Commonly known as Jimsonweed, devil’s snare, or devil’s trumpet, Datura stramonium is prevalent all over the world. Its origin is believed to be North American, but it is now found everywhere, from plains to mountains. It usually grows wild in uncultivated lands and along roadsides, but it is increasingly becoming a weed in cultivated fields. Despite its appealing appearance, Common Jimsonweed is highly poisonous in every part due to its high alkaloid content. Its common names are a result of unconventional uses in the past. Jimsonweed has hallucinogenic effects. Unfortunately, even today, it is misused, especially by unaware young people who seek its extraordinary effects.
Let’s get to know this plant better and understand its dangerous effects, which can be lethal.
Identification of Common Jimsonweed
Common Jimsonweed (Datura stramonium) is an annual plant. It belongs to the Solanaceae family, Datura genus. This is a very large family, including some well-known horticultural plants. Among these, we have tomato, eggplant, bell pepper, potato, chili pepper. Unfortunately, there are also some toxic ones, and examples we’ve talked about in two previous articles include mandrake and belladonna. However, there are many other poisonous plants that can be encountered in our territory.
Botanical Characteristics of Jimsonweed
The appearance of Jimsonweed is truly fascinating. The root system consists of a long taproot of considerable depth. It has an erect and glabrous stem from which several branches branch out. The stem color is green but with violet hues. In full growth, it can exceed one meter in height. The leaves are dark green, alternate on the stem, large, and have a petiole. The leaf blade is oval, while the margin is irregular, with a typical dentition. The base of the leaves is asymmetric, with a shorter lobe on one side and a longer one on the other. The flowers appear in the stem’s branches and are solitary. Up to 10 cm long, they have a tubular calyx, swollen at the bottom, ending with 5 acute lobes. The corolla is white with violet hues, also tubular in shape and twice as long as the calyx. The flowering of Common Jimsonweed is prolonged and occurs from July to October. The flowers during the day are closed and withered, and they open at night. When this happens, they release a penetrating odor, unpleasant to humans but much appreciated by nocturnal butterflies. They are the ones that provide entomophilous pollination.
The fruit is a globular capsule, its shape is very similar to a walnut, but the surface is covered with thorns (hence the name thorny nut). Inside it contains numerous black seeds, kidney-shaped with a rough surface, about 3 mm long. In October-November, the capsule opens and releases these seeds upward.
Toxicity of Datura Stramonium
All parts of the Datura stramonium plant are poisonous, but the seeds, in particular, are highly toxic. This toxicity is due to the presence of high quantities of tropane alkaloids, especially hyoscyamine, atropine, and scopolamine. Atropine is not present in the fresh plant but forms through racemization during drying. These alkaloids are used in the medical field, as they are classified as anticholinergics. In ophthalmology, for example, they are used to induce mydriasis or as antispasmodics or preanesthetic agents. These are natural elements found in various plants, such as belladonna, which has several affinities with Jimsonweed. However, in medicine, due to their high level of toxicity, they are often replaced by artificial alkaloids, which are safer and more effective.
When combined in Jimsonweed, these alkaloids give rise to numerous toxic and hallucinogenic effects. These symptoms have made Common Jimsonweed a well-known plant.
Risks of Poisoning
Poisoning with Common Jimsonweed can lead to serious consequences. From hallucinations, it can lead to delirium, convulsions, severe vision disturbances, and coma due to cerebral hypoxia. In the most severe cases, it can even be fatal. We make this important statement because this plant has always been used to seek hallucinogenic effects, for example, in shamanic rituals or pseudo-religious practices. Several cases are known of young people who, in an attempt to “escape,” ended up seriously intoxicated after smoking its dried leaves. In addition to the risk of death from poisoning, some deaths are also attributed to bizarre behavior associated with intoxication. For example, there are reports of young people found drowned in shallow streams while attempting to drink. The dryness it causes in the throat is said to be irresistible.
Other young people have unknowingly committed suicide, thinking they could fly, a common hallucination in Jimsonweed intoxication. There is no doubt that this plant, while not the most potent hallucinogen overall, is the most dangerous.
For more information on this topic, you can read it in various books, including this one we recommend.