large site, so more testing is needed to see if this strategy works across a broader range of conditions. The measurements we share are only from the first two years. Longer-term monitoring would show how the coffee pulp affected soil and vegetation over time. Additional testing can also assess whether there are any undesirable effects from the coffee pulp application."
In addition, she notes, the experiment only documents the value of coffee pulp on flat land when delivery of the substance by truck is fairly simple. "We would like," Cole says, "to scale up the study by testing this method across a variety of degraded sites in the landscape."
Just as exciting is the possibility that other such agricultural waste products may be good for reforesting depleted areas. Cole mentions orange husks as a material worthy of investigation.
"We hope," Cole concludes, "our study is a jumping off point for other researchers and industries to take a look at how they might make their production more efficient by creating links to the global restoration movement."
If we lose our pollinators, we'll soon lose everything else.
- New research has found that warmer autumns are driving the extinction of monarch butterflies.
- Globally, 40 percent of insect populations are in decline; one-third are in danger of extinction.
- Insects pollinate three-fourths of the world's crop supply, resulting in 1.4 billion jobs.
Insects might often seem like a nuisance, yet life on this planet would be impossible without them. Sure, mosquitoes kill more humans every year than any other animal, but there's a trade-off when it comes to such invertebrates: without pollinators, we wouldn't be able to survive. And while Americans might scoff at the idea, insects are a food source for four-fifths of the planet (and Americans really should consider this route).
Speaking of 80 percent, that was the same percentage of one 2016 study regarding European insect collapse. More recent research has found that 40 percent of insect populations are in decline; one-third is in danger of extinction. On the face that sounds like more enjoyable summers until you realize that, for humans at least, the trend could result in no more summers at all. As two Australian researchers phrase it,
"Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades. The repercussions this will have for the planet's ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least."
Pesticides have long been identified as a driver of insect collapse. They're not the only agricultural problem, however. In fact, as a new study (published in Science) shows, the thousand little cuts that have led to climate change are driving extinction—especially, in this case, of monarch butterflies.Insect ecologists Art Shapiro and Matthew Forister looked at 450 butterfly species at 70 different locations in the western United States. While butterfly numbers have been dropping regularly since 1977 at a rate of 1.6 percent every year, the trend seems to be increasing. Just last month, a disturbing report from Mexico found that the hibernating population of monarchs has decreased by 26 percent since 2019, predominantly due to deforestation and drought— factors helping drive or due to climate change.
Credit: Dave / Adobe Stock
While problematic, human development and pesticides have nowhere near the impact of warming autumns. Fall temperatures have outpaced summer increases for years, disrupting butterfly breeding patterns and the life cycles of the plants they depend on.
Fewer butterflies aren't just an aesthetic problem. Forister notes that the loss of these key pollinators could cause an ecosystem collapse in the coming years. Hotter falls also negatively impact bee populations. Recent colony collapses in Colombia are likely the result of monocropping avocados and citrus.
The enormity of this problem cannot be overstated. Insects fertilize for us—three-quarters of all crops across the globe. According to a 2016 study, 1.4 billion jobs depend on pollinators. With the loss of insects, our food supply (and a giant economic driver of society) goes with them.
Regional efforts to save monarch butterflies are underway. Tribal organizations in Oklahoma are trying to replant milkweed—often viewed as a pest by farmers—to boost butterfly populations. The Tribal Alliance for Pollinators (TEAM) has secured nearly a quarter-million dollars in the last three years to plant milkweed and nectar plants to help the annual butterfly migration to Mexico.
The road ahead will not be easy. Until legislative measures are enforced to curb climate change, seasons will continue to be unpredictable: warmer autumns, colder winters, especially in places unaccustomed to such drastic changes in temperature—last month's storms in Texas provide a cautionary tale. Yet we've had many such tales at this point. With the loss of insects, there won't be any more stories left to be told.
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His most recent book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
Do they really need the human touch?
- In Pinduoduo's Smart Agriculture Competition, four technology teams competed with traditional farmers over four months to grow strawberries.
- Data analysis, intelligent sensors and greenhouse automation helped the scientists win.
- Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies such as AI are forecast to deliver huge productivity gains – but need the right governance, according to the Global Technology Governance Report 2021.
Strawberries can be easy to grow – especially, it seems, if you're an algorithm.
When farmers in China competed to grow the fruit with technology including machine learning and artificial intelligence, the machines won, by some margin.
Data scientists produced 196% more strawberries by weight on average compared with traditional farmers.
The technologists also outperformed farmers in terms of return on investment by an average of 75.5%
The inaugural Smart Agriculture Competition was co-organized by Pinduoduo, China's largest agri-focused technology platform, and the China Agricultural University, with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations as a technical adviser.
Teams of data scientists competed over four months to grow strawberries remotely using Internet of Things technology coupled with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning-driven algorithms.
