Datura (thornapple) is a plant with psychoactive effects, which qualifies as a sedative in low doses, aphrodisiac in moderate doses, and deliriant hallucinogen in higher doses. Datura plants have been known to be poisonous. Despite that, it has been used throughout recorded history in the Americas, Europe, and India, for various ritual purposes, such as divination, vision quests, and harmful magic, and as medicine (especially to treat asthma and as a narcotic and analgesic).
There are many species of Datura. The plant is also known as moonflowers, hell’s bells, and devil’s trumpets. The most well-known species include:
- Datura innoxia (toloache; devil’s weed) – was used extensively in Mexico and the American Southwest. The Tarahumara use it to this day by adding the roots, seeds, and leaves to tesgüino, a ceremonial drink prepared from maize
- Datura metel (Indian thorn apple) – native to the Asia
- Datura stramonium (common thorn apple; jimsonweed)
- Datura ferox (Chinese datura) – another Old World species
- Datura discolor (sacred datura) – used by the Zuni. The flowers may not be psychoactive.
- Datura wrightii (Wright’s datura) – native to California. The seeds and flowers may not be psychoactive.
- Datura ceratocaula (tornaloco; “maddening plant”) – a powerful narcotic, this is a rare species which grows in Mexico
- Datura leichhardtii (Australian thorn apple) – native to Australia
- Datura quercifolia (oak-leaf datura) – native to Texas, Arizona, and Mexico
The effects of all species of datura are similar since they contain the same alkaloids.
What are the Active Ingredients?
The active substances, tropane alkaloids (scopolamine and atropine), are mainly contained in the flowers and seeds of the plant. The potency of the antimuscarinic anticholinergic substances of the plant depends on the strain, as well as on the age of the plant and the spot where it grows.
This makes dosage a tricky affair.
Tropane alkaloids are toxic. They can be absorbed in the body through the skin and mucous membranes. Medicinally, they have been traditionally used to treat chronic bronchitis, pain, flu symptoms, and other conditions. Plants containing tropane alkaloids usually have a history of use as a hallucinogen by humans throughout time and space.
How much alkaloids in every part of the plant?
- Flowers: up to 0.8%
- Seeds (fresh): up to 0.7%
- Seeds (dried): up to 0.6%
- Leaves (dried): up to 0.6%
- Leaves (fresh): up to 0.5%
- Roots: up to 0.2%
- Fruit: up to 0.1%
The primary tropane alkaloid is scopolamine (hyoscine), a highly potent hallucinogen and narcotic. It is found mainly in the aboveground parts – leaves, stems, flowers, and seeds.
Medicinal dose is 0.5-1 mg (e.g, as a strong hypnotic inducing paralysis) with a total daily maximum dosage of 3 mg. 14 mg can kill an adult. Topically, it is used for motion sickness.
Effects of scopolamine include:
- A state of paralysis
- Clouding of consciousness
- Psychosis (when taken chronically)
Atropine is a highly toxic substance chemically related to cocaine, scopolamine, and hyoscyamine (daturine). 1 mg is regarded as a therapeutic dose of atropine (e.g., to treat asthma). 10 mg may kill a baby, while 100 mg kills an adult by an anesthesia-like paralysis that leads to coma and a fatal respiratory paralysis. Its effects include:
- Psychomotor agitation, restlessness
- Constant repetition of a particular activity pattern
- A need to talk
- Crying spells
- Confused speech
- Disturbances in vision (e.g., blurred vision)
- Flushing of the skin
- Drying of the mucous membranes
- Difficulty swallowing
- Heart arrhythmia
- Long-lasting dilation of the pupils
Besides the aforementioned strains of Datura, tropane alkaloids can be sourced from the plants:
- Atropa spp. (Deadly Nightshade; most notably Atropa belladona)
- Brugmansia spp. (Angel’s Trumpet)
- Duboisia spp. (Corkwood Tree)
- Hyoscyamus spp. (Henbane)
- Iochroma spp.
- Juanulloa spp. (Goldfingers)
- Latua publiflora (Tree of the Magicians)
- Mandragora spp. (Mandrake; most notably Mandragora officinarum)
- Scopolia carniolica (Henbane Bell)
- Solandra spp. (Cup of Gold)
- Solanum spp. (Nightshade)
Some species of datura (e.g., D. metel) may contain nicotine in the herbage, which is easily absorbed through mucous membranes and even through the skin.
It has tranquilizing properties and is both toxic and addictive. At high doses, it may cause toxic paralysis; 50 mg nicotine is a lethal dose.
