World’s most dangerous drug is not a myth: Scopolamine aka The Devil’s Breath drug

Borrachero tree - The Devil’s BreathLook at this image. A beautiful tree i would say. It makes me feel like spring is back and i just want to fill my lungs with fresh air.
That’s at least the feeling i had when i first saw the image of this Borrachero tree and after reading about it and hearing some stories – World’s Scariest Drug: The Devil’s Breath –  i got curious.

Are the stories of Colombia about Scopolamine powder true or is this just another way to scare people more. Can such a drug exist?

Were the victims in this documentary really victims of Scopolamine or was it something else?

The maker of this documentary said: “I was pretty excited. I had only a vague understanding of the drug, but the idea of a substance that renders a person incapable of exercising free-will seemed liked a recipe for hilarity and the YouTube hall of fame.”…” By the time we were wrapping things up and preparing to leave the country, I couldn’’t wait to get as far away from Colombia and that drug as possible.”
Was it so horrific? Yes, i saw it myself, but i still want to know if it is possible to have such a substance with such a power to control human will, to actually incapacitate a person’s free will.

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To understand this, we need to understand the plants first, so we will hit the botanical section of Wikipedia and find out about the toxicity of this plant.

Borrachero tree is a true deception of mother nature.
Behind its beautiful white flowers called Angel’s Trumpets,  lies a dark secret,well… a substance called Scopolamine – medically known as hyoscine – which is extracted from the Borrachero tree and a few more plants and according to the victims in the documentary above and the drug dealers who chose to speak up, once inhaled or ingested it will transform the user into a walking corpse in which nothing seems to be wrong except it robs the free-will and the memories stop recording. Taken in high doses it will make the user meet his maker.

I don’t like tales unless they are in a movie, so the more i read about it, the more intriguing it got.

Apparently, such a drug exists and the substance can be extracted from any of the three plants belonging to the Solanaceae family of plants, which grow mostly in South America. Let’s look at their properties and see how dangerous these plants are.

1) Brugmansia to which the Borrachero belongs to, is a  genus of seven species of flowering plants. It is poisonous and can have tragic effects.

From Wikipedia:

“All parts of Brugmansia are poisonous, with the seeds and leaves being especially dangerous.
Brugmansia are rich in Scopolamine (hyoscine), hyoscyamine, and several other tropane alkaloids.Effects of ingestion can include paralysis of smooth muscles, confusion, tachycardia, dry mouth, diarrhea, migraine headaches, visual and auditory hallucinations, mydriasis, rapid onset cycloplegia, and death.
“Brugmansia induces a powerful trance with violent and unpleasant effects, sickening aftereffects, and at times temporary insanity“. These hallucinations are often characterized by complete loss of awareness that one is hallucinating, disconnection from reality, and amnesia of the episode, such as one example reported in Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience of a young man who amputated his own penis and tongue after drinking only 1 cup of Brugmansia tea.

2) Datura is genus of nice species of flowering plants and it is as dangerous as it can get.

From Wikipedia:

All Datura plants contain tropane alkaloids such as scopolamine, hyoscyamine, and atropine, primarily in their seeds and flowers. Because of the presence of these substances, Datura has been used for centuries in some cultures as a poison and as a hallucinogen.
There can be a 5:1 toxin variation across plants, and a given plant’s toxicity depends on its age, where it is growing, and the local weather conditions. This variation makes Datura exceptionally hazardous as a drug.

Datura intoxication typically produces effects similar to that of an anticholinergic delirium (as contrasted to hallucination): a complete inability to differentiate reality from fantasy; hyperthermia; tachycardia; bizarre, and possibly violent behavior; and severe mydriasis with resultant painful photophobia that can last several days. Pronounced amnesia is another commonly reported effect.[13]
No other psychoactive substance has received as many severely negative recreational experience reports as has Datura. The overwhelming majority of those who describe their use of Datura find their experiences extremely unpleasant both mentally and physically and often physically dangerous.

 

 

3) Mandragora aka mandrake contains deliriant hallucinogenic tropane alkaloids such as atropine, scopolamine, apoatropine, hyoscyamine.

Ok, now we know that there are 3 plants (well, actually more) that contain tropane alkaloids and that are known to cause visual and auditory hallucinations, delirium,  paralysis, temporary insanity, amnesia and so on.

Time to understand the alkaloids and i will pick the 2 that are predominant in the plants above: scopolomine, and atropine.

In modern medicine, important alkaloids such as scopolomine, hyoscyamine, and atropine, found in Brugmansia and other related members of Solanaceae, have proven medical value for their spasmolytic, anti-asthmatic, anticholinergic, narcotic and anesthetic properties, although many of these alkaloids, or their equivalents, are now artificially synthesized.

1) Atropine has many medical uses such as in ophthalmology, resuscitation, treatments for poisoning, but its power as a drug goes beyond what all the other can do: atropine is able to cross the blood–brain barrier causing the hallucinations and the related reactions.

2) Scopolamine in form of hyoscine has many medial uses including treating drug additions such as addiction to cocaine or heroine, motion sickness, sea-sickness, depression disorders and so on.
BUT, Scopolamine, due to its chemical properties and power  has been also used in interrogations and for criminal purposes.

From Wikipedia:

Use in interrogation

The effects of scopolamine were studied by criminologists in the early 20th century.[23] In 2009, it was proven that Czechoslovak communist secret police used scopolamine at least three times to obtain confessions from alleged anti-state conspirators.[24] Because of a number of undesirable side effects, scopolamine was shortly disqualified as a truth drug.[25]

Criminal use

In 1910, it was detected in the remains believed to be those of Cora Crippen, wife of Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen, and was accepted at the time as the cause of her death since her husband was known to have bought some at the start of the year.[26] A 2012 example claims small amounts are blown into victims’ faces on the street to turn the victims into “mindless zombies”.[27] There have also been reports of tourists being robbed after having scopolamine slipped into their food or drink. Such incidents were reported in Thailand in 2011.[28] Scopolamine poisoning is sometimes reported by the media as method by which people are raped, killed, or robbed. [29]

 

So, as it turns out, the horrific stories around scopolamine  are not just legends. They actually happen and scopolamine IS an extremly dangerous drug.

The chemical properties of both scopolamine and atropine extracted from the Brugmansia plants have the power to induce delirium, hallucinations, amnesia and yes, death.
Also, according to sources in Wikipedia, “in a concentrated or refined form, derivatives of Brugmansia are also used for murder, seduction, and robbery.[14][15][16][17]” and here is where the legends of Colombia come true about the “The Devil’s Breath” drug.

The documentary above was done by Ryan Duffy from Vice.com and to understand how it all started, progressed and ended, you should visit Vice – Colombian Devil’s Breath. It is a story worth knowing about.

 

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