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Wade Davis, pharmacology and Haitian zombies.

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posted on May, 10 2011 @ 10:44 AM
I have a problem. I’ll admit to it. I am slightly (and only slightly!) obsessed with zombies. Books, films, games… seriously, it’s taking over my life. I spend so much time on Left 4 Dead I dream about it. My waking reality seems like the dream! Anyway, I reckon I have a pretty decent chance of survival if an apocalypse did come about but film zombies are the product of folklore, and I decided to research some of that folklore. Because I was bored and waiting for a friend to get ready so I could pick her up. Sorry, it’s another monster... (no pun intended)

So, originally zombies were part of Voodoo culture – where a person could be put under a ‘spell’ and have their minds controlled by a sorcerer (or 'bokor'). That or a corpse brought to life in order to serve another person.

In Haitian ‘Vodou’, which most of us on the site will know of, and is especially interesting in my opinion (because I’m doing a medicinal course and I’m morbid like that), a person can be put under a ‘spell’ to make them into a zombie, much like West African voodoo. This is actually regarded so much as truth that people often cut up bodies, removing essential organs or limbs, or watch over the graves until they decay so that they don’t get stolen. And I mean that has to be a very long time, so belief in this ‘magic’ is strong. The bokor has many ‘powers’ such as using voodoo dolls to harm people, and paralysing them using powders on the ground that they walk – but is definitely feared most of all because of the zombies they can create.

Apparently, the bokor steals a persons soul, waits for them to be buried, and then revives the body using the bottle containing the soul. This is then apparently followed by rituals, drugs and beatings on the revived body to ensure the zombies compliance to their will.

There is a theory that this is achieved through two powders entering the bloodstream coined by a man named Wade Davis, and put down in a thesis named The Passage of Darkness.When I heard about this ‘zombie powder’, my ears pricked up. Because a chemical, or combination of chemicals being so powerful that they can create a ‘zombie’ from a person is pretty impressive. And sick. Very sick. Also, to back up the more morbid side of this, he claims the quantities put forward by these sorcerers/priests/witch doctors/houngans… whatever you want to call them is nowhere near exact, and that a lot of people actually die, or have no ill affect at all, when a bokor attempts to poison them into becoming the ‘living dead’.

Now, a bit of science about these powders explains a lot, and I will try my best to use my pharmacological knowledge to explain what was put forward by Davis in 1982.

The first ‘powder’ contains a neurotoxin called TTX (tetrodotoxin) which is usually found in the blood of pufferfish and is a very nasty poison (usually fatal). Neurotoxins tend to affect ion channels, preventing impulses being fired, and stopping contractions. It could also potentially lower the metabolic rate of a person to the appearance of death. And this is what Davis stated happened.

A second powder, made from plants such as datura, which contain tropane alkaloids is also used. This is anticholenergic, which means that it blocks acetyl choline (a neurotransmitter responsible for muscle contraction in involuntary systems like the lungs, heart and gastro-intestinal system), and so parasympathetic neurones can’t fire. Amongst the more potent organ failure that can occur, it causes delirium – a person literally can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality, hyperthermia, high heart rate, (both contribute to a ‘fever’) photophobia (light sensitivity) and violent behaviour (sound familiar?). If the person ingesting the powder lives, they usually experience amnesia. It is treatable if the person is hospitalised in time, but if not, organ failure and fatality can occur, along with harm to others around the person because of the delirium. If it is possible for the person to be kept on a dose of the poison where they will experience symptoms but not die, a zombie could, in theory, be achieved.

Since the people of Haiti know of zombies and most believe that voodoo and zombies exist, the second powder will be used along with such things as I said above – rituals and violence etc – to bend the will of the person and convince them that they are in fact the living dead, and turn them into a zombie slave. Without the belief, the powder will not work (hence Davis can cover his tracks if someone decides to repeat his research and fails).