Withanolides are substances which occur in plants from the Nightshade family. Datura metel, Datura quercifolia, Datura stramonium, and Datura ferox contain the withanolide withaferoxolide. Withanolides may have antiinflammatory properties.
Hyoscyamine (mostly in the aboveground parts; especially in older plants), tyramine (in the flowers), meteloidine (in the stems), phenolic compounds, lectines, peptides, coumarins, and littorine may also be present.
The roots contains cuscohygrine and tropine, among other substances.
Traditional Uses of Datura
Datura has long been employed as a sacred hallucinogen, especially in Mexico and the American Southwest.
Datura species, especially Datura innoxia, were one of the most important magical plants in Mexico during the Aztec period (where they were known as tlaptatl or toloa).
Powdered root is put in the eyes, and the roots are chewed in magical rituals and in rites of passage.
Pulque, fermented agave juice, is fortified with the seeds or roots of Datura lanosa and D. innoxia, and used for sexual magical rituals, ritual offerings, and other uses.
The Aztec had their human sacrifice victims drink 4 bowls of pulque with D. innoxia before the ritual, perhaps as a sedative.
The Yaqui Indians add D. innoxia leaves to mescal (liquor made from Agave).
I will not go into the debate of whether Carlos Castaneda’s account of don Juan Matos, a Yaqui Indian proficient in the use of Datura, was true or not, but I will lay down the teaching of don Juan in this regard below.
Datura stramonium and D. innoxia are sometimes used as an additive to the San Pedro drink.
The Navajo use D. innoxia as a vision-inducing plant in magical rituals, as well as for diagnosis and healing.
The Mixe of Oaxaca, Mexico use D. stramonium as an entheogen.
Seeds of D. innoxia and D. stramonium are sometimes ingested along with balché, a mildly intoxicating drink consumed by the ancient Maya in Central America. (The Yucatec Maya still consume balché to this day.)
Maize beer produced by Indians in America was flavored with seeds of D. metel and D. stramonium and with the seeds, leaves, and roots of D. innoxia.
The Tarahumara of Mexico add roots of D. innoxia to chicha, a Latin American fermented (alcoholic) or non-fermented drink, which during the Inca Empire had ceremonial and ritual uses.
In North America, the seeds and leaves of D. innoxia and D. stramonium were even used as ingredients of psychoactive enemas.
Wysoccan, a hallucinogenic drink, made by the Algonquin of North America, may have been made with the roots of D. stramonium.
In medieval Persia Datura metel was used to induce sleep.
D. metel is also combined with charas, Cannabis resin, and other plants to make an aphrodisiac.
It may also have aphrodisiac effects when rubbed directly on the sex organs, and has been used for such purposes apparently in India in combination with black pepper, honey, and other ingredients.
A tonic is prepared from seeds of D. metel along with Solanum nigrum and Erythrina indica.h
In India, palm wine used to be fortified with D. metel seeds.
Oriental joy pills which were used in Asia since ancient times as psychoactive aphrodisiac preparations. They are made from opium, cannabis, datura seeds, and spices.
In Malaysia a hallucinogenic paste is prepared using opium, D. metel, and other ingredients.
D. metel, D. innoxia, and D. stramonium were used as ingredients in betel quids, a psychoactive “chewing gum.”
In China, seeds of Datura metel were sometimes used as additives to rice wine (sake) to potentiate its effects. In Nepal, India, and Tibet they are added to raksi.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine D. metel is known as Yang Jin Hua.
Africa and the Middle East
In Ancient Greece Datura stamonium may have been used as an inebriant. The smoke of Delphi, used by the oracle to induce an altered state of consciousness, has been attributed to D. stamonium.
An unidentified plant referred in Ancient literature as strychnos manikos (“the strychnos that makes one wild”) has been suggested to be Datura stramonium.
In West Africa, seeds of Datura stramonium are added to dolo or pombe beer, an invigorating alcoholic drink made from millet.
Datura stramonium was one of the most important additives to Germanic beers.
It may have been an ingredient in witches’ brews and flying ointments of Medieval Europe. Some claim it may have been administered through the membranes of the vagina using a broomstick.
In Fiji D. metel seeds are used as a kava additive.
Pituri, a psychoactive mixture of leaves and wood ash chewed by Aboriginal Australians, may have been substituted with Australia’s native species of datura, Datura leichhardtii.
The Teachings of don Juan – by Carlos Castaneda
The following section is based on the Carlos Castaneda’s book from 1968, The teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui way of knowledge.
It presents the teachings of don Juan Matos in regards to the taming of Datura as an ally.
