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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Poisonous and Medicinal properties of Datura stramonium

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The Moon flower weed or Datura stramonium is an erect annual herb which forms a bush and grows from 1 to 1.5 m in height. It is a common weed in agriculture fields in some parts of the world. Datura, Jimson Weed, Stink Weed, Mad Apple, Thorn Apple Stramonium, Apple Thorn, Dhatura Tatula, Datura Seeds are some of its common names. The characteristic lavender tinged flower of this plant has a peculiar shape of a trumpet and its bristled seed pods have the characteristic feature of splitting into quadrants. The deep green leaves of this plant have long petioles and reticulate venation. Its carrot like root stock may extend up to more than 10 cm below ground. It is usually found growing in disturbed areas, waste lands, barn yards, along road sides and rail tracks, and in rocky open areas. Amaranthus, ipomoea, xanthium, chenopodium, and solidago etc. are some of the plant associates.

Image 1 Datura metel

About Jimson’s weed
Jimsonweed is a type of Datura. It is thought that Jimsonweed is a native of Asia and it was imported to Europe and then to temperate parts of North and South America. The name Jimsonweed is a corruption of Jamestown weed, after the town in Virginia to which it is first believed to have been imported to the USA from England. Jimsonweed is an annual, growing up to a height of 5 feet with large purplish or white trumpet-shaped flowers and spiny, egg-shaped fruits. The stem is purplish and glabrous (smooth) and the leaves are ovate, irregularly lobed, to 8 in long, and have a foul odor. The flowers, however, are fragrant and sweet-smelling. They open for only one evening, but new ones continue to open throughout the summer and autumn. The flowers are white or pale lavender, shaped like a five-sided funnel, 2-4 in long,

Image 2. Datura stramonium

Most of the chemical constituents of the plant are found in the whole plant body; however seeds have been reported to contain them in more concentrated form. Though the alkaloids found in seeds have been reported to have medicinal properties, they have been experienced to be seriously poisonous in many cases. In India, the plant Datura stramonium is Common in north western Himalayas and foot hills on dry slopes up to 1800 m altitude.

A single fruit of Datura stramonium contains many dozens of non-coated seeds that come out from the dehiscent fruit. Each seed is a kidney shaped structure measuring about 3mm in length and 2 mm in width The topography of the seed is dominated by numerous pock-like depressions, the diameters of which range from 0.3 to 0.5 mm. The surface of the seed is covered evenly with minute bumps. Seeds range from yellow-brown to near black in color.

Toxic and poisonous properties of Datura stramonium
Datura Plants possess toxic and poisonous properties. These are basically due to the chemical compounds fond in its parts especially the fruits. Chemical constituents found in the plant may produce sedative effects and submissive behaviour and memory loss when taken internally in minor doses. In the Journal Christian philosopher, author Cotton Mather had described the effects of intake of this weed in 1720.

“In Virginia there is a plant called Jamestown weed, whereof some having eaten plentifully become fools for several days; one would blow up a feather in the air, another sit naked, like a monkey, grinning at the rest, or fondly kiss and paw at his companions, or sneer in their faces” (Mann 1992:85).

The flowers and seeds of Datura stramonium are known to have poisonous effects. Ingestion of these may cause raving, insensibility, and even death. Historically, various species of Datura have been reportedly used to poison Spanish explorers, and for infanticide and also as chemical material for mass inhumation in Colombia. Mann (1992) has reported that Yaqui of Mexico had made ointment from this plant for hallucinatory effects as recently as 1968. Epstein (1981) has reported that many Native American groups located in the east of the Rocky mountain added Datura stramonium to tobacco or chewed it for hallucinogenic effects.  “Similar and other explicitly ceremonial uses of related species have been recorded among Southwest Native American groups”.

Image 3. Datura stramonium seeds

The alkaloids in Datura are significant in respects other than their medicinal properties. They often leach from seeds into the surrounding soil (Levitt and Lovett 1984). The resulting environment is toxic to some plants, but may be favorable to others due to decreased competition. D. stramonium inhibits germination and root growth of Helianthus annuus; the strength of its effects depends on the amount of alkaloid adsorbing clay in the soil (Levitt and Lovett 1984). The presence of Datura near wild cucurbits and other members of the complex of starchy seeds used by prehistoric occupants of the Eastern Woodlands (Smith 1992) suggest that not all crop plants would be deleteriously affected by its proximity. By poisoning weeds in agricultural fields, D. stramonium instead might have had a positive effect on the growth of certain crop plants that can tolerate leached alkaloids. Depending on the suceptibility of various cultigens in the Eastern Woodlands to alkaloid poisoning, prehistoric Americans may have left Datura as a useful weed that discouraged ordinary pernicious invaders, or removed it with special care due to its effect on crops.

The effects of Datura have been described as a living dream: consciousness falls in and out, people who don't exist or are miles away are conversed with, etc. The effects can last for days. Tropane alkaloids are some of the few substances which cause true hallucination  which cannot be distinguished from reality. It may be described as a "real" trance when a user under the effect can be awake but completely disconnected from his immediate environment. In this case, the user would ignore most stimuli and respond to unreal ones. This is unlike psylocibin or LSD, which only cause sensory distortions.

The doses that cause noticeable effects, and the doses that can kill are very close with datura. This makes overdosing on Datura stramoniumvery easy. This can be fatal; it can cause fevers in the 105-110 (40-43°C) range which is a range that can kill brain cells, and lead to brain damage. There have been many instances of teenagers looking for a cheap high poisoning themselves to death on datura. If someone overdoses on datura it is advised to induce vomiting, to wash out his or her stomach, and to get the person hospitalized immediately.

