What Happens To Your Body When You Do Krokodil, The “Zombie Drug”

Published November 7, 2015
Updated December 1, 2017

The drug currently known as krokodil was born in the early 1930s as desomorphine, a fast-acting medical alternative to morphine. But by the 1990s, Russian doctors began noticing reptilian patches of skin on some drug addicts in Siberia and Far East Russia.

Today, the drug’s cheap, concentrated power makes it ideal for smuggling all over the world–including, recently, the United States. And those scaly patches are just the beginning. The effects of krokodil–fittingly, also known as the “zombie drug” or “cannibal heroin”–get far, far worse…

Krokodil Thigh Flesh
Krokodil's popularity owes something to the immense pressure Russia has put on the heroin trade...Daily Mail

Krokodil Ripped Flesh
Authorities have seized so much heroin that its price has risen, making it too expensive for most users.Pinterest

Krokodil Elbow Flesh
Krokodil, on the other hand, is extremely cheap.Daily Mail

Krokodil User Injecting
Its price has made it a popular alternative to other drugs -- in just the first three months of 2011, Russian authorities confiscated 65 million doses of krokodil. TIME

Krokodil Users Men Woman
At the peak of krokodil's popularity, there were over 1 million addicts in Russia alone, all taking advantage of its low cost.TIME

Krokodil Leg Hole
It's cheap largely because street chemists often prepare it with codeine, gasoline, rubbing alcohol, red phosphorous, iodine, or eyewash solution--all extremely poisonous.TIME

Krokodil Cooking Gear
Furthermore, cooking conditions are often extremely unhygienic.TIME

Russia, Yekaterinburg. Oxana, 33 Years Old, Is Injecting The Krokodil.
The cooking conditions and poisonous additives make the drug so dangerous that it causes users' veins to burst after just a few shots.ANIMAL

Krokodil Shooting Elbow
Because veins are quickly crushed, addicts are forced to find new injection spots every few days.Forum Krstarice

Krokodil Necrosis Gums
The hunt for new injection sites sometimes gets desperate. That gray tissue is receding bone.SPYR

Krokodil Arm Lesion
It isn't long before greater damage starts to show. First, users experience hematomas, painful swellings that are basically pockets of the drug pooling under the skin.Nyugat

Krokodil Leg Bruising Sores
Blood seeps out of the user's capillaries and causes painful swelling.The Huffington Post

Krokodil Leg Sores
Next, gangrene sets in and the flesh starts to rot. Lesions like the one above will not heal.TIME

Krokodil Leg Lesions
Eventually, the flesh starts to die at every injection site.The Independent

Krokodil Necrotic Hand
The dead flesh causes scales, which are the source of the drug's street name.The Huffington Post

Krokodil Hand Black Green
In addition to scales, some users' skin turns black and green.Pinterest

Krokodil Flayed Leg
When the layers of skin have been damaged enough, they detach from the underlying muscle and bone. Dailymotion

Krokodil Wrist Forearm Bone
Entire pieces of skin can simply peel off. Image Source: SPYR

Krokodil Gangrene Hand
Likewise, whole body parts may simply rot away.Extra

Krokodil Leg Flesh
Finally, death is, of course, the end result. Estimates place the average krokodil user’s life expectancy at a little under one year, once they start using regularly.Daily Mail

Krokodil Rotted Ankle
Some life expectancy estimates are as high as two to three years, but few users can last longer than that.Imgur

VICE went to Russia to learn more about the zombie drug — you can check out its chilling effects in the video below:

If you liked this post on krokodil, check out our other features on life inside the home of a Mexican drug lord and fascinating facts about Pablo Escobar. Then read up on the dangerous drug known as Devil's Breath (a.k.a. burundanga). And be sure to like All That Is Interesting on Facebook!

Richard Stockton
Richard Stockton is a freelance science and technology writer from Sacramento, California.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
Cite This Article
Stockton, Richard. "What Happens To Your Body When You Do Krokodil, The “Zombie Drug”." AllThatsInteresting.com, November 7, 2015, https://allthatsinteresting.com/krokodil. Accessed April 20, 2024.