Datura stramonium, known by the common names thorn apple, jimsonweed (jimson weed), devil's snare, or devil's trumpet, is a poisonous flowering plant of the nightshade family Solanaceae. It is a species belonging to the Datura genus and Daturae tribe. Its likely origin was in Central America, and it has been introduced in many world regions. It is an aggressive invasive weed in temperate climates across the world. D. stramonium has frequently been employed in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments. It has also been used as a hallucinogen (of the anticholinergic/antimuscarinic, deliriant type), taken entheogenically to cause intense, sacred or occult visions. It is unlikely ever to become a major drug of abuse owing to effects upon both mind and body frequently perceived as being highly unpleasant, giving rise to a state of profound and long-lasting disorientation or delirium (anticholinergic syndrome) with a potentially fatal outcome. It contains tropane alkaloids which are responsible for the psychoactive effects, and may be severely toxic.
The root is long, thick, fibrous, and white. The stem is stout, erect, leafy, smooth, and pale yellow-green to reddish purple in color. The stem forks off repeatedly into branches and each fork forms a leaf and a single, erect flower.
The leaves are about 8 to 20 cm (3–8 in) long, smooth, toothed, soft, and irregularly undulated. The upper surface of the leaves is a darker green, and the bottom is a light green. The leaves have a bitter and nauseating taste, which is imparted to extracts of the herb, and remains even after the leaves have been dried.
Datura stramonium generally flowers throughout the summer. The fragrant flowers have a pleasing odour; are trumpet-shaped, white to creamy or violet, and 6 to 9 cm (2+1⁄2–3+1⁄2 in) long; and grow on short stems from either the axils of the leaves or the places where the branches fork. The calyx is long and tubular, swollen at the bottom, and sharply angled, surmounted by five sharp teeth. The corolla, which is folded and only partially open, is white, funnel-shaped, and has prominent ribs. The flowers open at night, emitting a pleasant fragrance, and are fed upon by nocturnal moths.
Etymology and common names
The genus name is derived from the plant's Hindi name, dhatūra, ultimately from Sanskrit dhattūra 'white thorn-apple'. The origin of Neo-Latin stramonium is unknown; the name Stramonia was used in the 17th century for various Datura species. There is some evidence that Stramonium is originally from Greek στρύχνον "nightshade" and μανικόν "which makes mad". It is called umathai (ஊமத்தை) in Tamil.
In the United States the plant is called "jimsonweed", or more rarely "Jamestown weed" deriving from the town of Jamestown, Virginia, where English soldiers consumed it while attempting to suppress Bacon's Rebellion. They spent 11 days in altered mental states:
The James-Town Weed (which resembles the Thorny Apple of Peru, and I take to be the plant so call'd) is supposed to be one of the greatest coolers in the world. This being an early plant, was gather'd very young for a boil'd salad, by some of the soldiers sent thither to quell the rebellion 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 [grimaces] 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 eleven days returned themselves again, not remembering anything that had passed.
Common names for Datura stramonium vary by region and include thornapple, moon flower, hell's bells, devil's trumpet, devil's weed, tolguacha, Jamestown weed, stinkweed, locoweed, pricklyburr, false castor oil plant, and devil's cucumber.
Range and habitat
Datura stramonium is native to North America, but was spread widely to the Old World early where it has also become naturalized. It was scientifically described and named by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1753, although it had been described a century earlier by botanists such as Nicholas Culpeper. Today, it grows wild in all the world's warm and temperate regions, where it is found along roadsides and at dung-rich livestock enclosures. In Europe, it is found as a weed in garbage dumps and wastelands, and is toxic to animals consuming it. In South Africa, it is colloquially known by the Afrikaans name malpitte ("evil seeds").
Through observation, the seed is thought to be carried by birds and spread in their droppings. Its seeds can lie dormant underground for years and germinate when the soil is disturbed. The Royal Horticultural Society has advised worried gardeners to dig it up or have it otherwise removed, while wearing gloves to handle it.
