The Essential Guide to Datura
(Jimsonweed, Devil’s weed, Devil’s trumpet, Moonflower, Toloache)
Atropine, Scopolamine, and Hyoscyamine
Datura is a sweet-scented vespertine (dusk-blooming) genus of the nightshade family, known for its deadly poisonous toxins, prickly seedpods, and strikingly beautiful, 10-pointed flowers. It thrives in tropical and temperate climates on virtually every continent, and can often be found growing near landfills and roadsides. Of the nine datura species, some of the best known are D. innoxia (native to Central and South America), D. metel (possibly native to northern India), and D. stramonium (possibly native to the Caspian Sea region of Eurasia).
Traditionally used in medicinal and ceremonial contexts, the seeds, leaves, flowers, roots, and stems of datura plants can be ingested, smoked, or combined with fat and rubbed into the skin. High doses are known to produce a visionary experience like no other, characterized by lasting delirium and extraordinarily realistic hallucinations, including apparently “solid” people.
Fatal overdoses and adverse reactions are very common and few who recommend the plant do so without restraint. Extreme caution is advised.
History & Stats02
Datura has been used around the world for thousands of years in medicine, magic, and other, more nefarious activities. In Ancient India, it was just as commonly used in the treatment of fevers, inflammations, and mental disorders as it was by criminal gangs to drug their victims. In fact, the genus name Datura may even derive from a notorious band of thieves known as the dhatureas.
Datura also features in Buddhist and Hindu esotericism, or Tantra, as a crucial ingredient for black magic rituals. Among other things, it was used to appease wrathful deities and to inflict insanity, death, and discord on one’s enemies. In addition to salt, oil, and black mustard seeds, datura was one of the “supreme destroyers” of tantric tradition. It is also a symbol of Shiva, the “destroyer and transformer” from whose chest it is said to have sprouted and to whom it is still offered in ritual.
The Aztecs likewise saw destructive power in the plant, which they knew as toloatzin and gave to human sacrifices before tearing out their hearts. The ancient Colombian Indians, meanwhile, are said to have plied the wives and slaves of dead men with datura-laced beer before burying them alive with the deceased.
In medieval Europe, datura was firmly associated with witchcraft and was used to make “flying ointment” for transporting witches to their midnight sabbats. It is thought to have been administered through the absorbent membranes of the vagina using broomstick handles, hence their association with the craft.
Despite its notoriety and distinctive appearance, datura is often mistakenly eaten as food. In 1676, a troop of British soldiers in Jamestown, Virginia boiled up the leaves of D. stramonium for a meal and went insane for 11 days. Sitting around gawping, grinning, sneering, and blowing feathers in the air—apparently unaware of their own excrement piling up—they were confined for their own safety until the effects wore off. And although the soldiers had no memory of their experience, datura has long been known as “jimsonweed” (from “Jamestown weed”) in their honor.
From the 1800s, datura was investigated for its potential in mainstream medicine. Dr. R. Schiffman’s Asthmador Cigarettes were one of several medicated smoking products developed to relieve asthma. Many of these contained nothing but the plant itself. Eventually their unusual side effects and increasing recreational use led to their ban, but many long-time sufferers, including Marcel Proust, swore by them for relief.
In 1833, the first of datura’s active alkaloids, atropine, was isolated, followed in 1880 by scopolamine. This latter compound had another very specific medical application: eliminating the trauma of childbirth—or at least the memory of it. The treatment was known as Dämmerschlaf (“twilight sleep”) and involved repeated injections of scopolamine and morphine during labor to produce an amnesic effect. Although women still screamed in agony at the time, they didn’t remember it afterward.
Doctors who administered “twilight sleep” also found it increased their patients’ suggestibility and candidness. Accordingly, by 1922, an obstetrician named Robert House developed scopolamine as the world’s first “truth serum.” Since then, it has been used by the Nazis, CIA, and various Communist secret police forces.