In the competition, the technology teams had the advantage of being able to control temperature and humidity through greenhouse automation, the organizers said. Using technology such as intelligent sensors, they were also more precise at controlling the use of water and nutrients. The traditional farmers had to achieve the same tasks by hand and experience.
One of the teams, Zhi Duo Mei, set up a company to provide its technology to farming cooperatives after it generated a lot of interest during the competition.
The contest helped the traditional farmers and the data scientists better understand each other's work and how they could collaborate to everyone's advantage, the leader of the Zhi Duo Mei team, Cheng Biao, said.
Numerous studies show the potential for Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies like AI to boost economic growth and productivity.
By 2035, labour productivity in developed countries could rise by 40% due to the influence of AI, according to analysis from Accenture and Frontier Economics.
Sweden, the US and Japan are expected to see the highest productivity increases.
In its Future of Jobs Report 2020, the World Economic Forum estimates that by 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines, while 97 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms.
Emerging technologies including AI and drones will also play a vital role in helping the world recover from COVID-19, according to a separate Forum report compiled with professional services firm Deloitte.
The Global Technology Governance Report 2021 considers some of the most important applications for these technologies – and the governance challenges that should be addressed for these technologies to reach their full potential.
It's like a little magnetic "nom, nom."
- Venus flytrap leaves shut in response to physical touch, salt water, or thermal stimuli.
- A team of scientists from Berlin have captured the magnetic charge that accompanies the closing of the plant's trap.
- Incredibly sensitive, non-invasive atomic magnetometers picked up the elusive signal.
For many children, the revelation that there's such a thing as a Venus Flytrap, Dionaea muscipula, is an amazing moment. The choppers of the sneaky plant predators are like something out of a fairy tale gone wrong. Adults can't help but be fascinated by them too, and now scientists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JSU) and the Helmholtz Institute Mainz in Germany have discovered something new that's surprising about these little demons: Every time they entrap prey, they give off a measurable magnetic charge.
"We have been able to demonstrate that action potentials in a multicellular plant system produce measurable magnetic fields, something that had never been confirmed before," says lead author Anne Fabricant.
Guilt as magnetically charged
The plants' bivalved snap trap (left), side view of a destained trap lobe (right)
Credit: Fabricant, et al./Scientific Reports
According to Fabricant, the finding isn't that much of a shock: "Wherever there is electrical activity, there should also be magnetic activity," she tells Live Science. And it is electrical activity in the form of action potentials that trigger its maw—really a pair of leaf lobes—to close when a hapless bug lands inside them, attracted by the nectar with which the plants bait their trap.
Along the inner surfaces of the lobes are trichomes, hair-like projections that cause the trap to close when they're disturbed by prey. One touch of a trichome is unlikely to cause the trap to shut — perhaps a mechanism that helps the plant avoid wasting energy on false alarms. A couple of touches, though, and it's chow time. The lobes come together as the bristles at their edges intertwine to help contain the prey. As the traps compress the trapped insect, its own secretions such as uric acid cause the trap to shut even more tightly, and then digestion begins.
In any event, just because the JSU researchers had reason to suspect the plant would give off a magnetic charge, catching it doing so was not a simple task.
Reading the Venus flytrap's magnetic output
Average action potential and corresponding magnetic signals
Credit: Fabricant, et al./Scientific Reports
"The problem," says Fabricant, "is that the magnetic signals in plants are very weak, which explains why it was extremely difficult to measure them with the help of older technologies." Still, where there's a will: "You could say the investigation is a little like performing an MRI scan in humans."
It's not just trichome flicks that trigger the trap — it will also close if triggered by salt-water, or with an application of either hot or cold thermal energy. The researchers applied heat via a purpose-built Peltier device that wouldn't introduce any background magnetic noise to mask or overwhelm the faint magnetic signal they were seeking. For the same reason, the experiments were conducted in a magnetically shielded room at Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) in Berlin.
The researchers used atomic magnetometers to measure the planets magnetic charges. The atomic magnetometer is a glass cell containing a vapor of rubidium atoms. When the traps were triggered, the magnetic charges released changed the spins of the atoms' electrons.
The researchers picked up magnetic signals at an amplitude of up to 0.5 picoteslas. "The signal magnitude recorded is similar to what is observed during surface measurements of nerve impulses in animals," says Fabricant. It's over a million times weaker than the Earth's own magnetic field.
Other researchers have detected magnetic charges coming the firing of animal nerves — including within our own brain. The phenomenon is referred to as "biomagnetism." Since other plants have action potentials, they may also generate biomagnetism, though less research has been done on them.
It's to other plants that the attention of the JSU team now turns, as they go looking for even smaller magnetic charges from other species. In addition to providing new understanding of nature's use of electricity, non-invasive detection technologies such as the one employed by the group could one day be utilized for more insightful monitoring of crops as they respond to thermal, pest, and chemical influences.