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JimsonWeed: History, Perceptions, Traditional Uses, and Potential Therapeutic Benefits of the Genus Datura
JimsonWeed: History, Perceptions, Traditional Uses, and Potential Therapeutic Benefits of the Genus Datura

Illustration by Christy Krames, MA, CMI Christy Krames is a Certified Medical Illustrator living and working in Austin, Texas. She received her Master's degree in Medical Illustration in 1981 from UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Examples of her medical and biological artwork may be seen at

For many years, native peoples and tribes in various parts of the world have taken intoxicating plant preparations in religious rituals, divination, witchcraft, and healing ceremonies.1 "Western" interest in hallucinogenic plants or drugs has focused mainly on either the potential for psychotherapeutic applications or their use to induce "controlled psychosis" to understand psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. Studies on ritual psychoactive plants could provide further insights into their proper use or misuse, improve clinical management of intoxication with herbal "highs," and perhaps also help in the discovery of therapeutically beneficial chemical compounds. The solanaceous plants such as those from the genus Datura have been used in both traditional and modern medicine as treatments for mental illness, tumors, infections, and even as aphrodisiacs. This paper examines attitudes toward Datura's hallucinogenic effects, its potential benefits, and describes traditional, therapeutic, and recreational uses in Europe and other cultures. Research on mechanisms is also described to highlight the scientific rationale for Datura's use among indigenous peoples.


For centuries various species of Datura have been revered as sacred visionary plants by virtually all peoples who experience them. Datura is a member of the family Solanaceae (deadly nightshade family), which also includes edible plants like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers (i.e., fruits of the genus Capsicum). The genus is widely distributed in the warm and tropical regions of the world and consists of potent hallucinogenic plants such as D. inoxia, D. stramonium, D. metel, D. wrightii, D. ceratocaula, D. quercifolia, D. tatula, D. discolor, and D. fastuosa.2 (The so-called "tree Daturas," which are significant in various South American shamanistic practices and ethnomedicine, formerly belonged to this genus but now have been reclassified into the genus Brugmanisa.)

The name Datura comes from the early Sanskrit dustura3 or dahatura, meaning "divine inebriation."4 The plants usually grow as herbaceous annuals or perennials and are strikingly characterised by beautifully colored (white to pinkish) trumpet-like flowers, which typically exude a fragrant odor nocturnally. They also bear walnut-sized seed capsules covered with spiky thorns, hence the English common name "thorn apple" and the German Stechapfel.3,4,5

From the years 1330 to 1700, solanaceous plants were thought of as "diabolic incarnations."6 Hence Datura became known by names such as "devil's apple," "mad apple," and "devil's work."5 This is reflected over 300 years later in an English newspaper headline, which read thus: "Hooked! On the Devil's Weed."7

The name "Jimson weed," the preferred common name established by the herb industry in the United States,8 is a corruption of "Jamestown weed" in reference to the experience of Captain John Smith and his band of English colonizers in their eventually unsuccessful attempt to establish a colony at what was called Jamestown in the Virginia colony in 1607. British soldiers were reportedly given boiled Jamestown weed (Jimson weed) for inclusion in a salad, which the soldiers readily ate and then experienced several days of erratic behavior. Several contradictory accounts are given, but the most reliable appears to be that the soldiers may have been served this accidentally.9 (See sidebar on page 50 for details.)

The origins of Datura are shrouded in uncertainty due to the species' wide distribution, but Mexico and Central America appear to have the largest concentration. This has led to suggestions that it was probably introduced into Europe by the explorers of the New World. Others believe that Datura originated from the Caspian Sea, spreading south to Africa and east to Asia, from where it was brought to Europe by travelers during the Middle-Ages.10 It is probable that the Roma (aka "gypsies") brought Datura from India to Europe in the early 15th century,2 although Gerard claims to have been the distributor of the first seeds of D. stramonium (which he refers to as D. inoxia) in England.11 Datura's usage was subsequently integrated into the sophisticated cultural belief systems associated with "witchcraft."2

