Markets in everything Africa fact of the day

by on July 12, 2010 at 8:29 pm in Medicine | Permalink

Desperate heroin users in a few African cities have begun engaging in a practice that is so dangerous it is almost unthinkable: they deliberately inject themselves with another addict’s blood, researchers say, in an effort to share the high or stave off the pangs of withdrawal.

The practice, called flashblood or sometimes flushblood, is not common, but has been reported in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on the island of Zanzibar and in Mombasa, Kenya.

It puts users at the highest possible risk of contracting AIDS and hepatitis.

Here is more, but perhaps that is all you need to know.  The pointer comes from Steve Silberman.

Jason Kuznicki July 12, 2010 at 9:11 pm

Forgive me, but this sets off my bullshit detector. A few years ago they were able to find interviewees to claim that jenkem was real, too.

jmo July 12, 2010 at 9:45 pm

Are you sure?

they deliberately inject themselves with another addict’s blood

How do they determine if they are ABO/Rh compatible?

If they can’t make that determintion, it would seem that the biggest risk would be from the transfusion of ABO/Rh imcompatible blood.

William July 12, 2010 at 10:07 pm

Count me as another who is extremely skeptical.

Erowid and wikipedia agree that a normal dose of injected heroin is 20 mg. So let’s say the user injects that much.

There are 5 or more liters of blood in a human body, but let’s say the heroin (somehow) just mixes with one liter. That means that each mL of extracted blood contains .00002 mg of heroin. Injecting 20 mL of this blood will deliver .0004 mg of heroin.

I don’t know anything about heroin myself, but just try to come up with plausible parameters that would make getting high from what is described here possible.

bbartlog July 12, 2010 at 10:24 pm

I hear that they sell LSD to schoolchildren in the form of Blue Star stickers, not to mention Mickey Mouse! Really… extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and all that. So far as the argument-from-blood-volume is concerned, though: it’s at least possible that there is a placebo/psychosomatic effect, even if the amount of drug is not enough to cause a high as such.

DPR July 12, 2010 at 11:35 pm

The Darwin Awards have ceased accepting nominations for the year.

Matt July 13, 2010 at 3:15 am

Tyler – you do this often with stories from Africa: Tanzania + Kenya < Africa. If you discover something happening in some small part of a continent, it does not necessarily qualify as being representative of that whole continent!

Derek Lowe July 13, 2010 at 8:09 am

Sorry, as a medicinal chemist, I’m not buying this. Or, at the very least, I don’t see how it could work. My first thought was blood type incompatibility, and that’s still a major problem with the idea.

But even if that didn’t exist, the pharmacokinetics don’t make sense. Let’s say that Addict #1 takes X milligrams of i.v. heroin to get high. The others have to wait until it distributes through the bloodstream if they’re going to share. Now it’s diluted into an entire human blood volume – and don’t forget, some of the heroin is now beyond recovery, since it’s crossed the blood-brain barrier and is sticking to opioid receptors, or gone into other compartments outside the circulating blood.

So how much of that circulating blood can they possibly remove and inject? And wouldn’t they have done better just to share the original dose? There’s nothing magic about taking a drug that’s been mixed with blood. You’re just getting a smaller, more dilute dose, which is just what a heroin user wouldn’t want.

And this is after totally ignoring the possibility of a blood mismatch, throwing an embolism, etc. I don’t buy it. There are surely heroin addicts stupid enough to try such a thing, and it wouldn’t surprise me if some had. But they would have either died, or found it wasn’t any good for them. The idea of this as some regular practice is, as far as I can see, hogwash.

DPR July 13, 2010 at 11:58 am

Derek:

Sorry, as an objective observer of human stupidity, I’m buying this.

I accept your expert opinion that this is an ineffective way to get high, but why would that stop people from attempting it? Why don’t you believe that people will believe they’re getting high either from a placebo effect or from simple blood doping.

This is a continent where people cut off women’s clitori, have sex as a “cure for AIDS, are afraid of evil spirits at night, put giant plates in their lips, snort gunpowder with cocaine, commit mass murder, and other assorted stupid human tricks. Why would we not believe this?

People in the supposedly educated US get Reiki, accupuncture, chiropractic, and palm readings as a regular practice. I’m never surprised by any story of brutal inhumanity or human gullibility, stupidity, or desperation.

Yes, Matt, we’re aware Tanzania and Kenya are a subset African geography just like we’re aware that San Francisco and West Virginia are subsets of the American geography.

DPR July 13, 2010 at 7:27 pm

@Tom: Ok, you make two fine points. Mea culpa.

You and Matt are probably correct that people tend to view all of Africa in the same light even though parts are very different. Certainly Egypt is different; they’ve never considered themselves “Africans.” They have always seen themselves as Egyptians and their culture more Mediterranean than more southern Africa. Despite stark similarities in some parts of Africa, there are many local distinctions. Uncle!

You caught me on the second point too. On reflection I would prefer to say that a hasty conclusion of implausibility should be suppressed because of the stupid things we see there. I admit the entire story could be made up and all the stupid stuff should not convince me to immediately believe this latest accusation. It’s reasonable to be skeptical in a practical sense of getting high but not so much in the “too bizarre to believe” category. This isn’t supernatural or extraterrestrial. Weirder things do happen.

Then again, I found cargo cults rather implausible at first and thought the videos and photos were staged. Now they are a fascination for me.

Simpsons addict July 16, 2010 at 9:15 am

“The story sounds absurd but it’s not incredible to read that drug addicts do stupid things to get a fix. No need to claim that its plausibility rest on the basis that Africans do stupid things.”

Lisa: “Dad, you shouldn’t stereotype people you’ve never met!”
Bart: “Yeah, that’s what people in Russia do”

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