Mad Honey: Burning Man’s Newest Popular (And Legal) Drug

Mad Honey: Burning Man’s Newest Popular (And Legal) Drug

Just when you thought the world was nothing but floods, earthquakes and typhoons, some bees are swarming with “mad honey,” a sweet, sticky, mind-altering new medicine. And this controversial new drug is attracting the attention of psychonauts and adventurers.

Sold in bottles and eaten with a spoon, mad honey is showing up at music festivals, holistic healing shops, and online stores. People compare the feeling of low doses to cannabis. They also compare the feeling of high doses to “regret.”

This year at Burning Man, the epic cultural event in the middle of nowhere, Nevada, three cases of mad honey intoxication arrived at the emergency medicine station. That’s according to someone with knowledge of the scene, but who asked for anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to a journalist. 

“Until very lately it was extremely rare in North America and it has a low probability of adverse outcome,” says Bryan Lang, who has worked at Burning Man since 2008 in psychedelic harm reduction, but who did not treat the mad honey cases this year. “The anecdotal popularity of mad honey would almost guarantee its presence at, uh, large desert festivals. And, barring very large doses or atypical physiology, most use will pass with negligible adverse events.” 

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Mad Honey Has a Long History

The honey comes from Asia, from Turkey to the Himalayas, and people have used it as a medicine for thousands of years. In small amounts, mad honey is harmless, and perhaps even healthy. At higher doses, it’s a weapon. An army in ancient times poisoned their enemies with mad honey

At festivals like Burning Man, mad honey is growing popular. Photo of Burning Man by Bry Ulrick on Unsplash

Americans and Europeans are constantly looking for new, natural highs -– especially ones that are legal. Which is why people seek out natural drugs from morning glory seeds to amanita muscaria to blue lotus cigarettes. People search for legal highs in part due to the Drug War, as other (relatively) safe, (often) helpful drugs like mushrooms and LSD are illegal. And so far, mad honey qualifies as legal in the United States.

To bring mad honey to light, explorers had to travel far away. Filmmaker Ben Knight and a crew traveled to a remote valley in Nepal for a 2017 documentary called “The Last Honey Hunter.” The bees live on steep cliffs. The Kuluung tribe harvests the honey. They believe a spirit protects the honey–a presence that kills people who anger it. (Knight told me he felt something spiritual happening around the cliff wall.) 

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Vice followed with its own documentary, and Joe Rogan tasted mad honey on his show in early 2023. This piqued the interest of Rogan’s audience of millions, and Google searches shot up. More products flooded the Internet. More trip reports started showing up online. 

“I wonder where they’re getting it,” said Knight, the filmmaker, when I told him that mad honey is being used at festivals. “I suppose all you have to do is grow a ton of rhododendrons and get some bees.” 

Nepales people collect mad honey from the sides of cliffs. Still shot from the documentary “The Last Honey Hunter.”

Where to Buy Mad Honey

Mad honey is sold on the Internet for about $50 for a jar. Most claim to come from Nepal. Sites tout the fact that mad honey is legal. “The highest you can get without being arrested!” Which is a fun, but cautionary, way to promote something. We’d like to say that this is not for those new to the psychedelic world.

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Where It Comes From 

Mad Honey is an unusual type of psychedelic-ish medicine. Normally, plants and fungi make psychedelics. Bees, of course, make mad honey; animals make very few psychedelics.

The bees harvest nectar and pollen from rhododendron flowers; the rhododendrons have something called grayanotoxins — the main active ingredient that makes mad honey “mad.” 

What Is Grayanotoxin?

Cultures in Asia have used honey with grayanotoxins in folk medicines for stomach troubles and for high blood pressure. Its main use today is in Asia by “middle-aged men for enhancing their sexual performance,” according to one report. 

A high dose of grayanotoxin can lead to serious hallucinations, heart problems, and low blood pressure.

“You vomit, piss and shit all at once,” a Nepalese man says in “The Last Honey Hunter. “The vomiting itself is the cure. Like a doctor removing a tumor, the vomiting and diarrhea remove the germs from your body.”

