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If I were to ask you whether it’s safe to drink snake venom, you would probably have a very firm answer right away.
Either you would automatically say no because snakes wield deadly poisons. Or, if you are a science-savvy, you might unequivocally say yes, because snakes wield venoms, not poisons.
Well, I am here to tell you that actually, both those answers are wrong and at best, the correct answer is… maybe?
Nay As An Answer
Let’s start with the surefire NO. The science-savvy out there are right when they point out that venoms and poisons differ namely, by the route of administration. But both fall under the broader umbrella of “toxins”, meaning they cause problems in relatively small amounts.
Venoms get into you via wounds, like a snake bite, while poisons are either inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through the skin. And yes, this difference matters as it comes down to how toxins affect you!
Since venom goes directly into your bloodstream, it doesn’t need to be able to survive a trip through your stomach. So, venoms often contain big, somewhat delicate molecules that can be inactivated or destroyed by your digestive juices.
But wait, before you run out to do a shot of snake venom, let’s move on to the misconception behind that solid yes answer.
Yeah As An Answer
You see, there may be no evolutionary reason for venom toxins to work when consumed, but that doesn’t mean that they never do.
What all need to know is the venom’s oral toxicity: how different amounts affect you when ingested. And oral toxicities tends to be lower than injected ones.
That’s in part because of those digestive juices we mentioned. Also, there is the physical barrier of your gut lining—so odds are, some of the stuff just passes through you without getting absorbed.
But that doesn’t mean venoms are guaranteed to be drinkable. For instance, the venom of the blue-ringed octopus contains the potent paralytic tetrodotoxin, which is roughly 40 times less toxic when swallowed than when injected. But still, it’s a super deadly poison!
So if you did somehow manage to obtain a shot glass full of venom from these golf ball-sized octopuses, you definitely wouldn’t want to drink it.
I can’t actually say it would kill you because we haven’t tested this venom’s oral toxicity. But that’s kind of the thing about venom, we haven’t tested most venoms that way.
There simply hasn’t really been a reason to! So we don’t know if they are safe to drink. Though, there we do have some evidence to suggest they are not.
For instance, in a study published in 2015, rats that ingested cobra venom ended up with damage to their livers reminiscent of what happens after a regular bite.
Plus, there has been at least one case where someone almost died after drinking snake wine, a beverage prepared by steeping an entire venomous snake in alcohol.
And this guy wasn’t suffering from run-of-the-mill alcohol poisoning. He was admitted to the hospital because his blood had stopped clotting properly — a symptom often caused by snake venoms. And he got better after receiving antivenom.
Researchers in Australia are hoping some venom toxins work orally on insects, that is. That way, they can more easily be used as pesticides.
And so far, 70% of the spider venoms they have tested killed the fruit flies that ate them, which sounds promising as far as pesticides go!
Now, that doesn’t mean they are dangerous for us to drink. But still, the research is further evidence that venom toxins can do their nefarious work when ingested.
So… can you drink snake venom?
I mean… maybe? It could depend on the species of snake? But we haven’t done the tests to find out, and making assumptions based on the difference between venoms and poison is a terrible idea.