Ask a Practitioner: Apitherapy
So what's it like to be a bee sting therapist?
Photograph by Lee Murray
What is apitherapy?
Apitherapy is using honey bee products for therapeutic purposes—for example, eating honey and putting it on the body, or using the sting in bee venom therapy. I’m an apitherapist, and I sting people with bees.
That sounds painful.
We ice the area first. If we didn’t, it would hurt. With ice you don’t feel the actual sting. One of our clients, a lady in her 80s, doesn’t take any ice, and she takes 60 stings. Straight.
How does it work?
We numb the area with ice, and I determine how many stings are needed. I feel for pain, for calcium buildups, and then I administer the stings. We put the bees in reverse tweezers and leave them alone for about 15 minutes—giving it time for the venom to get pumped into the sting. Then I touch the bee against the skin. The sting happens immediately. The venom enters the calcium deposit and melts it down and destroys it. Then the blood comes in and washes that deposit away.
The stings help by bringing fresh blood to the area, and that helps with pain associated with conditions like multiple sclerosis. Bee venom can also destroy arthritis, and it helps people with bad knees, bad backs, carpal tunnel, gout, tennis elbow—anything that causes difficulties with walking, feeling, living.
How often do people need to be stung?
Some come when they need it, some I see every week. If you have arthritis and we fix it, I may not see you again.
How did you first get interested in bee venom therapy?
I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1982. I asked the doctor what MS was, and he said he didn’t know. I asked what caused it, and he said he didn’t know. But he told me that he had drugs available to help, and I was excited about it until I realized halfway down the road that, wait, you don’t know what it is or what causes it? I don’t want your medicine. So I wanted to find another way to deal with this. A friend’s son told me about the bees. It gave me relief from the first time I did it, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Are there any side effects?
When you come in, the first thing that’s done is a test to make sure you’re not allergic. Then within about 15 minutes you can go on with the process. With bee stings, it causes swelling, but once you’ve been stung a million times like I have, you don’t get the swelling anymore. You build up a tolerance to it.
Why live bees? Why not use bee venom on acupuncture needles, for example?
The chemical structure changes from the time it leaves the bee and it gets to the needle. They are two totally different operations. It’s much more successful with the natural bee. The downside is that we kill a lot of bees. But we need to walk, so we do what we need to do.
Floyd Alexander is an apitherapist who founded The Hive, in Warren, Ohio. He has provided bee venom treatments to patients since 1997 and charges $35 per treatment.
Alexander teaches and lectures on his expertise throughout North America and Europe.