Young men in United Arab Emirates have jumped on a bizarre, and weirdly “green” addiction, passing on cigarettes and sheesha to smoking dead ants to get high.
They crush local black ants (Pachycondyla sennaarensis) and blend the crumbs in tobacco, drop them into a medhwak (smoking pipe) or sprinkle them on regular smokes before lighting up, according to Gulf News. Health officials say the consequences could be far more harmful than smoking marijuana or hashish.
In certain neighborhoods of Sharjah and Dubai, teens can be found searching alleys and parking lots for the native red ants, called samsun. The fumes from the burnt insect produce visual and auditory hallucinations like those induced by marijuana.
“Samsun ants contain highly concentrated formic acid which is used by the insect to ward off predators and kill prey. When heated the formic acid produces toxic gases. They are not addictive but inhaling them can cause pulmonary fibrosis and renal failure besides other conditions including irreversible nervous system damage,” a Dubai-based pulmonologist told Gulf News.
When they bite, formic acid causes necrosis or deadening of the tissues. Mohammed al Ali, 27, believes the trend started with labourers from the subcontinent who roll the ants into their bhindis – pure tobacco cigarettes rolled up using a tobacco leaf. “It’s a social thing for Indian workers,” the Emirati told The National News. “Go to Satwa Square and they are sitting there smoking the ants they rolled up into their bhindis.
Dubai’s Tobacco Control committee said it was aware of the ant smoking fad, although they have yet to gauge how widespread the habit is among Arab teens. “Until last year there would be just two of three boys, but now there are several groups,” a local Sharjah resident told the website.
“For some teens, the acid in the poison glands of ants smells like vinegar and they inhale its pungent fumes to get a kick. It’s very dangerous as it can cause lung and other diseases,” Dr. Wedad Al Maidoor, Head of the National Tobacco Control Committee, Ministry of Health, told Gulf News. Dr. Reza Khan, wildlife specialist at Dubai Municipality, said a bite by the ant can be fatal for people with allergies if they are not immediately treated in a hospital.
The fad may have started in labor camps where impoverished guest workers smoke ant-filled beedis (hand-rolled cigarettes made of tendu leaves) as a cheap alternative to illegal drugs.
Smoking ants can cause lung diseases and kidney failure, and in some cases, it can also cause sudden death.