Mad honey: uses, intoxicating/poisoning effects, diagnosis, and treatment
Honey has been used as a folk medicine since 2100 BC; however, mad honey is different from normal natural or commercially available honey as it is contaminated with grayanotoxins, which leads to intoxication/poisoning upon consumption. Grayanotoxin is generally found in Rhododendron genus (family: Ericaceae) and is extracted by bees from nectar and pollens of flowers. Mad honey has been commonly used as an aphrodisiac (sexual stimulant), in alternative therapy for gastrointestinal disorders (peptic ulcer disease, dyspepsia, and gastritis), and for hypertension for a long time. Grayanotoxin acts on sodium ion channels and muscarinic receptors, leading to cardiac disorders (hypotension and different rhythm disorders including bradycardia, bradydysrhythmias, atrial fibrillation, nodal rhythm, atrioventricular block, and complete atrioventricular block) and respiratory depression. Patients may also exhibit any one symptom out of or combination of dizziness, blurred vision, diplopia, nausea, vomiting, vertigo, headache, sweating/excessive perspiration, extremity paresthesia, impaired consciousness, convulsion, hypersalivation, ataxia, inability to stand, and general weakness. Mad honey intoxication is diagnosed with honey intake history before the appearance of the signs and symptoms (clinical presentation), and the treatment is symptomatic. Prompt treatment includes intravenous infusions of atropine sulfate and fluids (saline infusions or simultaneous infusion of saline with atropine sulfate) if the patient presents bradycardia and severe hypotension. In case of a complete atrioventricular block, a temporary pacemaker is employed. Except for a single case from Lanping County (Southwest China), the prognosis for mad honey intoxication is very good, and no fatalities have been reported in modern medical literature excluding a few in the 1800s. Although fatalities are very rare, mad honey ingestion may still lead to arrhythmias, which can be life-threatening and hard to recognize. This article provides a brief introduction to honey, mad honey and its uses, the effects of mad honey intoxication/poisoning, and its diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment.