The Dangers of Datura
Perhaps you’ve heard the term “Hell’s Bells” in reference to a pretty plant with trumpet-shaped white, yellow, pink, or purple flowers. What you might not know is that most parts of the plant contain toxic hallucinogens, and that it has a long history of causing delirious states and death.
Other common names for the plant include Thorn Apple, Pricklyburr, Jimson Weed, Moonflower, Devil’s Cucumber, and Devil’s Trumpet. In the classic novel “The Scarlet Letter,” Nathaniel Hawthorne referred to one type of the plant as “Apple-Peru.” Datura is one of the “witches’ weeds” along with deadly nightshade, henbane, and mandrake, and was often an essential ingredient of love potions and witches’ brews.
All Datura plants contain tropane alkaloids in their seeds and flowers, which have hallucinogenic properties. Each plant’s toxicity depends on its ago, where it is growing, and local weather conditions, making it especially hazardous to people who use it as a drug. In many cultures, the plant has been used as a poison and hallucinogen. In traditional cultures, users were required to have a great deal of experience and a detailed knowledge of the plant so it could be used safely. In some parts of Europe and India, Datura has been used in suicides and murders.
People who use Datura as a drug usually boil the seeds and flowers into tea and drink the mixture. The effects can include frank delirium (a complete inability to differentiate reality from fantasy), hyperthermia, tachycardia, bizarre and possibly violent behavior, severely dilated pupils and excessive sensitivity to light that can last for several days, and pronounced amnesia.
Many unfortunate incidents have resulted from recreational users ingesting Datura. There are several reports in medical literature of deaths from Datura intoxication, and in the 1990s and early 2000s, the US media reported many adolescents and young adults dying or becoming seriously ill from intentionally ingesting Datura. Children are especially vulnerable to the effects and are more likely to have a fatal experience.
The drug information site Erowid.org notes that “the overwhelming majority of those who describe to use their uise of Datura…find their experiences extremely mentally and physically unpleasant and not infrequently physically dangerous.”