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September 2022

Biomed Environ Sci. 1988 Dec; 1(4): 372-81.

Toxicologic aspects of voodoo in Haiti.

Craan AG.

Département de Médecine du Travail et d'Hygiène du Milieu, Université de Montréal, Québec, Canada.

Voodoo is a folk religion that emerged from the interaction of West African ethnotheologies with European Christian rituals. Haitian Voodoo priests control two major practices which might be of interest to toxicologists: healing and poisoning. Intoxications arising from therapeutic activities pertaining to this cult are of the same kind as those encountered in the practice of Modern Medicine. Remedies used in Voodoo originate generally from plants, as do most prescription drugs; however, the poisons are extracted from both plant and animal tissues, then administered to intended victims as a means of punishment established by a clandestine justice system. The present paper reviews recent attempts at analyzing some of the most lethal Voodoo poisons which appear to induce catalepsy. Although tetrodotoxin was singled out as the probable active ingredient, chromatographic analyses of such poisons as well as the presence of yet unidentified neurotoxicants in Caribbean fish and amphibians familiar to Voodoo practitioners suggest otherwise. To gain more insight into this problem, it is proposed that chemical analyses and toxicological studies be carried out on each ingredient individually, then on combinations of ingredients contained in these Voodoo potions. Such a strategy could help discriminate between active and inactive components and focus on the real toxic elements.

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