The ethnobiology of the Haitian zombi

J Ethnopharmacol. 1983 Nov;9(1):85-104. doi: 10.1016/0378-8741(83)90029-6.


For many years students of Haitian society have suggested that there is an ethnopharmacological basis for the notorious zombies, the living dead of peasant folklore. The recent surfacing of three zombies, one of whom may represent the first potentially verifiable case, has focused scientific attention on the reported zombi drug. The formula of the poison was obtained at four widely separated localities in Haiti. The consistent ingredients include one or more species of puffer fish (Diodon hystrix, Diodon holacanthus or Sphoeroides testudineus) which contain tetrodotoxins, potent neurotoxins fully capable of pharmacologically inducing the zombi state. The ingredients, preparation and method of application are presented. The symptomology of tetrodotoxication as described in the biomedical literature is compared with the constellations of symptoms recorded from the zombies in Haiti. The cosmological rationale of zombies within the context of Voodoo theology is described. Preliminary laboratory tests are summarized.

MeSH terms

  • Amphibians
  • Animals
  • Culture*
  • Fishes
  • Haiti
  • Humans
  • Paralysis / chemically induced
  • Plants, Toxic
  • Poisons*
  • Reptiles
  • Tetrodotoxin / poisoning


  • Poisons
  • Tetrodotoxin