Milking a cobra may sound insane, but commercial venom extraction can be rewarding for its potential medicinal uses. The poison is used as an antidote if someone is bitten, and its purported pharmaceutical uses are relieving pain, reducing blood pressure and breaking up blood clots. These venoms are multipurpose poisons, which is why they fetch such exorbitant prices.
Here are some of the priciest farmed pharmaceutical toxins available — the produce of vipers, scorpions and other deadly animals. They are precious poisons indeed.
Deathstalker scorpion Priced at$39 million per gallon, deathstalker scorpion venom easily ranks as the world’s most expensive strain — and with good reason: The deathstalker’s sting hurts 100 times more than that of a bee, putting the milker at high risk. Plus, getting one gallon takes several $2.6-million sessions because one specimen yields just two milligrams of venom a go at best. The incentive is that scorpion venom holdspromise for treating inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
King cobra While it may be much cheaper than deathstalker venom, the king cobra variety still costs$153,000 per gallon. Besides the risk involved in handling a reptile that can kill an elephant, another reason why the fluid costs so much is that it hosts a potent protein known as ohanin, which holds potential for chronic pain treatment.
Coral snake Despite being thin and pretty, the coral snake is lethal, armed with the second-strongest venom of any snake, after the black mamba. Coral snake venom ispriced at over $4,000 per gram, reflecting an array of purported medical uses. Research shows that coral snake venom may have antiviral and antibacterial properties.
Brown snake In contrast to the coral snake, the Australian brown snake (Pseudonaja) is highly venomous and considered to be one of the world’s most dangerous snakes. Even juveniles can deliver a fatal dose to humans. On the market, one gram of the snake’s venom fetches about$4,000. The lethal liquid is used in antivenom production and laboratory research.
Desert death adder Native to Australia, the desert death adder (Acanthophis pyrrhus) comes in two fiery shades — brick red and yellow — and is one of the world’s most virulent land snakes. The death adder’s neurotoxin-laden venom fetches$3,000 per gram. Its premium payload has reportedly sparked thedevelopment of diagnostic tools and useful drugs.
Bubbling Kassina toad Also called the Senegal running frog, this olive-colored amphibian has a defensive skin secretion. The noxious slimecosts a whopping $1,600 per gram, inflated by its namesake ingredient, kassinin. Earmarked for research use, this valuable chemical plays a part in rapid gut-tissue contraction.
Funnel web spider One of the world’s most virulent spiders, the funnel web spider (Macrothele raveni) packs a venomthat sells for $1,350 per gram. This fanged predator’s expensive emission may have anticancerproperties andcounter liver disease and obesity. The price tag is further justified by the venom’s potential capacity tocombat pain, epilepsy and stroke.
Cone snail Despite its dainty aura, the cone snail is a tough customer that dispatches its prey by injecting a toxin with a permanently numbing effect. The toxin’s key agent, ziconotide, is featured in the severe chronic pain management drug Prialt, which ispriced at about $800 per milliliter. Prialt istouted as 1,000 times more potent than morphine yet nonaddictive. Claims of this magnitude drive home the reason why venom farming is such a lucrative field. Poison’s flip side is profit.