“They also fed it to their donkeys,” said filmmaker Knight. “But the reason for that was lost in translation for me. Some medical reason.”  

Poison control centers report cases of mad honey poisoning, particularly in Asia, as people use too much. There are reports of mad honey deaths. “The Nepalese were making good money off black market sales until someone supposedly died from eating too much,” said Knight. “The market went quiet for a while.”

Other, Western writing says no mad honey deaths have been reported in the medical literature for more than 100 years. 

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Is Mad Honey Safe? The Upsides and Downsides of a Large Dose

Mad honey is growing more popular among the Joe Rogan set despite the fact that many trip reports make it sound awful. Rogan’s guest, for one, brought a high-dose trip that chronicled the awful arc of a bad trip: “feels good, warm… totally legit … might get nauseous … take less … not good … regret … very bad … just don’t … stupid … I’m so sick.” 

Redditors attest to the heaven-and-hell nature of a mad honey journey. They describe intense giddiness and ecstasy at the right dose, in the right setting, and terror and disorientation on the wrong dose. (People often describe psychedelics in the same way.) At high doses, users commonly report losing control of their legs for hours at a time. 

“Great for 20 mins and then 8 hours of unbridled chaotic mania,” writes DarkkShines on Reddit. “Didn’t know who, why or how I was. Just rolled around my bed fading in and out of consciousness.” 

(Redditors are often the best source of information about obscure drugs. They write anonymous reports, so they don’t have to worry about getting in trouble or having to impress anyone. Their answers are upvoted or downvoted by other Redditors, many of whom know the drug, which tends to lead to accurate sketches.)  

Today, it’s popular for YouTubers to film themselves getting messed up on mad honey. “Like I took a shower in Icy Hot,” says one YouTuber. “This [stuff] is wavy. It’s hard to see.” He threw up for hours. “It was cleansing though.” 

“Don’t go over 3 tablespoons if you cherish the ability to walk,” writes No-Minute-5831. “Although without legs it’s still incredibly euphoric and super interesting. … After 5 tablespoons I had burning pains everywhere … feeling of impending doom … repeated panic attacks.” 

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Low Doses Feel Like Weed

Redditors say that a teaspoonful or two can be euphoric, fun, warm, and interesting.

A report on Erowid, a drug education website, says mad honey made them “somewhat goofier and easier to socialize.” My source at Burning Man says people believe mad honey is a nice cross between an alcohol buzz and a light cannabis high. The Erowid reporter agrees: “The feeling in the head is like weed  (laughing maybe the music and some changes in thought) in the body (euphoria and warmth, with giddiness) like booze.”

Another Erowid report says mad honey reminded him of the first time they got stoned. “I felt amazingly refreshed and clear, nice energy boost. … A great experience.” A reporter for Vice also said mad honey had “a high similar to weed” and that his body felt like it was covered in IcyHot. And Will Brendza, host of the “American Psychonaut” podcast, wrote in Rooster Magazine he felt “a warm and relaxed sensation, more like a sedative than your conventional psychedelic.” 

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Treatment for a Mad Honey Overdose

Most cases of Mad Honey toxicity resolve on their own. In serious cases, the heart slows and the blood pressure drops so low that medical professionals give a drug called atropine to rejuvenate the cardiovascular system.  

Its Popularity Seems to Be Growing

“It’s a curious critter that will probably grow in popularity,” said Lang, the man who works in psychedelic harm reduction. He plans to educate his crews on mad honey in the future. “I’ll add a recognition and response section to some of my [harm reduction] materials and share it with people.” 

Reilly Capps

Reilly Capps

View all posts by Reilly Capps

Reilly Capps is the editorial director of HealingMaps. He has written about psychedelics for Rooster Magazine, The Washington Post, The Telluride Daily Planet, LucidNews, 5280, Chacruna, The Third Wave, and the MAPS Bulletin. A licensed EMT, he used to answer 911 calls on the ambulance in Boulder, Colo., where he learned how drugs affect a community. Read all his work at and follow him on Twitter @reillycapps

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