All parts of Datura plants contain dangerous levels of the tropane alkaloids atropine, hyoscyamine, and scopolamine, which are classified as deliriants, or anticholinergics. The risk of fatal overdose is high among uninformed users, and many hospitalizations occur among recreational users who ingest the plant for its psychoactive effects. Deliberate or inadvertent poisoning resulting from smoking jimsonweed and other related species has been reported.
The amount of toxins varies widely from plant to plant. As much as a 20:1 variation can be found between plants, and a given plant's toxicity depends on its age, where it is growing, and the local weather conditions. A particularly strong difference has been found between plants growing in their native ranges and plants that have adjusted to growing in non-native ranges where the atropine and scopolamine concentration may be up to 20–40 times lower than in the native range, it is suspected that this is an evolutionary response to lower predatory pressures. Additionally, within a given plant, toxin concentration varies by part and even from leaf to leaf. When the plant is younger, the ratio of scopolamine to atropine is about 3:1; after flowering, this ratio is reversed, with the amount of scopolamine continuing to decrease as the plant gets older. In traditional cultures, a great deal of experience with and detailed knowledge of Datura was critical to minimize harm. An individual seed contains about 0.1 mg of atropine, and the approximate fatal dose for adult humans is >10 mg atropine or >2–4 mg scopolamine.
Datura intoxication typically produces delirium, hallucination, hyperthermia, tachycardia, bizarre behavior, urinary retention, and severe mydriasis with resultant painful photophobia that can last several days. Pronounced amnesia is another commonly reported effect. The onset of symptoms generally occurs around 30 to 60 minutes after ingesting the herb. These symptoms generally last from 24 to 48 hours, but have been reported in some cases to last as long as two weeks.
In Australia in December 2022, around 200 people reported becoming ill after eating products containing spinach sold mostly through Costco. Datura stramonium was identified as the contaminant, whose young leaves had been picked alongside the spinach leaves. The weed had spread due to increased rainfall. The grower, Riviera Farms, is from the Gippsland region of Victoria and acted promptly to eradicate the weed.
Note that in all cases, safer alternatives probably exist. The following must not be construed as medical advice.
One of the primary active agents in Datura is atropine which has been used in traditional medicine and recreationally over centuries. The leaves are generally smoked either in a cigarette or a pipe. During the late 18th century, James Anderson, the English Physician General of the East India Company, learned of the practice and popularized it in Europe. The Chinese also used it as a form of anesthesia during surgery.
[T]he juice of Thornapple, boiled with hog's grease, cureth all inflammations whatsoever, all manner of burnings and scaldings, as well of fire, water, boiling lead, gunpowder, as that which comes by lightning and that in very short time, as myself have found in daily practice, to my great credit and profit.
William Lewis reported, in the late 18th century, that the juice could be made into "a very powerful remedy in various convulsive and spasmodic disorders, epilepsy and mania," and was also "found to give ease in external inflammations and haemorrhoids".
In treatment of respiratory diseases
Henry Hyde Salter discusses D. stramonium as a treatment for asthma in his 19th-century work On Asthma: its Pathology and Treatment.
Smoking of herbs, including D. stramonium, has been a recognized temporary relief to asthmatics by physicians since antiquity, onto the early 20th century. The mainstream medical use of smoking D. stramonium to treat asthma would later wane in popularity, following new understandings of asthma as an allergic inflammatory reaction, and developments in pharmacology that provided a variety of new, immediately more effective treatments for asthma.
Muscarinic antagonists, found in the tribe Datureae (among other plants), such as atropine, and synthetic tropane derivatives selective for muscarinic acetylcholine receptor subtypes such as ipratropium bromide and tiotropium bromide, are prescribed in some cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma.
Spiritualism and the occult
Across the Americas, indigenous peoples, such as the Algonquian, Aztecs, Navajo, Cherokee, Luiseño and the indigenous peoples of Marie-Galante used this plant or other Datura species in sacred ceremonies for its hallucinogenic properties. In Ethiopia, some students and debtrawoch (lay priests), use D. stramonium to "open the mind" to be more receptive to learning, and creative and imaginative thinking.
