Rich youths from India’s western states of Gujarat and Maharastra are risking a fatal allergic reaction from the arachnids’ sting for the high it gives them.
Men from Gujarat’s nomadic Rabari tribe are offering clients the chance to get their hands or feet stung by scorpions carried in small boxes.
According to police, the dealers run their businesses on the Delhi to Bombay highway, operating from a clandestine base in the Gujarat city of Bharuch.
The enzymes and toxins in scorpion venom are used by the arachnid to paralyse its prey and digest its food.
Although most scorpions are poisonous, their venom is not life-threatening for humans. Only about 20 out of more than 1,000 known species of scorpions are dangerous for human beings.
After the arachnid is set free on a hand or foot of the client - who pays 75 to 125 rupees (90p to 1.50) for a single ‘shot’ - the dealer hits the scorpion’s back gently with a metal stick to irritate or frighten it, causing it to use its sting.
The momentary pain of a sting gives way to an illusionary floating feeling that lasts six to eight hours. Most of the scorpion sting addicts are young urban people and truck drivers on the highways.
Hitchhiking mostly on highway trucks between Ahmedabad and Vasai, a northern suburb of Mumbai, the Rabari sting sellers cater to a wide clientele stretched across Gujarat and Maharastra.
A sting seller known only as Nathu said to the police: "Some are afraid of scorpion stings. I tell them, ‘You won’t die. You should at least try it once, it’s a lifetime experience. It gives a wonderful kick.’ Once a man takes it, he will become an addict and he will have to return to us again."
Sometimes new clients writhe and groan in pain for some minutes immediately after taking the sting, attracting the attention of curious onlookers including police.
Highway restaurant owners said that many young executives from nearby cities and university students were among the clientele of the sting sellers.
One police officer in the city of Bharuch said: "Because of our successful drives against the sellers and addicts of alcohol, opium, cough syrup and heroin in urban areas, young people are flocking on the highways to try the new craze of scorpion stings."