Whatever the origin, Datura appears to have played an important role as a "culture plant," particularly in Asia and the New World, for many years. Throughout these parts of the world, the species was particularly valued for its ability to induce visionary dreams, to help in foretelling the future, and to reveal the causes of disease and misfortune. Records indicate that the Aztecs knew the genus Datura. A particular species, which was then referred to as toloache, was used as an enema or suppository for pain relief in initiation rituals; it was also administered as a hallucinogen. Another species, D. ceratocaula, called atlinan by the Aztecs, was so revered that only the priests were allowed to use it. It supposedly enabled them to hold counsel with the gods and to foretell the future. In addition, it was used to find stolen objects and even to make prognosis of black magic associated illness. Datura ceratocaula was also used in an ointment to treat cracked soles, sores, bruises, pustules, as plasters for ulcers, and as a poultice for rheumatic pains.12, 13

Western Attitudes towards Datura: Pleasure and Intoxication

Jimson weed Datura stramonium L. from Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen in naturgetreuen Abbildungen mit kurz erläuterndem Texte : Atlas zur Pharmacopoea germanica, Volume 1 of 3 (originally published in 1887). 1995-2006 Missouri Botanical Garden


In Medieval Europe and England, solanaceous plants such as Datura were utilized for their mind-altering properties.14 It appears that in European and other native religions, witches and shamans originally held the sacred knowledge required to utilize these powerful plants safely. They were used in pagan rituals and as components of the infamous flying "green ointments" in witchcraft practices.5 A Renaissance record indicates that these applications were applied to the armpits and delicate mucous membranes of the vagina with a broomstick or like-shaped implement.15,16 Andres Laguna (1499-1560), a physician to Pope Julius III, investigated these controversial religious practices and showed that the green ointments containing Datura took the women on "journeys" by producing dream-like states, rather than on physical flights as was widely believed.17,18 Existing evidence suggests that during the Spanish Inquisition, use of Datura could lead to persecution for witchcraft and sorcery.6 The executioners of the Inquisition recorded numerous accounts of "journeys to the Sabbath" during which the accused "danced with the devil."10 The prosecution reportedly believed the accounts of the "witches" and subsequently may have condemned them to death on the basis of forced confession. But given that these accounts were usually obtained by severe torture, it is difficult to ascertain their veracity. It is now apparent that the experiences of "flying through the sky, dancing with the devil, and partaking in orgiastic feasts and rituals"6 were connected to tropane alkaloid-induced hallucinations.19,20

The growth of European monotheism, instigated by the Inquisition, resulted in the eradication of pagan beliefs and practices and the persecution of those who practised them.6 The Catholic Church condemned even the research on "natural magic," so that the likes of Giovan Battista Della Porta, who had worked with natural healers and recorded folklores, was threatened for recording these beliefs and practices. Witch-hunts during the Renaissance period further marginalized "folk" groups, leading to widespread persecution and an even greater skepticism towards solanaceous plants and their use.15

It is debatable whether some of the so-called pagan rituals of the medieval era were merely recreational, "diabolically" intended, or designed for some well-considered medical purpose. Piomelli and Pollio's account of Cardano and Della Porta's lamiarum unguentum seem to suggest that at least the inclusion of some excipients (e.g., soot) in this preparation, probably had an indirect pharmacological rationale.15 It has been observed that on topical application, tropane alkaloids are slowly absorbed through the skin and that absorption is enhanced by inducing inflammation, creating abrasions, or by using a substance that would create an alkaline environment. It seems therefore that the addition of the soot to the lamiarum unguentum produced the alkalinity needed for diffusion into the blood stream.15 The records also show that an aqueous extract of the toxic Aconitum spp. (family Ranunculaceae) was among the plant ingredients contained in the salve. Piomelli and Pollio15 suggest that the soot's alkalinity could have affected the hydrolytic cleavage of the toxic constituent aconitine to the less harmful derivative aconine, thereby reducing the potential toxicity of the salve.

Interestingly, the complexity of these preparations has been compared with the shamanic use of hallucinogens in Mesoamerica and the Amazon basin.14 It could be inferred that the intentions for use in this context were of a more complex magico-spiritual or even pharmacological nature. Most current reports, if they include any notes on preparation, describe ingestion of simple infusions or smoking and do not reflect the ethnobotanical sophistication of the "green ointments."