The common name "datura" has its origins in India, where the sister species Datura metel is considered particularly sacred — believed to be a favorite of Shiva in Shaivism. Both Datura stramonium and D. metel have reportedly been used by some sadhus and charnel ground ascetics, such as the Aghori as both an entheogen and ordeal poison. It was sometimes mixed with cannabis as well as highly poisonous plants like Aconitum ferox to intentionally create dysphoric experiences. They used unpleasant or toxic plants such as these in order to achieve spiritual liberation (moksha) in settings of extreme horror and discomfort.
Among its sacred and visionary purposes, jimson weed has also garnered a reputation for its magical uses in various cultures throughout history. In his book, The Serpent and the Rainbow, Wade Davis identified D. stramonium, called "zombi cucumber" in Haiti, as a central ingredient of the concoction vodou priests use to create zombies. However it has been noted that the process of zombification is not directly performed by vodou priests of the loa but rather by bokors. In European witchcraft, D. stramonium was also a common ingredient used for making witches' flying ointment along with other poisonous plants of the nightshade family. It was often responsible for the hallucinogenic effects of magical or lycanthropic salves and potions. During the witch-phobia craze in Early Modern times in England and parts of the colonial Northeastern United States it was often considered unlucky or inappropriate to grow the plant in one's garden as it was considered to be an aid to incantations.
Datura stramonium prefers rich, calcareous soil. Adding nitrogen fertilizer to the soil increases the concentration of alkaloids present in the plant. D. stramonium can be grown from seed, which is sown with several feet between plants. It is sensitive to frost, so should be sheltered during cold weather. The plant is harvested when the fruits are ripe, but still green. To harvest, the entire plant is cut down, the leaves are stripped from the plant, and everything is left to dry. When the fruits begin to burst open, the seeds are harvested. For intensive plantations, leaf yields of 1,100 to 1,700 kilograms per hectare (1,000 to 1,500 lb/acre) and seed yields of 780 kg/ha (700 lb/acre) are possible.
- "Datura stramonium L. — The Plant List". www.theplantlist.org. Retrieved 20 June 2020.
- "Datura stramonium (jimsonweed)". CABI. 21 November 2018. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
- "GRIN Genera of Solanaceae tribe Datureae". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. Archived from the original on 17 February 2013. Retrieved 12 December 2012.
- "Datura stramonium in Flora of China @ efloras.org". www.efloras.org. Retrieved 16 August 2017.
- "Datura stramonium". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrieved 5 February 2008.
- "Biota of North America Program, 2014 county distribution map". bonap.net.
- Australia, Atlas of Living. "Datura stramonium : Common thornapple | Atlas of Living Australia". bie.ala.org.au. Retrieved 16 August 2017.
- Schultes, Richard Evans; Albert Hofmann (1979). Plants of the Gods: Origins of Hallucinogenic Use New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-056089-7.
- Glatstein, Miguel; Alabdulrazzaq, Fatoumah; Scolnik, Dennis (2016). "Belladonna Alkaloid Intoxication". American Journal of Therapeutics. 23 (1): e74–e77. doi:10.1097/01.mjt.0000433940.91996.16. ISSN 1075-2765. PMID 24263161. S2CID 10336715.
- Stace, Clive (1997). New Flora of the British Isles. Cambridge University Press. p. 532. ISBN 978-0-521-65315-2.
- Henkel, Alice (1911). "Jimson weed". American Medicinal Leaves and Herbs. U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 30.
- Grieve, Maud (1971). A Modern Herbal: The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs, & Trees with All Their Modern Scientific Uses, Volume 2. Dover Publications. p. 804. ISBN 978-0-486-22799-3.
- Monier-Williams, Monier (1899). A Sanskrit-English Dictionary: Etymologically and Philologically Arranged with Special Reference to Cognate Indo-European Languages. Oxford: Clarendon Press. OCLC 685239912.
