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Scorpion venom being used in Cuba as pain remedy

El campesino cubano Pepe Casañas posa con un alacrán el 29 de marzo de 2017, en el poblado de Los Palacios, en la provincia occidental de Pinar del Río (Cuba). Con 71 años, Pepe Casañas, un campesino cubano, presume de una salud de hierro, sin dolores de ningún tipo. Su secreto consiste en dejarse picar de vez en cuando por un alacrán cuyo veneno, además de ser inocuo, contiene propiedades analgésicas y antiinflamatorias. EFE/Alejandro Ernesto

Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Apr 20 (EFE).- At age 71, Cuban peasant Pepe Casañas fends off the typical aches and pains of his age in a unique, and effective, way. His secret: letting himself be stung every now and then by a scorpion, the venom of which – besides posing no danger – has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.

“About eight years ago, I started with this scorpion stuff. My bones were beginning to hurt me, arthritis, and it helped me to feel comfortable,” Pepe told EFE at his home in the town of Los Palacios in Cuba’s far western province of Pinar del Rio.

“My arm swelled up a few months ago. I couldn’t do anything with it,” he said, flexing his elbow. “I couldn’t brush my teeth, or comb my hair. I got a scorpion, squeezed it, and it stung me twice, and look: My arm’s doing fine.”

In fact, Pepe – who comes from a family of beekeepers – began using insect bites, first bee stings, as a remedy against pain quite a number of years ago. He would let himself be stung when he felt a pain and even says that his brother cured himself of a disability thanks to bee stings.

Although anyone who has been stung by a scorpion says that it hurts a good deal, for Pepe it’s “just a minor sting,” which he endures at least once a month using one of the three or four scorpions that he keeps close at hand in his house.

“The sting doesn’t hurt me a bit. And if they’re using it as a treatment for cancer in Cuba, it has to be good,” said Pepe, who sometimes keeps a scorpion in his hat where it remains “asleep without doing anything,” but he carries it with him just in case he starts to feel a pain he needs to treat.

El campesino cubano Pepe Casañas posa con un alacrán el 29 de marzo de 2017, en el poblado de Los Palacios, en la provincia occidental de Pinar del Río (Cuba). Con 71 años, Pepe Casañas, un campesino cubano, presume de una salud de hierro, sin dolores de ningún tipo. Su secreto consiste en dejarse picar de vez en cuando por un alacrán cuyo veneno, además de ser inocuo, contiene propiedades analgésicas y antiinflamatorias. EFE/Alejandro Ernesto

Although Pepe’s strategy might seem absurd as a way to combat the aches and pains that come along at his age, it is a fact that scorpion venom is used in Cuba as the main ingredient in Vidatox, a homeopathic medication that is prescribed mainly to alleviate pain and other symptoms associated with cancer.

In 2006, clinical trials were begun on the island to test the efficacy of scorpion venom in cancer treatment – given that some people had been using it for that purpose without any formal scientific basis – and researchers quickly noted that cancer patients’ quality of life was substantially improved.

In 2011, the Cuban pharmaceutical firm Labiofam began manufacturing Vidatox.

“A very important use of Vidatox, which we want to promote, is that of an analgesic and anti-inflammatory, for use against cancer, given that any osteoarthritic process such as rheumatism can be treated with this medication,” Dr. Fabio Linares, who heads the Vidatox project, told EFE.

According to Linares, “it makes sense” that Pepe feels better after a scorpion sting, since in addition to its analgesic effect, the venom stimulates the body’s natural curative mechanisms and immune system.

In a laboratory in the city of Cienfuegos where the Vidatox project is under way, Linares’ team is raising some 7,000 “blue scorpions” (Rhopalurus junceus) – a species endemic to Cuba – and is taking 10 or 12 venom extractions from each of them each year before releasing them back into the environment.

Some 17,000 bottles of Vidatox are produced each year and sold over the counter in pharmacies on the island, as well as in 15 other countries around the world. In Cuba alone, 65,000 people have used the remedy to alleviate cancer pain.

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