Ten years ago, Cuban resident Pepe Casanas decided to do something very unorthodox in his fight against rheumatoid arthritis (RA) pain; he purposefully got a scorpion to sting him. Since that time, the 78-year-old farmer has self-medicated himself once a month using the testy arachnids. Because he has no way of harvesting the venom from the scorpions on his property, he actually has to hunt for one and make it angry enough to sting him.
This might sound like a kooky home remedy based on an old wives’ tale, but a pharmaceutical company followed his lead in 2011. Of course, the Cuban-based Labiofam doesn’t subject patients to the painful sting of a blue scorpion, or Rhopalurus junceus, as its scientific name is known. Instead, the venom of these creatures has been extracted and is now inside a popular homeopathic medication. Known as Vidatox, Reuters reports that this unusual treatment method is now used in 15 countries.
Per Casanas’ interview with Reuters, he uses the real-deal by putting a scorpion wherever he feels a lot of pain. After squeezing the scorpion, its natural defense mechanism kicks in and it stings him.
“It hurts for a while, but then it calms down and I don’t have any more pain.”
On the pharmaceutical side of things, Labiofam’s Vidatox has proven to be so popular that it’s now selling on the black market at drastically inflated prices. In some cases, a single vial of blue scorpion venom can sell online for $150. To put this into perspective, Cuban residents can buy the same thing over-the-counter for less than $1.
Aside from RA, there are some who swear by Vidatox’s ability to treat cancer. However, Viet Nam News indicated that Vietnamese oncologists haven’t been able to find any proof that scorpion venom is a viable cancer treatment. The oncologists do agree, though, that Vidatox provides some pain relief to cancer patients.
Despite debates over the effectiveness of the homeopathic medication, Labiofam has been experiencing steady sales growth of about 10 percent per year. There are currently tens of thousands of people using the product in Cuba alone for everything from its anti-inflammatory and pain relief properties to its purported ability to delay tumor growth in some cases.
Labiofam catches all of their scorpions in the wild, much like Casanas, but they then put them in cages and turn them into regular producers of venom. The company’s facility is populated by 6,000 caged blue scorpions, and the creatures are forced to provide venom once a month after receiving an electric shock.
More research is needed to know exactly how beneficial blue scorpion venom is and what its best medical applications could be. For the time being, people like Casanas will continue treating their aches and pains with the venom of Cuba’s endemic scorpion.