- Francis Hamilton (1823). "A Commentary on the Second Part of the Hortus Malabaricus". Transactions of the Linnean Society of London. XIV: 233.
- "Datura species". Plants Poisonous to Livestock. Cornell University Department of Animal Science. Retrieved 12 February 2010.
- Gnaana (16 October 2017). "ஊமத்தைங்காய் கொண்டு எத்தனை விதமான நோய்கள் குணமாக்கலாம்? உங்களுக்கு தெரியுமா?". tamil.boldsky.com (in Tamil). Retrieved 17 May 2021.
- Beverley, Robert. "Book II: Of the Natural Product and Conveniencies in Its Unimprov'd State, Before the English Went Thither". The History and Present State of Virginia, In Four Parts. University of North Carolina. p. 24 (Book II). Retrieved 15 December 2008.
- Bunney, Sarah. Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs.
- "Jimsonweed". University of Texas El Paso / Austin Cooperative Pharmacy Program & Paso del Norte Health Foundation. Archived from the original on 29 July 2013. Retrieved 2013-02-13.
- Joseph Henry Maiden (1920). The Weeds of New South Wales. Vol. 1. W.A. Gullick, Government printer. p. 76.
Thorn Apple or False Castor Oil Plant)
- "Thorn-apple, Datura stramonium – Flowers – NatureGate". luontoportti.com.
- Culpeper, Nicholas (1653), Culpeper's Complete Herbal, Slough: W Foulsham & Co Ltd, pp. 368–369, ISBN 978-0-572-00203-9
- Preissel, Ulrike; Hans-Georg Preissel (2002). Brugmansia and Datura: Angel's Trumpets and Thorn Apples. Firefly Books. pp. 124–125. ISBN 978-1-55209-598-0.
- Veblen, K.E. (2012). "Savanna glade hotspots: Plant community development and synergy with large herbivores". Journal of Arid Environments. 78: 119–127. Bibcode:2012JArEn..78..119V. doi:10.1016/j.jaridenv.2011.10.016.
- Oudhia P., Tripathi R.S.(1998).Allelopathic potential of Datura stramonium L.. Crop. Res. 16 (1) : 37-40.
- Cortinovis, Cristina; Caloni, Francesca (8 December 2015). "Alkaloid-containing plants poisonous to cattle and horses in Europe". Toxins. 7 (12): 5301–5307. doi:10.3390/toxins7124884. ISSN 2072-6651. PMC 4690134. PMID 26670251.
- "Malpitte Madness". S. A. Medical Journal. 21 December 1974. Retrieved 29 January 2022.
- "Deadly Harry Potter plant devil's snare turns up in Suffolk pensioner's garden". Retrieved 30 August 2017.
- "There's a devil in my garden..." Dawlish Newspapers. Retrieved 30 August 2017.
- AJ Giannini,Drugs of Abuse--Second Edition. Los Angeles, Practice Management Information Corporation, pp.48-51. ISBN 1-57066-053-0.
- Pennachio, Marcello; et al. (2010). Uses and Abuses of Plant-Derived Smoke: Its Ethnobotany As Hallucinogen, Perfume, Incense, and Medicine. Oxford University Press. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-19-537001-0.
- Castillo, Guillermo; Calahorra‐Oliart, Adriana; Núñez‐Farfán, Juan; Valverde, Pedro L.; Arroyo, Juan; Cruz, Laura L.; Tapia‐López, Rosalinda (23 August 2019). "Selection on tropane alkaloids in native and non‐native populations of Datura stramonium". Ecology and Evolution. 9 (18): 10176–10184. doi:10.1002/ece3.5520. ISSN 2045-7758. PMC 6787939. PMID 31632642.
- Nellis, David W. (1997). Poisonous Plants and Animals of Florida and the Caribbean. Pineapple Press. p. 237. ISBN 978-1-56164-111-6.
- Arnett AM (December 1995). "Jimson Weed (Datura stramonium) poisoning". Clinical Toxicology Review. 18 (3).
