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ARCHIVE:  December 31, 2002

Datura, Thornapple,
Atropine & Scopolamine

Dear Dr. Shulgin:

I have heard that datura is a "dark, evil one." Is this true? -- Alis

What information do you have on the thornapple used by the Arabs? -- Michael

Dear Alis and Michael:

I have comfortably combined these two questions. The plants are totally different. Datura is the Genus name that consists of perhaps a dozen species found throughout the world. D. metel is found in China, in India, all around the Near East -- it is often combined with tobacco or cannabis and smoked in Africa and Asia. In the Western Hemisphere, the most common species is D. stramonium, often called jimson weed (a corruption of Jamestown weed) or thorn apple. In North America, there is D. meteloides and, in Mexico especially, there are several others, including D. inoxia, commonly called toloache. In South America there are several Brugmansia species, largely in the Andes, with many local names.

But there are several, quite unrelated plants, that should be considered here as well. There is the plant Atropa belladonna, with the common name of belladonna. This is derived from the use of it at modest levels to give eye dilation as a cosmetic -- hence the term, "beautiful woman." There is the plant Hyoscyamus niger, with the common name of henbane, the stuff of the witches' brews of the Dark Ages. There are several species of the Genus Mandragora, with the common name of mandrake, which was connected to the practice of magic back in the Middle Ages. There is the shrub Solandra guerrerensis, deeply involved in sorcery in several Mexican Indian cultures, especially the Huichols.

Why gather all these different plants into one place? Because their activity is largely due to the alkaloid atropine, and especially its close cousin scopolamine, or hyoscine. This is an extremely potent drug, one of the few that produces true hallucinations. The experiences, the visions, are totally real and believable to the subject, and are often clouded by a thorough amnesia. It has been used as an anesthetic for childbirth, as a punishment for misbehavior, as a weapon for controlling people, as a part of puberty rites, and for many other different purposes in different cultures.

You can walk into a closed door that appears to you to be wide open. You can converse with friends whom you know well, but whom no one else can see or hear. You can think you are sleeping in bed, but your observer will tell you that you tried to go outside to direct traffic. You are never sure when you are completely down, as you don't remember being up. Never use it without a baby sitter.

-- Dr. Shulgin

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