'Mad Honey' Blamed for Bear Cub's Woozy State

Luckily, bear rescued in Turkey is going to be OK after ingesting hallucinogenic neurotoxin
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 12, 2022 6:32 AM CDT

(Newser) – Only a few places in the world host native rhododendrons that produce grayanotoxin, a powerful neurotoxin. The honey created by bees who consume the plant's nectar is known as "mad honey" and can cause intoxication. One of those locales is Turkey's Kaçkar Mountains, where a brown bear cub was rescued last week after ingesting a little too much of the hallucinogenic treat, also known there as "deli bal," reports the Guardian. In videos shared online, the juvenile female bear was seen Thursday in the back of a pickup truck, where concerned bystanders had placed it for transport after finding the disoriented cub in the woods of Duzce province. The footage shows the unsteady bear having trouble staying upright in the truck, as if she'd had too much to drink at the local watering hole.

"[Her] drunken state made [her] smile," notes one tweet showing the viral video. Insider cites a Texas A&M release from 2014 that delves into the history of mad honey, which it says has existed "since ancient times" and even been used as a weapon in war to discombobulate the enemy. If bees feed on an ample supply of the rhododendron nectar, the bitter-tasting reddish honey that results can produce a mild hallucinogenic or euphoric state when taken in small amounts with hot water or milk, per the Guardian. The paper adds that it has also been used as a treatment for impotence, hypertension, diabetes, ulcers, and other maladies, according to a 2018 study in the RSC Advances journal.

The downside? Too much of it and blood pressure can plummet. Other symptoms of a mad-honey OD include fainting, nausea, seizures, heartbeat irregularities, and even death. After treatment at a vet, however, the bear in this case was said to be doing OK. It will likely be set free again over the next few days. So how come the bees that make the honey don't get sickened? A honey expert cited in the Texas A&M release explains that some substances that are "psychoactive" or "toxic" to humans are "innocuous" to the pollinating insects. Now that the drama in Duzce is over, Turkey's agriculture ministry has asked the public to brainstorm a name for the finally sober young bear. (Read more bear stories.)

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