If taken recreationally and the user does not notice any conscious effects, most people redose thinking it's not working, which is why overdoses are so common. The user doesn't realize that he or she was hallucinating. Some users have reported seeing an array of people from their lives. A few anecdotal reports also mention the user's perception of "phantom cigarettes"; the person believes that he or she is smoking a cigarette only to find that it has disappeared later, thus realizing that it never existed. At the peak of such experiences users often enter a true psychomominatic state, in which they "lose touch with reality" altogether; at this point, many find it difficult or impossible to communicate with others.

A majority of users who have written reports on experiences with this drug have described those experiences as unpleasant and often terrifying. This is possibly due to their having taken excessive doses. The powerful effects of Datura continue until the body metabolizes the tropane alkaloids.

Scopolamine  is the primary hallucinogen in Datura writii  from California and other Daturas. Scopolamine can be slowly and erratically absorbed into the brain. In most people, scopolamine reaches the brain within an hour or so after ingestion and causes visual and auditory hallucinations. In about 25% of people, scopolamine is very slowly absorbed into the brain, taking up to 13 hours to enter the brain. These are the people who are at the highest risk of overdosing. They become impatient waiting for their recreational high and take more of the plant extract.

Medicinal properties of Datura stramonium
It is Narcotic, Anti Spasmodic, Anodyne, and Ache Reliever. It helps in relieving the spasm of the Bronchitis in Asthma. It is used in treatment of Parkinsonism and Haemorrhoids. Young fruits are sedative and intoxicating. Leaves applied after roasting are useful in relieving pain.In Eastern North America, Native Americans used D. stramonium for medicinal purposes. The Cherokee and the Rappahannock smoked it for respiratory problems, including asthma. Atropine and analogous structures are effective against asthma because they prevent inflammation. The Mohegan, Delaware, Oklahoma, Cherokee, and Rappahannock applied it to the skin as a dermatological aid. In addition, Datura was used as a hemorrhoid remedy by the Delaware and Oklahoma and as a febrifuge, throat aid, or poison by the Rappahannock (Moerman 1986). Other reported uses include snakebite poultices and salve for infected wounds (King 1984).

According to another opinion, There was a time when stramonium, a drug obtained from the leaves and seeds of Datura stramonium, was used medicinally (Herbalgram). The alkaloid was known as daturine. From the seeds was made extractum stramonii. The tinctura stramonii was made from the leaves. Stramonium was used to relax the smooth muscle,of the bronchial tube , and thus it was used to treat an asthmatic's bronchial spasm. Cigarettes were made of stramonium leaves which could be smoked; or the tincture was taken internally. Frequently the leaves were powdered together with equal quantities of the leaves of Canabis and Lobellia mixed with Potassium nitrate , and were burned in an open dish. The preparation was reported to give off dense fumes which afforded great relief to the asthmatic paroxysm. Around the turn of the century numerous patent "cures" for asthma contained these ingredients in varying proportions. Daturine was also used to treat acute mania as hyoscyamine was said to produce sleep. Because of the dangers of tropane poisoning, datura is not used medicinally today, and the Food and Drug Administration  (FDA) has determined it to be unfit for human consumption. However, atropine, scopolamine and hyoscyamine are FDA approved drugs that are used everyday for a variety of conditions.

The antidote of choice for overdose or poisoning is Psysostigmine . All over the New World, from the southwestern corner of North America, throughout Mexico as well as in Central and South America the historical and contemporary uses of the local Datura species (Datura innoxia , Datura stramonium, Datura tatula, Datura innoxia, Datura ceratocaula, and Datura discolor ) by the indigenous population is well documented. In the tropical regions the more common Brugmansia   tend to take the place of Daturas, in both their sacred and medicinal roles. From historical accounts recorded by the  Conquistador  we know that the Aztecs, who had a detailed knowledge about numerous sacred and medicinal plants, were familiar with several types of Datura species. One of these Daturas was called Toloache and is probably Datura inoxia the ritual sacrifices. For this purpose the preferred method of administration was either by enema or as a rolled-up leaf suppository which reduces some of the less pleasant side effects of the drug. Another type of Datura , called Atlinan by the Aztecs, enjoyed a particularly sacred status. It was regarded as the sister of Ololuiqui , another sacred hallucinogenic plant. These plants were so sacred that only the priests were allowed to use them. With their help they held counsel with the Gods - divining the outcome of future events, discovering the whereabouts of lost or stolen objects and prognosticating the causes of diseases, especially if black magic was suspected. As a medicinal remedy they prepared an ointment for cracked soles and injured feet, made plasters for ulcers, pustules and infected wounds and skin sores, and used it for poultices to treat rheumatic aches and pains.

Moerman, D. E.1986   Medicinal Plants of Native America. University of Michigan Museum of  Anthropology Technical Reports No. 19. Research Reports in Ethnobotany, Contribution 2. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
King, F. B.1984.Plants, People, and Paleoecology. Illinois State Museum Scientific Papers, Vol. 20, Illinois State Museum, Springfield.
Levitt, J., and J. V. Lovett 1984. Activity of allelochemicals of Datura Stramonium L. (thorn-apple) in contrasting  soil types. In Plant and Soil 79(2):181-189.
Smith, B. D.,1992.   Rivers of Change: Essays on Early Agriculture in Eastern North AmericaSmithsonian Institution Press, Washington.
Epstein, Doris B., 1981   Plants Used in Pipe Smoking by the Indians of the of the United States of America East of the Rocky Mountains. Unpublished B. A. Thesis, Washington University in St.Louis.
Mann, John 1992 .  Murder, Magic, and Medicine. Oxford University Press, Oxford. 

Key Words : Datura stremonium, medicinal, poisonous, ethnobotany, Food and Drug Administration

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