It is probable that Datura was used recreationally up to the witch-hunts of the 17th century at a time when alcohol was expensive.14 During the Middle Ages, the practice of combining Datura seeds with alcoholic drinks was popularized in Europe. In Catholic Bavaria, henbane (Hyoscyamus niger L., Solanaceae) was labeled a "crazy-making thing" and the practice of mixing it with beer was banned in 1507.21

The use of Datura in a modern context peaked in the 1960s and 70s with an upsurge in interest of pagan and shamanic practices.22 Linked with adolescents and the growth in "youth culture" during this period of social transformation, Datura and other psychotropics quickly became associated with rebelliousness and danger.23 There were several reports of its intoxicating effects24 and consequently Datura use became synonymous with negative terms such as "overdose" and "drug addicts."7>

Although the American National Drug Intelligence Center (ANDIC) recognized in the 1990s that there had been a dramatic increase in incidents of Datura exposure nationwide, encouraging awareness of its "dangers" was seen as key to preventing Datura from ever becoming a significant "threat."25

Attitudes outside Western Society

Datura was more revered in societies whose medical paradigm differed from the Western biomedical system in Europe. References to the sacred uses of Datura (specifically D. metel) exist in ancient records from Eurasia (e.g., China and India). For example, in India, the sadhus and yogis smoked the leaves and seeds mixed with ganja (Cannabis indica L., Cannabinaceae). The plant was highly revered as a powerful aphrodisiac.16,17 The Indians mixed the powdered seeds with butter and ingested it orally for impotence or applied it topically to invigorate the male genitalia. The leaves were also smoked to relieve asthma16 and were one of the primary ingredients in an anti-asthmatic product.

In China a Taoist legend refers to the plant as the flower of one of the pole stars. The Chinese customarily mixed Datura with cannabis and wine, and legend had it that if the person gathering the plant had a pleasant disposition at the time, this would be reflected in the behavior of all who drank from it, but if the gatherer had been sad, so would be all who drank the wine.13 Datura was also used to treat colds and nervous conditions.17

In parts of South America, Datura was taken as a tea or smoked to induce visions. Apart from its sacred significance, it was also regarded as one of the most ancient healing herbs. It is thought that the ancient Peruvian healers and shamans employed Datura's hallucinogenic properties when performing rituals or medical operations (e.g., skull trepanations—the process of cutting a hole in the skull).26 In what is present day Chile, the Auruks still use Datura as a shamanic plant and as medicine in much the same way as their ancestors. The leaves of the species D. ferox are brewed and given to unruly children to "teach the children a good measure of respect."12

Among the Chumash people of California, D. metel played an important role in their initiation rituals. To them Datura was the single most important medicinal plant and was taken in a ritualistic framework.27 According to Baker, reasons for taking Datura included, aiding the acquisition of "dream helpers," ascertaining the cause or cure of an illness, or gaining a specific skill, such as fishing. They used Datura to empower them to manipulate the "supernatural forces" that control nature and influence human activity. All young males and females of puberty age were given extracts of the root to invoke some form of spiritual protection throughout their earthly and non-earthly endeavours. A person experienced in Datura would be present during intoxication and would teach "moral values" in the period after inebriation.27 Similar accounts can be found from across South and Central America, including Diegueno shamanism, the Algonquin tribe of North America, and the Qichaus of Peru.13,28 The effects and the dosage were considered according to both pre-session preparation and environmental factors. As in many other tribes, Chumash preparations included abstinence from certain foods and sexual activity for up to 21 days before ingestion. The degree of adherence to these rules corresponded with the amount of power a person wanted to acquire.

