Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Mad Honey Sex

Plant poisoning comes in many forms - sometimes from the direct ingestion of a raw or cooked plant, sometimes from contact with a part of a plant (e.g., using a toxic skewer to cook a frankfurter over a campfire, and sometimes from plant-derived products. It may be a diagnostic dilemma for the doctor to determine whether or not a particular clinical syndrome is related to plant poisoning. Even if it is suspected, it may take some sleuthing to determine the culprit plant and type of exposure.

Ahmet Demircan, MD and colleagues recently published an article entitled "Mad Honey Sex: Therapeutic Misadventures From an Ancient Biological Weapon" (Annals of Emergency Medicine, volume 54, number 6, pages 824-829). As reported by the authors, "mad honey poisoning" is caused by ingestion of honey produced by grayanotoxin-containing nectar, which is created by the rhododendron plant Rhododendron ponticum. The affliction has been reported since the days of the ancient Greek general Xenophon.

In an analysis of 21 cases by the authors, some of whom hailed from Turkey, local beekeepers who were surveyed for the study reported that the most common reason for intentional ("therapeutic") mad honey consumption was to enhance sexual performance. Symptoms began approximately 1 hour after eating the honey, and included dizziness, nausea, vomiting and fainting. Some patients had low blood pressure and slow heart rate to a degree that they required medication for treatment. There was no comment about whether or not sexual performance was enhanced.

Anyone contemplating eating mad honey or consuming any part of a rhododendron plant should be aware of this toxicity.

image of Rhododendron ponticum courtesy of

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.