In this paradigm, Datura is personified as woman which has the following properties:
- unpredictable, and
- has deleterious effects.
To make Datura one’s ally, there are four steps to be taken, of which don Juan teaches Castaneda just the two he himself knew.
Castaneda’s experiences with the Devil’s Weed as don Juan refers to Datura occurred on September 3rd, 1961, when he was taken on a datura harvest. Don Juan dug a circular hole around the plant shaped like a cone, cleared the dirt around the stem, and recognized the plant as a “male.”
Using a dry stick he found in the area (apparently from a palo verde tree), he loosened the dirt, and continued to dig. Using a shovel was not an option since it could cut and injure the plant.
After don Juan cut the plant, they went on looking for a female plant. On the differences between the male and female datura plants, Castaneda records don Juan’s teaching:
The female is taller and grows above the ground so it really looks like a small tree. The male is large and spreads out near the ground and looks more like a thick bush. Once we dig the female out you will see it has a single root going for quite a way before it becomes a fork. The male, on the other hand, has a forked root joined to the stem.
Is it true that in a Datura male plant, the root forks out from the exact point where it joins the stem?
Apparently not; datura plants have both male and female parts to their flowers, there is no such thing as a “male plant.”
However, one could argue that the gender don Juan refers to is not a botanical category, but a spiritual one. Or perhaps it is indeed botanical, but has nothing to do with gender, but with the structure of the plant and growth patterns and what they might tell us about the alkaloid composition.
Having collected the “male” and “female” daturas in a bundle, don Juan and Castaneda went back to the house. Don Juan first then washed the male, meticulously cleaning it.
He severed the stem from the root by making a superficial incision around the width of their juncture with a short, serrated knife and by cracking them apart. He took the stem and separated every part of it by making individual heaps with leaves, flowers, and the prickly seedpods. He threw away everything that was dry or had been spoiled by worms, and kept only those parts that were complete. He tied together the two branches of the root with two pieces of string, cracked them in half after making a superficial cut at the joint, and got two pieces of root of equal size. He then took a piece of rough burlap cloth and placed in it first the two pieces of root tied together; on top of them he put the leaves in a neat bunch, then the flowers, the seedpods, and the stem. He folded the burlap and made a knot with the corners.
Don Juan did the same with the female, but left the fork in the root intact, like an upside-down letter Y.
About 3 weeks later, he took the Y-shaped root, which was now dry, and made a figurine of a man out of it.
He used a very deep stone mortar and pestle to mash a dry piece from the female plant, a dry piece from the male plant, and two fresh pieces of root. The pieces came from a depth of 1 yard. After the roots were completely mashed, he added:
- 14 fresh leaves one by one
- 14 flowers and
- (perhaps 14) fresh, green seedpods.
- 3 dark red stems
The ingredients were mashed into a pulp and then boiled with a few drops of (Castaneda’s) blood, carpenter’s glue, and water. After a while, the figurine is placed in the pot and left to simmer overnight.
The figurine is pulled out of the glue and dried in the sun.
The other half of the first portion of the Datura root is replanted in a secret place and has to be taken care of. If the plant dies, it means “she does not want you, and you must not disturb her further. It means you won’t have power over her.”
After the first seeds bud out, one can be sure one has been accepted. For Castandea that took less than a year.
[T]he second portion of the Datura root, the second, […] step in learning the tradition […] was the real beginning of learning; in comparison with it, the first portion was like child’s play. The second portion had to be mastered; it had to be in taken at least twenty times, he said, before one could go on to the third step. […] The second portion of the devil’s weed is used for seeing. With it, a man can soar through the air to see what is going on at any place he chooses. […] The second portion of the devil’s weed is used to fly.
Months later, don Juan taught Castaneda about using the seeds. He had to grind dried seeds into a finer powder. He also prepared a paste from fresh seeds and live weevils (tiny beetles) and boiled everything with water. It was used topically (rubbed on the temples).
A root is mashed (“the second portion”) and left to soak in water overnight. A spoonful of a yellowish substance remains. Its purpose was to give direction to the person ingesting it, and make things clear.
Don Juan teaches Castaneda a method of divination using lizards, which “were the secret of the whole sorcery of the second portion.”
For the next step, Castaneda has to bring roots from his own “male” and “female” datura plants.
A mortar and pestle was used to prepare a fine powder from dried seeds eaten by weevils, weevil eggs, the bugs themselves, and good, dry seeds. They are then mixed with lard (preferably of a wild boar) to create an ointment.
The “female” root is cut into pieces and mashed up well, then its juice is put into a pot along with boiling water.
The “male” root is pounded and soaked in water overnight, treated, and the yellowish substance is extracted.
