A woman who crushed up a whole black widow spider and injected it in an effort to get high in the 1990s ended up having a very bad time when the arachnid’s venom kicked in. The unpleasant trip saw her spend a few days in the intensive care unit (ICU) with breathing difficulties, muscle cramping, and possible anaphylaxis.

The unusual case is reported in a 1996 correspondence in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, detailing the events following a 37-year-old woman’s decision to inject a mixture of crushed-up whole black widow spider and 10 milliliters of distilled water. She would later tell doctors that the injection was intended to get her high, but instead, she ended up at the emergency department with severe muscle cramps an hour later.

The cramping was the worst in her abdomen, thighs, and back and came with an unsettling side order of headaches and anxiety. Upon examination, her heart rate and blood pressure were sky-rocketing at 188 beats per minute and 188/108 mm Hg respectively (a healthy blood pressure is around 120/80 mm Hg).

Her extreme pain was treated with morphine but she soon began experiencing breathing difficulties and was subsequently admitted to the ICU, requiring several treatments to help her breathe across a few days. The corresponding doctors report that bronchial smooth muscle contraction was in part to blame for her breathing difficulty, possibly brought on by the large quantities of black widow venom that would’ve entered her system when she injected the crushed-up arachnid.

Black widow venom is 15 times more powerful than that of a rattlesnake making it very dangerous, but these spiders only envenomate when threatened (which raises questions about all the penis bites). They are perfectly safe if left well alone, but if you grind one up and inject it, evidently, you’re going to have a bad time. 

Most healthy adults will feel unwell and experience some pain but eventually recover, like this trio of aspiring spider-men who tried to gain superpowers by goading a black widow into biting them. However, for young children, the elderly, or people with pre-existing conditions, the bite can sometimes prove fatal.

Doctors treating the woman who injected the crushed-up back widow concoction also theorized that a protein within the spider’s anatomy may have triggered an allergic reaction that could explain some of her severe symptoms. Whether it was the venom or something else isn’t known, but it may have triggered her pre-existing asthma, leading to considerable difficulty breathing.

Fortunately, the traumatic event had a happy ending as the woman recovered from her symptoms and was reportedly in good health during a check-up one month on. While humans have a rich history of seeking nirvana from natural products (even our primate relatives spin to get a buzz), it seems that venomous-arachnid-infusions are a bad way to go.

The case report is published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

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