After the first powder/poison is administered to the subject, they will be seen as dead, and buried by their family. The bokor will then go and dig up the body, administering the second powder, and if they are within a timeframe (the person may die in the meanwhile if the poison dose is too high, or the reawakening too late) the subject will awaken, confused, disorientated and possibly violent – and other means, such as violence and rituals will be performed to bend the mind of the person into believing they are a zombie, and becoming a slave to the bokor (which in turn will create fear of the person, gaining them powder).

On the other hand, a lot of people don’t think TTX poisoning can cause the death-state, and mental illness such as schizophrenia could be the reason for Haitian zombies – as in the bokor would pick up on people who are more easily influenced, and bend them to their will that way instead as the culture isn’t really very medically advanced and most of the population won’t understand or be able to treat these conditions that we pick up on straight away.
Most of the book reviews were negative, and he’s been accused of exaggerating or lying about his results. As far as I’m aware, no more research has been done on this, with Davis’ own research causing controversy because of the holes in it – but the legends in Haiti go on, especially related to a Bizango society which exists beneath that of Haiti itself and is apparently responsible for the voodoo magic and zombies (think back to the earthquake when threads were put up about it signifying an incoming apocalypse). But it is an interesting thought, and kinda scary when you think about it like that – as the legends could be a possibility, even if it is an explainable one in a society familiar with poisons and modern medicine.

But at the end of the day, if your culture states and believes that zombies exist and bokors are to be feared, and someone you know of gets up out of their grave and starts wandering round in a violent trance, what else are they to think?

Thanks for reading! Got the links and or references at hand if anyone wants them (Uni has instilled a fear in me about referencing). Apologies for any typos that I've missed too. This keyboard is a menace.


posted on May, 10 2011 @ 10:54 AM
Your my new best friend. Hopefull you play L4d on a PC then you'd really be my new best friend hahaha.

posted on May, 10 2011 @ 10:56 AM
Playing L4D on PC right now!!! Alias < MrNiceGuy > i play on expert mode...join me!!!

posted on May, 10 2011 @ 11:01 AM
LMFAO! This is just well gonna turn into a L4D cult... I shudda left that bit to the end

Thanks for reading/replying!

Oh, and books I'd recommend: World War Z - Max Brooks, Zombie Apocalypse - Stephen Jones, Plague of the Dead & Thunder and Ashes - Z.A. Recht

edit on 10/5/2011 by Ayana because: Addition of books.

posted on May, 10 2011 @ 11:18 AM
Great post! I'm a fellow zombie fan and WWZ is a well covered topic with certain of my friends.
I've read The Serpent and the Rainbow several times and found the idea of plantations farmed by zombies quite disturbing, not to mention the point when the bokor 'wakes' the victim up in the coffin.
Daniel w. Drezner (Theories of International Politics and Zombies) has done some good work on the zombie topic:
Zombie Links
Feeling L4D urge coming on now
edit on 10-5-2011 by Eocrow because: (no reason given)

posted on May, 10 2011 @ 11:23 AM
reply to post by Eocrow

Wow, thanks for the reply and the links!!

It's a fascinating (and misunderstood) subject, this, and I felt compelled to interpret it myself. I love folklore and finding theories in myths and legends and stuff like that!

(And L4D too, of course...)

posted on May, 10 2011 @ 11:28 AM
good post! i love l4d but i dont have a ps3 or xbox so i got that going for stemming an addiction! though id love to see a zombie holocaust. its not gonna happen. like george carlin said. you cant relay on zombies they move to slow.

posted on May, 10 2011 @ 11:33 AM
there have been studies that involve keeping the brain alive while all other body parts are "dead: than the brain controlls all the movments right. but because the other body parts are dead it gives them that zombie walk lol
unless you can create a virus that keeps the brain going after death im sure it wont be contagious so it wouldnt spread like the movies. and to keep your brain alive it needs oxygen and blood flow.. ive done the studying because this subject interests me to. there are some sites that explain my pov. ill add them later

posted on May, 10 2011 @ 11:38 AM
reply to post by Upthepunx


posted on May, 10 2011 @ 11:40 AM
reply to post by demontigny

Yeah, I know. But pop-fic zombies aren't really like the Haitian voodoo zombies.

