In our last piece on exploring ancient psychedelics, we travelled back in time to visit the ancient Egyptians, who used the blue lotus as a sleep aid, aphrodisiac, and more. This time, we won’t be going back quite as far. Instead, we’ll be exploring the lesser-known and highly poisonous datura.
What is Datura?
Datura goes by many names. Some know it as moonflower, others know it as devil’s trumpets, trumpet flowers, or hell’s bells. Datura is actually not even just one type of flower– it’s a genus of nine or 14 (depending on who you ask) highly poisonous ones belonging to the nightshade family. Two of the most common species of datura are the Datura inoxia and Datura stramonium.
Datura is considered a deliriant, which is a type of hallucinogenic that produces extremely vivid and realistic hallucinations that blend into one’s actual reality. They can lead to confusion, dysphoria, agitation, stress, and general discomfort. Typically, drugs like these aren’t often chosen for recreational use, largely because of the unpleasantness of the highs they give.
Datura plants contain three potent anticholinergic substances: scopolamine, hyoscyamine, and atropine in their seeds and flowers. These make the datura extremely psychedelic– potentially one of the most psychoactive plants on earth.
How was it used and how does it feel?
In Ayurvedic medicine, datura had a lot of uses. Its dried leaves, including the smoke from them, were used as a narcotic and an anti-spasmodic/anti-asthmatic, as it opens up the respiratory tract. This was done only in very small doses. It was also turned into an ointment and used as a topical cream to improve skin quality, detoxify the skin, and relieve itching, to help with pain relief and more.
In a totally different part of the world, Datura stramonium is listed as one of the ingredients in “flying ointment,” a medieval ointment made by witches in Europe as far back as 1400, made specifically for the purpose of hallucinating. This “flying ointment” also contained a slew of other poisonous ingredients, has been the cause of a few casualities, and was apparently most effective when applied to an area that had mucous membranes, such as the armpits or vulva. Michael Pollan theorized that these “flying ointments” were applied “vaginally using a special dildo,” which alludes to the long broomsticks witches were known to “ride.” The witches were using this ointment either to imagine themselves flying (through the high of the deliriants in it), or using it to help with orgasms. Or, potentially, both.
Datura can also be consumed in a tea form. When taken like this, effects usually start to appear within 15 to 20 minutes, and the high can last anywhere from 12 to even 72 hours, depending on dosage. Some people also eat the seeds raw.
Because datura is, well, poisonous, the general consensus is that it doesn’t feel very good. In fact, some have described it as downright “terrifying.” Unlike the euphoric high of psilocybin or the dream-like state brought on by consuming Amanita muscaria, consuming datura brings nausea, a state of drunkedness, high-intensity hallucinations that feel frighteningly real, extreme dizziness, severe dehydration, fatigue (datura is generally a depressant), irregular heartbeats, feeling flushed and hot, and more.
The effects of taking datura can be both physical and mental, and there exists a somewhat well-known mnemonic describing the effects of anticholinergic substances:
- Hot as a hare: increased body temperature
- Blind as a bat: mydriasis (dilated pupils)
- Dry as a bone: dry mouth, dry eyes, decreased sweat
- Red as a beet: flushed face
- Mad as a hatter: delirium
People often report huge losses of memory after taking the datura, and even after the effects wear off, there still seem to be pieces missing. Consuming datura in any form carries a high risk of poisoning, which can lead to coma and even death.
Is Datura legal and can I still get it today?
Datura is generally legal in most places except for the UK and Australia. In fact, it grows freely in most parts of the world, and can be seen in people’s gardens, prized for its pretty trumpet-shaped white flowers. Some people grow their own, specifically to consume its seeds to see what the high would be like.
It is a fairly common plant, and still grows in most places today. You can certainly access it and consume it if you so wish– however, we really don’t recommend consuming datura in any way. It is highly, highly poisonous, and can lead to serious illness and death. Despite the curiosity that can arise when hearing about it, the effects of datura generally tend to be disturbing, distressing, and an overdose can easily lead to death.
Datura is a highly poisonous and toxic species of deliriant plants that when consumed, can lead to intense, realistic hallucinations, hot flashes, memory loss, dizziness, hospitalization and even coma or death from poisoning. Datura grows wild in most parts of the world, and is legal everywhere, except the UK and Australia. The effects of the drug are very long-lasting, with some trips lasting up to three days.
Historically, datura was used in Ayurvedic medicine in ancient India to treat asthma, as a lotion for skin conditions, as a pain relieving topical cream, and more. In medieval Europe, witches used datura in the recipe for their famed “flying ointments,” which were full of other deliriants and allowed them to hallucinate. Moreover, the witches also possibly used it as a sexual salve, applying it to their vulvas for a stronger effect and utlizing dildos (broomsticks?) to reach orgasm.
We don’t recommend consuming datura in any way, shape, or form. It is a very toxic and dangerous plant, and taking a dose of it can lead to serious injury or death. Deliriants in general lead to fairly distressing highs, and remain an unpopular form of psychedelics for a reason.