When I first saw the title ‘Getting High Injecting Snake Venom,’ part of Vice’s exceptional mini-documentary series, I recoiled from a cavalcade of thoughts, none of them positive. Perhaps it was a childhood fear of snakes, which I eventually overcame while in college. My friend Leon had two in his apartment, and whenever I’d hang out I’d take one from its cage and play with it, as much as one can ‘play’ with a snake. They were, obviously, non-poisonous. The subject of the documentary below, Steve, only deals with the ones that have a habit of killing human beings.
And yet, this is why Vice is so brilliant. Steve’s main inspiration, Bill Haast, who ran an experimental lab of sorts that he dubbed The Serpentarium in Florida, spent his life devoted to discovering medical uses for snake venom—more recent research has suggested that snake venom may help paralyze cancer cells. Vice documentaries tend to not take ‘sides.’ The company’s look at the mostly loathed Westboro Baptist Church, for example, revealed an interesting point: founder Fred Phelps was once an important civil rights lawyer, lauded by the African-American community. (I am in no way advocating for the church, whose work I detest.)
Which got me thinking about something I’ve mused over before: Why is the idea of snake venom so immediately cringe-provoking? Granted, I personally hate needles and would never consciously inject anything into myself. Is it a cultural bias? I’ve often found it funny, and not in the ha-ha way, that (most) Americans have no problem slaughtering and consuming cows and pigs but find it crazy—even ‘unnatural’—that anyone would eat horses and dogs. For the most part we don’t eat snakes here either, but plenty of people chomp on eel sushi without a second thought.
I have no plans on injecting anything anytime soon. But if snake venom is found to have important healing properties—Haast lived to over 100, while Steve’s doctors are amazed but how good of shape he is in considering what he does—would it still be a problem? Would the cringe go away? Regardless, it’s a great look into a story few would even dream up.