Nowadays, people commonly associate the plant with Carlos Castaneda and his apocryphal Yaqui mentor Don Juan Matus.
Datura is used today much as it always has been—for magic, medicine, and crime, and mostly by a limited few. Current usage statistics are limited but those who do experiment with datura rarely do so again.
D. innoxia is often found as toloache on the witches’ markets of Mexico and Latin America, to be used in neo-shamanic divination or love magic. In Tanzania, datura is applied as a topical anti-inflammatory or added to pombe beer to induce hallucinations. It’s also heavily cultivated in a number of tropical African countries for use in pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and bioremediation projects (e.g. filtering waste from contaminated soil).
In Colombia, scopolamine has allegedly been slipped into people’s drinks by opportunistic thieves. Apparently, this gives them complete control over their victims’ behavior, with no outward appearance of coercion.
Atropine, scopolamine, and hyoscyamine/daturine (the l-enantiomer of atropine) are the primary active constituents in all datura species. As tropane alkaloids, they’re structurally related—each having a seven-membered tropane ring with an N-methylated nitrogen bridge, and a proprionic acid chain substituted at R2 with an aromatic phenyl ring and R3 with a hydroxyl group OH-. The tropane ring and acid chain are connected at R3 and R1 via an oxygen atom.
The three primary alkaloids in datura are antimuscarinic anticholinergics, which means they competitively antagonize (block) the muscarinic acetylcholine receptors. Their effects on the parasympathetic nervous system lead to abnormal breathing and heart rate, among other symptoms. Additionally, atropine and scopolamine are able to cross the blood-brain barrier to affect the central nervous system as depressants.
Safety and Toxicity
Many otherwise healthy people have died from taking datura, usually as the result of respiratory paralysis or heart failure. Sometimes a fatal reaction can take more than 12 hours to manifest. Due to the high variability of alkaloid concentrations between plants, it’s difficult to determine a universally “safe” dose. As little as 100 mg of dried seeds has been known to kill, while others have taken substantially more than that and lived.
Datura poisoning is characterized by 10 key symptoms, or the “10 Ds”: dryness of mouth; dysphagia (difficulty swallowing); dilated pupils; diplopia (double vision); dry, hot skin; drunken gait (or ataxia); delirium (with hallucinations, amnesia, incoherence); delusions; dysuria (difficulty urinating); and death.
The usual treatment for an atropine or scopolamine overdose involves swallowing activated charcoal to delay absorption of the alkaloids, as well as injecting physostigmine intravenously. Physostigmine is effectively an antidote to datura, crossing the blood-brain barrier and agonizing the antagonized muscarinic acetylcholine receptors. Unfortunately, its activity is relatively short-lived and not suitable for people with heart problems.
Since the active alkaloids are present throughout most datura species, all parts of the plant can be used—the seeds, leaves, flowers, roots, and stems. However, due to their variable concentrations—even between materials from the same plant—it is difficult to provide any kind of “safe” dose range. For more information on using datura, see FAQ.
What to Expect
Effects can typically be felt within 30 minutes to an hour of taking datura, but they may take up to four hours to fully manifest. Peak effects can last for several days, but 12-24 hours is common. There may also be some lingering “weirdness” affecting coordination, perception, and speech, for up to a week afterward.
The effects during onset include dry mouth, pupil dilation, a feeling of electricity and energy changes, floatiness, and a sense of being “pulled” about by gravity. There’s also a gradual dissociation from consensus reality, which may or may not be frightening. It could even feel completely normal.
This is especially true of hallucinations on datura, which can appear perfectly normal regardless of how out of context they are. Talking objects are one example and the unexpected appearance of absent friends and family, or even just passing acquaintances, is another. Indistinguishable from real, solid people, these entities may just stand and stare at you without saying a word, or they might engage in lively conversation. Most users don’t realize they’ve been talking to themselves until they look away for a second and the apparition disappears.