- Freye, Enno (21 September 2009). Pharmacology and Abuse of Cocaine, Amphetamines, Ecstasy and Related Designer Drugs. Springer Netherlands. pp. 217–218. doi:10.1007/978-90-481-2448-0_34. ISBN 978-90-481-2447-3.
- Goldfrank, Lewis R.; Flommenbaum, Neil (2006). Goldfrank's Toxicologic Emergencies. McGraw-Hill Professional. p. 677. ISBN 978-0-07-147914-1.
- "Noxious weed thornapple responsible identified as spinach contaminant, after about 200 Australians became ill". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 22 December 2022.
- Barceloux, Donald G. (2008). "Cáscara". Medical Toxicology of Natural Substances: Foods, Fungi, Medicinal Herbs, Plants, and Venomous Animals. John Wiley & Sons. p. 1877. ISBN 978-1-118-38276-9.
- Pennachio, Marcello; et al. (2010). Uses and Abuses of Plant-Derived Smoke: Its Ethnobotany As Hallucinogen, Perfume, Incense, and Medicine. Oxford University Press. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-19-537001-0.
- Nellis, David W. (1997). Poisonous Plants and Animals of Florida and the Caribbean. Pineapple Press. p. 238. ISBN 978-1-56164-111-6.
- William Lewis, "An Experimental History Of The Materia Medica: Stramonium"
- von Mutius, Erika; Drazen, Jeffrey M. (2012). "A Patient with Asthma Seeks Medical Advice in 1828, 1928, and 2012". New England Journal of Medicine. 366 (9): 827–834. doi:10.1056/NEJMra1102783. ISSN 0028-4793. PMID 22375974.
- Jackson, Mark (2011). ""Divine Stramonium": The Rise and Fall of Smoking for Asthma". Medical History. 54 (2): 171–194. doi:10.1017/S0025727300000235. ISSN 0025-7273. PMC 2844275. PMID 20357985.
- Chapman, Kenneth R. (1991). "Anticholinergic bronchodilators for adult obstructive airways disease". The American Journal of Medicine. 91 (4): S13–S16. doi:10.1016/0002-9343(91)90256-W. ISSN 0002-9343. PMID 1835290.
- Biaggioni, Italo; et al. (2011). Primer on the Autonomic Nervous System. Academic Press. p. 77. ISBN 978-0-12-386525-0.
- Pennachio, Marcello; et al. (2010). Uses and Abuses of Plant-Derived Smoke: Its Ethnobotany As Hallucinogen, Perfume, Incense, and Medicine. Oxford University Press. pp. 82–83. ISBN 978-0-19-537001-0.
- Davis, Wade (1997). The Serpent and the Rainbow: a Harvard scientist's astonishing journey into the secret societies of Haitian voodoo, zombis and magic. Simon & Schuster. p. [page needed]. ISBN 978-0-684-83929-5.
- Molvaer, Reidulf Knut (1995). Socialization and Social Control in Ethiopia. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 259. ISBN 978-3-447-03662-7.
- Pennachio, Marcello; et al. (2010). Uses and Abuses of Plant-Derived Smoke: Its Ethnobotany As Hallucinogen, Perfume, Incense, and Medicine. Oxford University Press. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-19-537001-0.
- The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants : Ethnopharmacology and its Applications, Rätsch, Christian, pub. Park Street Press U.S.A. 2005
- "Indian doc focuses on Hindu cannibal sect". Today (American TV program).
- Svoboda, Robert (1986). Aghora: At the Left Hand of God | Brotherhood of Life. ISBN 0-914732-21-8.
- Clairvius Narcisse
- Davis, Wade (1985), The Serpent and the Rainbow, New York: Simon & Schuster
- Davis, Wade (1988). Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie. Robert F. Thompson, Richard E. Schultes. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-1776-7.
- Rätsch, Christian, The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications pub. Park Street Press 2005
- Hansen, Harold A. The Witch's Garden pub. Unity Press 1978 ISBN 978-0913300473
- Chopra, I.C. (2006). Indigenous Drugs of India. Academic Publishers. p. 143. ISBN 9788185086804.