What is Datura?
- Datura is the scientific name for a genus containing 9-12 species of flowering plants in the nightshade family, which have been used in magic or religious ritual in various places around the world for millennia. However, every part of this plant is toxic, and it leads to numerous unintentional poisoning deaths every year. Unfortunately, because this plant does lead to hallucinations and intoxication, it is also abused as a recreational drug – a practice that has led to overdose deaths.
- Datura plants, also called Jimson weed or thornapples, are typically cultivated in modern times as a common garden plant due to their beautiful flowers. These plants are sometimes confused with Brugmansia plants, which are ornamental flowering plants sometimes called angel’s trumpets. The flowers on many Datura species are also trumpet-shaped, and they may be pink, white, yellow, or purple. When the flowering season is over, Datura produces capsule fruits covered in spines, thus the name thornapple. They have ornamental leaves, as well, and grow well in many temperate climates.
- All parts of Datura plants contain alkaloids, like scopolamine, hyoscyamine, and atropine. D. stramonium is one of the more common Datura plants in the United States that is abused for recreational reasons. Hallucinations from consuming Datura can last for two days, and the side effects can range from uncomfortable to dangerous.
- Abusing Datura recreationally became popular in the 1990s and early 2000s, leading to an increase in reports of overdose and poisoning death. The chemicals found in most Datura species can cause uncomfortable side effects, hallucinations, unusual behavior, mood disorders, and overdose.
Drugs Found in Datura
There are three chemicals produced naturally by Datura plants: hyopscyamine, atropine, and scopolamine. Each of these individually has some medical use as well as intense side effects.
- Atropine: This is an anticholinergic, which reduces secretions, and it is used as a prescription medicine for several conditions, including excessive mucous production, excessive saliva production, spasms in the gut (including in the bladder or intestines), colitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), peptic ulcers, Parkinson’s disease, heart disorders, and episodes of laughing or crying associated with brain tumors. Common side effects associated with taking atropine include headaches, dizziness, blurry vision, large pupils, nasal congestion, nausea, constipation, bloating, heartburn, changes to taste, and trouble urinating. In people with pre-existing conditions or certain chronic illnesses, atropine may cause irregular or rapid heartbeat, rash, flushing, fever, eye pain, or trouble urinating.
- Hyoscyamine: Like atropine, this drug can be used to control symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders. It reduces the motion of the stomach and intestines, along with the secretion of stomach acids. Hyoscyamine can control peptic ulcers, colic, diverticulitis, IBS, pancreatitis, and some heart conditions. It may also be prescribed to reduce rhinitis, or chronic runny nose, and excessive saliva production. The drug may cause drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, blurry vision, dry mouth, constipation, sensitivity to light, trouble urinating, or a flushing warm sensation on the skin. Serious side effects include skin rashes, eye pain, rapid or irregular heart rate, or diarrhea.
- Scopolamine: When used as a medication, this prescription substance can help to control the effects of motion sickness, like nausea and vomiting. Scopolamine is most often prescribed as a patch, which lasts for three days. General side effects include drowsiness, disorientation, blurry vision, confusion, dry mouth, rash, trouble urinating, and hallucinations. Serious side effects from the drug may include rapid pulse, eye pain, and dizziness. It is possible to overdose on scopolamine.
Individually, as prescribed by a doctor who can oversee their patient’s consumption of the medication, these chemicals are not dangerous, and side effects can be limited. However, when combined in a drug like Datura, all three of these chemicals can cause serious harm.
Datura’s Physical Effects
The side effects associated with Datura consumption include:
- Perceived body heaviness
- Spontaneous physical sensations, like jolts of electricity or joint pain
- Too little or too much urine
- Pupil dilation
- Changes to heart rate, especially irregular or rapid beating
- High blood pressure
- High body temperature
- Increased perspiration
- Loss of motor control
- Muscle cramps and spasms
- Hallucinations, especially olfactory and tactile
- Restless leg syndrome
Cognitive Effects from Datura Intoxication
When people abuse Datura, the intention is to experience mental state changes, especially hallucinations. Commonly reported changes to thinking or mental state include:
- Alterations to mental energy, either slowed or increased
- Suppressed motivation
- Depersonalization and derealization
- Emotional suppression
- Paranoia, including feelings of impending doom
- Informational processing suppression
- Trouble speaking
- Time distortion
- Hallucinations, including seeing or hearing people or objects that are not there
If a person does not overdose on Datura, they are likely to experience comedown effects, like a hangover, after the drug metabolizes out of their body. Signs of this include:
- Mood swings and irritability
- Photophobia, or sensitivity to light
- Trouble speaking or understanding language
- Ongoing motivational suppression
- Slow or foggy thinking
- Vision issues
Poisoning or Overdose
It is easy to misjudge a recreational dose of Datura, so a person who abuses this plant is at a significant risk of overdose. Signs of a Datura overdose are like those associated with other anticholinergic substances, leading to anticholinergic delirium. This is characterized as an inability to tell the difference between reality and fantasy, past hallucination and closer to psychosis. Other symptoms, which can be incredibly dangerous, include:
- Hyperthermia, or dangerously high body temperature
- Tachycardia, or harmful changes to heart rate
- Bizarre or violent behavior
- Mydriasis, or pupil dilation, which can lead to intense sensitivity to light
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Get Help for Datura Abuse
Most people who try Datura for recreational purposes report intense, painful, and negative experiences. A deadly dose is anywhere between 15 grams and 100 grams from a leaf, or between 15 and 25 Datura seeds. The physical and cognitive side effects can cause ongoing suffering once the actual intoxication is over.
People who abuse this drug may struggle with other substances and may perceive Datura as less harmful than it actually is. As a result, those who struggle with abuse of the drug, or any substance abuse, should seek help from medical professionals in a comprehensive rehabilitation program.