Gustatory, olfactory, and tactile hallucinations are also common, and “phantom cigarettes” are practically a hallmark of the datura experience. Strangely, even non-smokers have reported the phenomenon of seeing and feeling an imaginary lit cigarette in their hand, sometimes having rolled it themselves. So real does it seem that its sudden disappearance can prompt a frantic search on the floor for it, with some even coming across burn marks and smells. You’re also likely to find yourself picking tiny insects from your clothes.
Some common physical effects include dryness of the mouth, eyes, and skin; increased heart rate and temperature; sensitivity to touch; blurred vision; dizziness; and nausea. Urination may become more or less frequent, even to the point of incontinence. Some people experience nothing but these physical symptoms.
Agitation, paranoia, and fear are also common, along with depersonalization, amnesia, and increased suggestibility. Some users report “telepathy” and “teleportation,” perhaps as symptoms of memory loss.
It is absolutely essential to have a sober sitter present when experimenting with datura—not only to keep you safe from accidental injuries but also to monitor your body’s response to the plant.
A good sitter will periodically check that your heart rate remains between 50-180 beats per minute, and that your temperature is within safe limits(below 103 degrees Fahrenheit). If not, they should be ready to drive you to hospital and explain what you took (an anticholinergic drug) to ensure you’re not given anesthetics, aspirins, or any other treatments with potentially fatal interactions. Needless to say, driving yourself anywhere while on datura would be extremely dangerous.
It may be necessary for multiple sitters to watch you in shifts to cover the full duration of your trip. It’s also important to have enough food and especially water. Plain, starchy meals with green vegetables are best.
Another thing to keep in mind is setting. Being around large bodies of water is risky because of the overheating effect of datura; many people have drowned after going for a dip. Being outside in bright sunshine can also be painful for the eyes, so sunglasses are recommended.Strenuous physical activity should be avoided, and public settings are inadvisable because of the risk to other people as well as the influx of chaotic stimuli. Some datura users have been known to break into people’s homes and even commit assault.
“Smoking datura destroys the dangerous tropane alkaloids”
This commonly held assumption, that smoking datura is less dangerous than other methods because it destroys the tropane alkaloids, is highly suspect. After all, the effectiveness of smoking remedies like Asthmador cigarettes relied on these alkaloids surviving heat. The plant has also long been smoked or burned in traditional ritual contexts for its deliriant and hallucinogenic effects.
Atropine is widely used in mainstream medicine, particularly in ophthalmology to dilate pupils for examination. As an anesthetic, it is listed on the World Health Organization’s Model List of Essential Medicines, “the most efficacious, safe and cost–effective medicines for priority conditions.” As antispasmodics, both atropine and hyoscyamine have been used to treat peptic ulcers and diarrhea.
The anticholinergic effects of atropine, as well as scopolamine and hyoscyamine, are particularly useful for treating organophosphate exposure, e.g. from pesticides. They also represent a basis for research into Alzheimer’s disease and the development of treatments aimed at replacing depleted acetylcholine.
Scopolamine has a long history of use in medicine and remains the first-line treatment for motion sickness, usually in the form of a transdermal patch. It has been shown to reduce symptoms by 15% and is routinely used by NASA.
Scopolamine also shows promise as a fast-acting antidepressant. Although it exhibits some transient side effects, it relieves symptoms of depression (both major and bipolar) within 1-3 days of treatment.
Some evidence suggests that dried, crushed D. stramonium is more effective than standard antibiotics against bacteria (both gram-positive like Staphylococcus aureus and gram-negative like E. coli)—at least when combined with filtered cow urine and North Indian Rosewood. D. stramonium and D. metel have also been shown to be anti-inflammatory, an effect attributed to certain withanolides (natural steroids) common to the nightshade family.
Various datura species may one day be used in cancer treatments too, since they’re apparently capable of inhibiting human breast, larynx and colon cancer cell growth by apoptosis. Datura also shows promise for treating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, rabies, neuralgia, alopecia, and pre-menstrual syndrome. It’s an effective mosquito repellant to boot.
