by Bryan Nelson
The largest honeybees in the world, Himalayan giant honeybees, produce some of the world’s most cherished honey. It’s known as mad honey, a reddish sweet goop with psychotropic properties that in reasonable doses generates a high similar to that of marijuana.
Haven’t heard of this delectable treat? That’s probably because it’s extremely difficult to harvest. If the bees’ stings — which can pierce through most beekeeper suits — don’t ward you off, the sheer Himalayan cliffs where the bees plaster their large crescent-shaped hives probably will. Those who dare to gather the honey do so at their own peril, dangling from precarious bamboo rope ladders hundreds of feet above the ground.
But this treacherous cultural practice, perfected by the Kulung people of eastern Nepal, could soon disappear forever. When elder Mauli Dhan, known as the last honey hunter, chooses to retire, his craft could end with him.
Mad honey can fetch a hefty price, sold for $60 to $80 a pound (U.S.), but those are black market prices. You won’t find it at your local supermarket.
The honey gets its hallucinogenic properties from toxins in flowers that the bees eat in the spring; it’s only during this time of the year that the honey can get you high. Two to three teaspoons is usually considered the correct dose, which produces feelings similar to weed. A larger dose, however, can produce a more intense experience, one that’s probably unpleasant to the uninitiated.
First, you’ll probably feel the need to purge (defecate, urinate, vomit). Then, “after the purge you alternate between light and dark. You can see, and then you can’t see,” explained Jangi Kulung, a local honey trader. “A sound — jam jam jam — pulses in your head, like the beehive. You can’t move, but you’re still completely lucid. The paralysis lasts for a day or so.”
These more intense experiences, along with a rumored death from overdose, are the primary reasons that this precious honey has become more difficult to sell, and why the cultural practice of harvesting it might soon disappear.
Undoubtedly, when the last honey hunter climbs his last cliff, the hunt for this rare psychotropic delicacy will probably continue in some form. But whether the harvest is done sustainably, in a way that’s safe for harvesters, consumers and the bees themselves (their populations are declining), remains in doubt. There’s a delicate ecosystem that makes this unique honey possible, and without a balanced and careful harvest, the honey supply may not last long.