The Chumash also used Datura as an anaesthetic for "bone setting," to treat wounds, bruises, and hemorrhoids, and to "freshen the blood." In some cases the plant was used to induce a quasi-comatose state in a person experiencing severe trauma, in the belief that the psychoactive properties of the plant would desensitize the pain receptors to reduce stress in the patient, thereby promoting speedy healing.27 Among the Navajo, the dried roots were chewed in ceremonies as a febrifuge (to stop fever), while a leaf infusion was used as a vulnerary (wound-healing agent) "to wash the wounds of castration in sheep."29 "Possession inebriation" began in Africa before being introduced to the Mediterranean and Indonesian islands. It "invaded" America with the slave trade and became known as voodoo, candomble, or mandinga. Datura was one of the main plants used to induce this kind of inebriation, causing raptures of "bodily frenzy" in which conscious awareness disappears.3>

Not only are these uses outside the realms of general understanding in Western society, they also incorporate a different attitude toward the plant itself. The long period of preparation before ingestion of the plant may be for physical protection or as a symbol of respect for the forces that were to be encountered (psychological preparation) or a combination of the two. Additionally, it is worthy of note that the participant was permitted the space and time to prepare; therefore the ritual did not isolate them from the social group. Communication took place between the participant and the group, suggesting a social "dialogue." In other words, the plant was used in these instances to achieve culturally desirable altered states of consciousness.

Neurotransmitters and Conscious Perception

Jimson weedDatura stramonium L. from Plantarum selectarum icones pictae / editae a Nicolao Meerburg Volume 1 of 1 (originally published in 1798). ©1995-2006 Missouri Botanical Garden


Attempts have been made in recent years to explain a possible physical correlation between altered states of consciousness and activity in the central nervous system (CNS), specifically the brain.30 It is thought that different structures of the brain are associated with different levels of consciousness and that conscious perception occurs only when the associative cortex is active. This type of perception is involved with identity of self, in the planning of movement, orientation, and imagination.31,32 Consciousness gives a sense of reality to stimuli and hence if mechanisms that assemble this are disrupted, the notion of the self may be dissolved.33 This could be likened to the state that often occurs during dreaming.

Experience of consciousness is highly influenced by the combination of connections between the thalamus and the cortex, which are modulated at the relevant regions by neurotransmitters.31 Consequently, interference with the transmission of neurotransmitters across the synapses will affect the conscious experience of an individual.

One of the major neuromodulatory systems involved in relaying information between these important brain structures is the cholinergic system. The neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh) has been postulated as a major correlate to consciousness; the cholinergic neural pathway, specifically from the basal forebrain to the cortex and thalamus, is thought to be an essential afferent regulatory system to the cerebral cortex.32

Tropane Alkaloids and Anticholinergic Activity

The tropane alkaloids present in Datura include atropine, hyoscyamine, and hyoscine (scopolamine). Research suggests that there is little difference in the quantities of these alkaloids found across species.34 Although hyoscyamine has been found to be the major alkaloid, with atropine and hyoscine being considerably less,34 the principal CNS effects are created by hyoscine, which can cross the blood brain barrier more efficiently.35

The tropane alkaloids are thought to act as competitive inhibitors of ACh via the muscarinic receptors at the autonomic ganglia and at the myoneural junction.23,36 During the 1970s, the action of scopolamine in reducing inhibitory impulses was investigated for use as a possible "truth drug."9,12 It is thought that solanaceous alkaloids trigger hallucinations through blocking cholinergic activity. ACh, an excitatory neurotransmitter, is widely distributed in the brain and is important for the sleep-wake-cycle.37 By blocking cholinergic activity, the alkaloids cause intrusions of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep into the waking state.32

It has been shown by electroencephalography (EEG) studies that humans have the potential to be consciously attending during REM sleep.32 Similar wave patterns to those of REM were recorded when brain activity was measured in 10 cases of Datura intoxication.18 EEG recordings immediately after hospitalization revealed slow wave activity and bizarre rhythmical bursts of high-voltage sharp wave activity in 6 of the 10 patients, indicating that Datura may lower the threshold for dream and hypnagogic (i.e., that state between being awake and falling asleep) imagery.18

Dreams have long been associated with elements of the unconscious mind.38,39 There are numerous reports in which people experiencing hallucination have gained great insight that may not have been attained otherwise. One such case was that of a 74-year-old male who became intoxicated after having received atropine sulphate for bradycardia (slow heart beat). He experienced visual hallucinations, which revealed detailed knowledge about an area of his field (business) which he claimed to have had no previous knowledge.19

