Wall Street Journal reporter eats poison oak leaves to become immune — risking dreaded itchy butt

Why on earth would someone eat poison oak, a plant that, along with its cousin, poison ivy, gives millions of people a maddeningly itchy rash and sends thousands to the ER every year?

Well, Jeff Horwitz, a Wall Street Journal reporter, decided to give it a try in the hopes of becoming immune to it. He started blending poison oak leaves with bananas and berries to make smoothies. The taste wasn't too bad – kind of mild and grassy, like matcha. His goal was to make his body less sensitive to urushiol, the chemical that causes those infamous itchy rashes. Interestingly, Native American tribes and early pharmaceuticals had already explored similar methods.

Now, modern science might actually have a solution. Mahmoud ElSohly, a pharmacologist, is working on an injectable urushiol drug, and trials might begin soon. ElSohly explained that while ingesting poison oak might provide some immunity, it also comes with risks like severe anal dermatitis — a warning that Horwitz didn't take lightly.

Despite the dangers, Horwitz persisted and started incorporating poison oak leaves into salads, teas, and smoothies. After months of itchy experiments, he noticed a significant reduction in his reaction to poison oak. He even went so far as to smear the plant on his skin to test his newfound tolerance, and surprisingly, he didn't suffer too much.

"It isn't a practice I can recommend," writes Horwitz, "not least because a safe and effective pharmaceutical treatment may be around the corner. But for me, it was worth the risks—itchy butt and all."

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