I highly doubt an apocalypse would happen anyway. Not in the sci-fi sense. And the powders have never been proven, and if they were, I doubt there'd be a creepy zombify-your-friend craze, because no one really knows the quantities. I mean, they could be found, but I'm pretty sure making people into zombies would be frowned upon. If not downright illegal.

posted on May, 10 2011 @ 11:43 AM
May years ago, (in the 1980s) a movie was made called "The serpent and the rainbow" which pretty much covers your topic and Mr. Davis ideas.

I was in college at the time and did a research paper on it. (Its long been lost and I have forgotten most of the details)

I do remember that my research led me to the discovery that the military uses/used similar chemicals to treat nerve agent exposure. The atropine was used to slow the heart rate etc to counter act the nerve agent, then they would use a chloride antidote to counteract the atropine injection to keep the soldier from being lethargic (zombie?).

Again, its been a long time since I did the research so I may have my chemical names mixed up.

posted on May, 10 2011 @ 11:45 AM
reply to post by Ayana

ill give you five scientific reasons a zombie apocalypse could happen lol just for you haha
you gotta go to the next pages to read them all

posted on May, 10 2011 @ 11:47 AM
reply to post by EssenceOfSilence

Yeah, the films based on his first book.

Such chemicals could probably be used in reverse to help people - after all, if the heart slows down, anything in your bloodstream should take longer to reach major organs, limiting damage. So you could be right on that. I'm sure at the least it's been looked into.

And the slowing the heart rate is in pop culture enough anyway - I mean, just think Romeo and Juliet.

So for all I know, it could be possible. Chemicals work in strange ways.

posted on May, 10 2011 @ 11:51 AM
reply to post by demontigny

Nice link. I always thought that the virus thing wouldn't be impossible.

Highly unlikely, yes.

But not impossible...

posted on May, 27 2011 @ 12:27 AM
reply to post by Ayana

Apparently, the bokor steals a persons soul, waits for them to be buried, and then revives the body using the bottle containing the soul. This is then apparently followed by rituals, drugs and beatings on the revived body to ensure the zombies compliance to their will.

Cheep parlor tricks, but nasty in some ways what these witch doctors do to the unsuspecting. Here is some of there tricks from a thread were I misunderstood some weird customs people have for the voodoo mojo stuff the witch doctors or bokor's as there known in that part of the world.

And there was another thread around here also from some months ago about another drug, "Scopolamine" which criminals use to rob people of there senses, and turn them into a kind of mindless impressionable slave/zombie for a while, in some parts of the world. I forgot the thread name, but it was pretty interesting and I checked a little and found out that even the cia was looking into this drug/chemical for there own purposes back in the 70s I think, and you can guess what those purposes are. yup mind control and such, even truth serums.

A short story about a victim of this

Though in my mind they aren't really zombies as I envision them, but if somebody wanted to they could write a book on all the different types of zombies or things that are associated with zombies out there in the world.

Besides it's good to know what type of drugs are out there, you know. Just in case anybody travels to some of the parts of the world and somebody walks by you and blows some power in your face. Then two days latter you wake up naked in some place you never seen before with all your possessions gone and who knows what else, and you haven't a clue what happened.

Any ways cool thread, S@F we must be aware of the different zombies out there. Thought this wont even be a drop in the bucket on some of the things that could cause the zombie Apocalypse, its still interesting.

posted on May, 27 2011 @ 08:45 AM
Aww, thank you so much!

They're obviously not zombies, they're just people who've annoyed someone and had something really nasty done to them, and it's awful really. But people seem to think of Haitian zombies as the same as fictional zombies and I reckon the distinction needs to be recognised more often.

It was a bit nasty reading all the "there's gonna be an apocalypse" threads after the earthquake happened. Sort of in bad taste, in my opinion. But people get scared, don't they?

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