Hallucinations in degenerative brain disorders are thought to be due to alterations in consciousness and are associated with regional deficits in the cholinergic system. Those occurring in some diseases, such as dementia with Lewy bodies, coupled with disturbances in REM sleep have been likened to experiences following solanaceous plant ingestion.32 (Lewy bodies disease is a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by distinct loss of ability to process, learn, and remember information, with fluctuating confusion, visual hallucinations, fantasy, and significant parkinsonism.) Datura intoxication could therefore represent a useful model for understanding brain organization, memory, and emotional behavior.40

Hyoscine in the form of scopolamine hydrobromide in combination with morphine was formerly used to produce "twilight sleep" and amnesia in obstetrics, a practice which has since ceased because of the associated risk.9

A study that sought to investigate the visual eyes-closed hallucinations associated with the toxicity of another muscarinic ACh receptor, atropine, may provide an alternative hypothesis for the hallucinogenic effect of Datura. It was observed from the study that the visual eyes-closed hallucinations observed resembled hypnagogic hallucinations and may therefore originate in the brain stem.18

It is thought that there is a correlation between the number of receptor sites (and their affinity to the psychotropic substance) and the type of hallucination experienced by an individual as well as the idiosyncratic responses observed.32

Therapeutic Potential of Datura

In spite of its reputation as a witch's herb, Datura was commonly used for medicinal purposes even in Europe. Datura cigarettes have been prescribed to asthma sufferers for the anti-spasmodic/bronchodilating effect of atropine on the respiratory system.41

Both atropine and scopolamine have interesting pharmacological actions. Atropine suppresses nicotinergic activity (i.e., activity of agents that act to enhance the action of ACh at nicotinic receptor sites) more than cholinergic activity (i.e., activity of agents that directly mimic the action of ACh at receptor sites or block acetylcholinesterase). Therefore, atropine is a parasympatholytic (inhibits the physiological effects generated by stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system). It is mainly used as a mydriatic (dilates the pupils) before surgery, although a newer drug, tropocamide, is now the drug of choice due to atropine's slow degradation. Atropine is also used in the treatment of bradycardia (slow heart beat). It reduces bronchial and salivary secretions and also serves as an antidote for poisoning by organophosphate insecticides and nerves.9 Like atropine, scopolamine is also used as an antidote for the toxic effects of phosphate insecticides and "nerve gases."9,12 Both scopolamine/hyoscine and atropine have been used to treat motion sickness.42,43 The mechanism is as yet unclear, but it is thought to involve inhibition of vestibular input to the CNS, thereby inhibiting the vomiting reflex.43

In addition, hyoscine was formerly used together with morphine just before childbirth to produce "twilight sleep and amnesia"9,12 whereby the expectant mother remains semi-conscious but forgets the pain associated with delivery afterwards. Besides the unpleasant adverse effects of the hyoscine-morphine combination, it was also found that pain was not really reduced. The side effects included neonatal depression, drug transfer via the placenta to the fetus, which caused respiratory distress, teratogenesis, and in rare cases, death of the mother and/or child. Hyoscine has also been used as an anaesthetic and, more dubiously, in narcoanalysis (as a "truth drug"). In the 1950s, various intelligence agencies such as the US Central Intelligence Agency investigated the effectiveness of scopolamine as a "truth drug," but the possibility that findings could be distorted by the compound's hallucinogenic side effects resulted in the project being abandoned.9

The tropane alkaloids also cause paralysis of the muscles of light accommodation (cycloplegia) and pupil dilation (mydriasis).12

One of the first medical investigations to uncover the therapeutic potential of Datura in mental health was undertaken in 1762 by Anton Stock. His investigations led him to report that Datura had the ability to make "unsound minds sane and sane minds mad."43 In 1886, August Sohrt of Torty is said to have utilized Datura isolates for the "mentally ill," possibly on the recommendation of one of his teachers who claimed that hyoscine was an extremely valuable medicine for psychiatric treatment.21 It has been suggested that the period following the comatose state induced by Datura may be ideal for psychotherapeutic efforts,27 comparable with the teaching of "moral values" by the Chumash tribe after inebriation.27 However, it has been shown that small doses of some Datura constituents such as atropine may impair learning and memory functions in dementia.44