However unpleasant or frightening at the time, a full-blown datura trip is almost always described as mind-expanding.
One user went so far as to call it a major turning point—a valuable insight into the subjective relativity of reality. Even afterward, there’s very little way of knowing what really happened, and for some users it becomes irrelevant; for them the content of the trip is the content of the mind, and this has implications for self-awareness and personal growth.
Another unique feature of the datura experience is the opportunity to speak with dead friends and relatives face-to-face, just as they were in life, offering closure for many. Visits and messages from spirit guides are also common, imparting instructions for how to live better. Encounters with plant spirits, in particular, have made people more acutely aware of their role in the web of existence.
Datura is federally un-scheduled in the US but controlled in a number of states, including Connecticut, Kansas, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, and Oklahoma. Often these bans only apply to the manufacture and distribution of datura for human consumption. But in Kansas, D. stramonium is illegal for any purpose. Similarly, in New Jersey, wild specimens of the plant are routinely destroyed by the authorities.
In Australia, datura and atropine are Schedule 2 substances. This places them in the lowest classification.
In the UK, datura should, technically, be covered by the Psychoactive Substances Act, but this is unlikely to be enforced.
Very few countries have legislation concerning datura specifically and the plant is completely legal in Canada.
Can it be detected in a drug test?
Only specialist laboratory tests like gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) can reliably detect the tropane alkaloids, but they’re not routinely used for drug screening.
Can datura cause psychological trauma?
While under the influence of datura, hallucinations and delusions are widely perceived to be real. It may take a week or more to fully recover from the experience. Datura is also thought to carry a greater long-term risk of psychosis than other hallucinogens, but the research is limited.
Are there risks?
There are many health risks associated with datura, including the very real threat of death. The variability of alkaloid levels makes it extremely easy to overdose. People with existing heart conditions should be especially cautious. Pregnant women should also avoid datura, due to the potential impact of excessive acetylcholine levels on the fetus.
Some other risks include physical injury and legal issues. A safe, comfortable setting and a reliable sitter can help.
Is it legal to grow at home?
It’s usually legal to grow datura at home. Just be aware of the high risk of poisoning to pets and small children. Sometimes just handling the plant is enough to cause toxic effects.
What are the differences between datura species?
Potency and appearance (e.g. flower color) can vary between the species, but the effects are largely the same. D. metel has the highest scopolamine content, and usually the highest percentage of alkaloids overall, but the difference isn’t hugely significant.
Unlike most species, the seeds and flowers of D. wrightii and the flowers of D. discolor are non-psychoactive.
What is the safest way to take datura?
Smoking datura may be somewhat less dangerous than oral ingestion, but it’s by no means “safe.” All methods have been linked to bad trips, hospitalization, and death.
However you choose to take it, the dried plant material should be finely ground to ensure an even distribution of the alkaloids. If an initially small dose is ineffective, a slightly higher dose can be taken a couple of weeks later, and so on until the desired effects are reached. Because of the high variability between and often within plants, this process should be repeated for each new batch even if it’s from the same plant.
Can I microdose datura?
Anecdotal reports suggest that microdosing datura helps to induce sleep and lucid dreaming. However, regular dosing—even at a fraction of the hallucinogenic threshold—could lead to a gradual build up of dangerous toxicity over time.
Does it produce tolerance?
Yes. It takes roughly two weeks to return to baseline sensitivity, and there’s a cross-tolerance effect with other deliriants, including diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and myristicin (from nutmeg).
Can I mix it with other drugs?
Datura is sometimes combined with other drugs, including cannabis, but for safety reasons this isn’t recommended. MAOIs, stimulants, sedatives, antidepressants, antihistamines, and other medications are all contraindicated. Aspirins can be especially problematic.
It’s a good idea to abstain from all other substances for at least a couple of weeks before and after taking datura.
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