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Mad honey – what is the rare hallucinogen of antiquity known for?

"Mad" honey is an interesting name and even more interesting is the reason why that honey is named so. If you want to find out why it was given such a name, where you can find mad honey and whether there is a medical or other use for it, read this article.

What is mad honey and is it legal to use?

"Mad honey" is honey, which bees produce in the mountains of Nepal and Turkey. It is named that way because bees in these areas feed mainly on the rhododendron plant, which possesses the toxin grayanatoxin. When pollen from these plants is eaten, the toxin passes into the bees' bodies and they transfer it to the honey they produce. Its taste is bitter, compared to ordinary honey.

This bee nectar can also be found in some other countries where rhododendron also grows, such as in Spain, Japan, Brazil, Great Britain, America. But the amount of grayanotoxin that can be contained in honey in these countries is too small to have any effect on the body. 

Mad Honey is illegal in South Korea, India, Mexico, Brazil, Canada, Australia, but, as far as it is clear, there are no laws prohibiting its use in other countries.

Honey can be found in some local shops in Turkey and Nepal, where it is produced by local beekeepers, but be careful if you buy from there, because they do not pass laboratory tests to ensure safe levels of toxin in the honey. In addition to these places,  mad honey can be supplied from other specialized stores that ensure that the production has passed laboratory tests and contains safe levels of grayanotoxin. It can also be found on some sites online and on the black market.

Mad honey from antiquity

Mad honey is known for its use as a biological weapon as early as 401 BC. and several times there after [ref. 1]. The soldiers left the honey on the road as bait so that their enemies could be tempted and eat it. The honey made them incapable of fighting, and they were slaughtered by their enemies. 

In addition, crazy honey is known in folk medicine for its use as a medicine for numerous diseases, such as to soothe gastrointestinal problems and pain, skin problems, influenza and a cold, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis and as an aphrodisiac [ref. 2],[ref. 3]. Its properties of aphrodisiac are the reason why cases of poisoning are 5 times more common in men than in women [ref. 4].

What effect does grayatoxin have on the body?

One of the effects of grayantoxin is on specific proteins (sodium channels) on the surface of the cells, which are responsible for the passage of sodium into the cells. These proteins line up side by side and form pores, channels, through the membrane of the cell and play the role of a door that opens and closes, allowing the passage of sodium into the cell. Grayantoxin attaches to these proteins when they are open and blocks their closure, forcing a constant flow of sodium into almost every cell in the body. 

The toxin mimics the action of the neurotransmitter Acetylcholine, which normally binds to part of the sodium channels and causes them to open. This neurotransmitter carries messages between neurons and from neurons to muscles

The constant flow of sodium into the cells acts excitatory on the skeletal muscles (those responsible for voluntary movements) and suppressing the heart muscles. These properties cause the typical symptoms of poisoning with mad honey – slow heart rate and decrease in blood pressure, muscle weakness, vomiting and diarrhea, unconsciousness and, in rarer cases, convulsions. 

In addition, the action of the toxin causes activation of muscarine receptors, which leads to increased formation of saliva and sweating, bronchospasm and abnormal contraction of the heart.

Grayanotoxin is metabolized for 24 hours, and because of this, the symptoms of poisoning with crazy honey last 24 hours. When consuming too much mad honey, poisoning with grayanotoxin can be deadly.

  1. What is mad honey and is it legal to use?
  2. Mad honey from antiquity
  3. What effect does grayatoxin have on the body?


Mad honey has been known to us since ancient times. Due to its hallucinogenic properties, it has been used as a weapon against enemies. At the same time, thanks to its effects on the body, mad honey can also be used as a remedy against gastrointestinal problems and pains, skin problems, flu and cold, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis and as an aphrodisiac. Nowadays, the supply of mad honey becomes much easier as it can be ordered online to all parts of the world, and can also be found in Nepal and Turkey, where it is prepared by local beekeepers. But be careful when buying mad honey - check that grayanotoxin levels in the honey are safe - high levels can lead to death.


  1. Anabasis, by Xenophon
  2. Mad Honey Poisoning-Related Hypothermia: A Case Series - PubMed
  3. Erectile Dysfunction | NEJM
  4. An indispensable toxin known for 2500 years: victims of mad honey

The author

Ivelina Yankova has acquired her bachelor's degree in Biomedical Sciences at Bristol University, where she has studied a variety of methods of conducting scientific research. She is currently engaged in conducting various genetic diagnostic tests. Her love of science and writing exists from an early age, and she pursues these passions relentlessly. 


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