Set and Setting

The effects of Datura depend not only on the type of species and dose used, but also on the "set and setting" of the user. An interesting study in which two volunteers were given "scientifically calculated" doses of henbane to investigate whether the archetypal mental image of "the witch" as a "flying hag" can be explained by the use of solanaceous plants was conducted in comfortable and attractive surroundings. The volunteers had previously been introduced to the research panel to create some degree of familiarity. One of the volunteers had previous experience with these plants and subsequently reported visions of a dream-like state in which he was conscious and over which he had control once he allowed his "body to relax and drift off over landscapes." In contrast, the less experienced volunteer had vivid dreams and flashes in his peripheral vision but reported no "flight" or conscious awareness during the dreaming state.20,45>

In another study the patient experienced hallucinations for 12 days and was able to describe his experiences to his attendants, including his wife. This could be considered a relatively long period of time to be in a hallucinatory state—yet there was no reported anxiety or fear19 —probably a reflection of the impact of a secure environment and the opportunity to express his experiences as they occurred. This could also be a reflection of the complete estrangement from reality that these agents induce.

These studies suggest, as is the case with the administration of other psychotropic agents, that if there is the potential to utilize Datura as a therapeutic tool, the context (e.g., surroundings, attitudes, and the social climate) in which it is taken may influence the results.

Symptoms of Datura Intoxication

Many of the cases of Datura intoxication reported in the 1960s and 1970s occurred in hospitals and often featured quite severe symptoms.21,46,47 These cases may have involved people ingesting large (potentially toxic) amounts of the alkaloids with virtually little knowledge of the potential effects and dosages.

Symptoms such as increased heart rate, drying up of the mucous membranes, dry throat and cramps, restlessness, giddiness, disorientation, constipation, and confusion have been observed. Uncontrolled talking or laughing, memory disturbances, and repetitive acts, as well as hallucinations and elated fantasies are also common features. These effects are often followed by a deep prolonged sleep during which sexually inclined dreams and hallucinations can be experienced.23,48 On "recovery" from this state of altered consciousness, a characteristic "hang over" and amnesia are felt.

In 1968, DiGiacomo reported the symptoms presented in Table 1 as having occurred in four cases of Datura intoxication in teenagers.47

Table 1. Central and peripheral effects of anticholinergic syndrome induced by Datura stramonium intoxication in 4 cases.

Central nervous system effects (begins 30-60 minutes after ingestion)

Peripheral effects



Ataxia slurred speech

Fluctuating lucidity and hyperactive agitated state

Staring into space

Labile state (of laughter and crying)

Sensitivity to peripheral activity

Misidentification of people

Auditory hallucinations (voices of close friends)

Visual hallucinations (beetles or insects)

Red appearance

Warm, dry skin and mucous membranes

Dysphasia (due to mucosal dryness)

Elevated body temperature (for 8 to 12 hours)

Tachycardia (in 3 patients)

Pupillary dilation with poor reaction to light

Blurred vision

In Table 2, Gowdy46 provides a more representative picture in a review of 212 cases of D. stramonium intoxication (mentioning both seed pod and ingestion of asthma powder containing dried Datura).

Table 2. Symptoms of Datura stramonium intoxication in 212 cases
SymptomNo. of people
Dilated pupils36
Dryness of skin and mucous membranes32
Hyperactivity or combativeness29
Rapid pulse18
Blood pressure elevated2

In his review, Gowdy46 points out that 99 out of the 212 cases actually experienced hallucination. Since this was the expressed intention by most of the inebriated, nearly half achieved what they had set out to do and only a reported 8 out of 212 experienced anxiety. Gowdy also states that negative or biased reporting of symptoms and the omission of positive effects or terminology could be because reports of amnesia, anxiety, and paranoia would inevitably discourage abuse of these preparations.

In some of these cases, behavior comparable to that of "possession inebriation" was described here as "violent" or "aggressive" (Table 2 describes as hyperactivity or combativeness). Similarly, what might be deemed "hallucination" in orthodox medical terms may in another context be referred to as a "vision."

Although the outcome of Datura intoxication is said to be favorable and "treatment" best confined to protective measures, prolonged use of scopolamine may result in withdrawal symptoms including dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headache, and disorientation.43


Jimson weed Datura stramonium L. from Medical botany : containing systematic and general descriptions, with plates, of all the medicinal plants, indigenous and exotic, comprehended in the catalogues of the materia medica, as published by the Royal Colleges of Physicians of London and Edinburgh : accompanied with a circumstantial detail of their medicinal effects, and of the diseases in which they have been most successfully employed by William Woodville Volume 2 of 4 (originally published in 1792). ©1995-2006 Missouri Botanical Garden

It is evident that contemporary attitudes toward hallucination have influenced the general perception of Datura and that the socially-driven bias toward the plant may have diminished interest in its therapeutic potential. It appears that in societies in which the use of Datura is an integral part of the socio-cultural and religious belief systems, there is emphasis on personal growth, preparation, and healing. Moreover, the risks (both physical and psychosocial) involved in the ingestion of Datura— while appearing manifold—may in part be a product of socially driven perceptions. In these societies, the "hardships" undergone during intoxication may be considered worth enduring and are socially supported48 as opposed to Western societies where a type of social isolation is often imposed on those who partake in such activities, (e.g., "drug addicts"). Professional hechiceros (Native American medicine men), for example, were persecuted by the church for using Datura for purposes of "witchcraft,"13 paralleling the action taken in Europe and England during the 1960s and 70s.

A review of the potential benefits and uses of this plant species outside Western societies suggests that the negative publicity that is often given to it may be undeserved. The mechanisms proposed so far suggest that the species has therapeutic benefits that can be utilized to further the understanding of hallucination. This therefore calls for new research that views hallucination in a positive light and extends outside the confines of culturally determined bias, that is, in the right professional setting. There may be a need to learn from societies in which the plant is still utilized in order to fully understand its therapeutic potential. However, experiences may not be directly transferable as most research is bound up in cultural mores.

Moreover, research must move away from the emphasis on generating awareness of dangers (which may be seen as instilling fear into people) toward understanding of the experience of hallucination. Further studies could provide the missing link in the current understanding of these plants, including keys to the more religious or spiritual aspects, and those differences that personality and preconceived ideas may bring to the experience.

Kofi Busia, PhD, was until August 2005 a Senior Lecturer in Herbal Medicine at Middlesex University in London where he taught Herbal Pharmacy, Pharmacognosy, and Herbal Pharmacology. He is currently a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty Science of the University of Ghana and Resident Practitioner of the St Luke Natural Health Clinic in Tema, Ghana. He is a chartered chemist, medical scientist, and medical herbalist. He has researched and written widely on topical issues in health, particularly with regard to the use of medicinal plants in healthcare. Dr. Busia may be contacted by telephone (00233242128799) begin_of_the_skype_highlighting FREE (00233242128799)end_of_the_skype_highlighting and e-mail ( or

Fiona Heckles is a newly-graduated herbal medicine student from Middlesex University in London. She may be contacted by telephone (01992587021/07830195745) and e-mail (


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Jimson weed—A Jamestown Story

In 1676, British soldiers were sent to stop the Rebellion of Bacon, a protest led by a resident of Jamestown, Nathaniel Bacon, against policies of the governor of Virginia. The soldiers failed in their mission because of the hallucinogenic properties of the Jamestown weed (Jimson weed), which was boiled for inclusion in a salad the soldiers readily ate. Robert Beverly describes their resulting behavior in The History and Present State of Virginia (1705): "...some of the soldiers sent thither to quell the rebillion of Bacon (1676); and some of them ate plentifully of it, the effect of which was a very pleasant comedy, for they turned natural fools upon it for several days: one would blow up a feather in the air; another would dart straws at it with much fury; and another, stark naked, was sitting up in a corner like a monkey, grinning and making mows at them; a fourth would fondly kiss and paw his companions, and sneer in their faces with a countenance more antic than any in a Dutch droll.

In this frantic condition they were confined, lest they should, in their folly, destroy themselves - though it was observed that all their actions were full of innocence and good nature. Indeed they were not very cleanly; for they would have wallowed in their own excrements, if they had not been prevented. A thousand such simple tricks they played, and after 11 days returned themselves again, not remembering anything that had passed."