The root extracts are combined and drank, then the ointment is rubbed on the body. The root gives direction and wisdom and causes the experience of flying.
Don Juan was not able to show Castaneda the entire procedure because she was not his ally. “In the course of learning about the devil’s weed,” don Juan explains, “I realized she was not for me, and I did not pursue her path any further.”
Dosage & Timeline
In general, the dosage is 5 mg tropanes. That may be contained in 12-60 dried seeds or 4-5 dried flowers.
Given the fact that potency can differ significantly from one plant to another, even within the same strain, it is difficult to put a precise time-stamp on when the effects of Datura kick in.
The onset of these effects can come as early as 20 minutes and as late as 4 hours.
Effects take about 5-12 hours to culminate.
After a further 2-3 hours, most effects wear off, although side effects can linger on for 6 to 24 hours.
Total duration of effects: 3-24 hours.
Overdoses may lead to effects lasting days.
As little as 100 seeds (or approximately 1 gram) can induce dangerous states and toxic effects, even death. I would not recommend even approaching this dose.
Datura produces tolerance (reduced reaction following repeated use). It may take around 2 weeks to return to baseline sensitivity. There may also be cross-tolerance with other drugs, including diphenhydramine and nutmeg.
Methods of Consumption
Eating Datura seems to yield the most impactful effects. Anecdotal reports say that a person who once ate a whole Datura tree flower, tripped for 72 hours afterwards.
The roots may be chewed fresh or dried and powdered.
Eating up to 1 gram of leaves may be therapeutic, while 4-5 grams may be fatal.
Ingesting the tea brewed from flowers/seeds results in similar levels of psychoactive alteration. Brewing a few dozen seeds into a several cups of tea supposedly results in decent “trips” though. Moderation is definitely key here.
As few as 10 seeds can lead to profound perceptual changes.
30-40 seeds is a potent hallucinogenic dose.
A tea made with as little as one large leaf may induce profound hallucinations.
Often, cannabis is used to potentiate the effects of Datura. For example, in Nepal Datura metel seeds are sometimes added to bhang, a milk- or water-based drink made from cannabis among other ingredients.
The leaves and seeds are sometimes added to wine along with cannabis.
Datura innoxia may be added to tequila (as Yaqui Indians do; see above.) Its seeds and leaves can also be fermented to make an alcoholic drink.
Bees feeding on Datura nectar are said to produce inebriating honey.
Smoking seems to be the safest way to take Datura, as it delivers less of the active substance to the brain. Smoking a whole dried flower has been reported to yield major results, with headaches as a side effect. Smoking just a small part of a flower has apparently generated satisfactory results.
The dried leaves too can be smoked. Smoking up to 4 leaves may have aphrodisiac and pleasurable effects.
Tobacco is often smoked together with Datura. In Mexico, for example, shamans of the Yucatán smoke a cigar (chamal) made from one tobacco leaf and one Datura innoxia leaf to induce an altered states of consciousness, for example, while doing a divination with a crystal ball.
Kinnikinnick, a Native American, herbal smoking mixture sometimes includes leaves and seeds of D. stramonium and D. innoxia.
In India, beedis, thin unfermented tobacco cigarettes, sometimes include Datura metel.
D. metel is said to have cheering effects and produce sleep with lively dreams when mixed with tobacco with clove oil.
Another popular aphrodisiac and sleep-inducing smoking blend is made of Datura and dried, crumbled Amanita muscaria. The mushroom may reduce the dryness of the mucous membranes which is caused when Datura (and Cannabis are smoked.)
D. metel leaves are smoked with Cannabis, e.g., as tantric smoking blends.
In the 19th century, “Indian” cigarettes were sold in Europe, which consisted of Cannabis impregnated with opium extract, as well as dried leaves of Atropa belladonna, Hyoscyamus niger, and Datura stramonium. They were prescribed to treat conditions, such as asthma and insomnia.
The Chillum cult, an ancient tradition still alive in the Himalayas and India, involves using a chillum, a conical tube used by sadhus and yogis in their rituals of worship, meditation, and yogic practice. It is filled with Cannabis and sometimes Datura metel is added.
A medicinal asthma fumigant and powder can be made from leaves of Datura stramonium.
It is possible that leaves and seeds of Datura wrightii and other species may be used as a psychoactive incense. Incense made from Datura innoxia together with Cannabis sativa is said to induce visions.
Even Datura seeds alone are said to elicit profound psychoactive effects.
As a snuff
Datura leaves may also be used in snuffs.
A fatty ointment can be prepared with Datura innoxia seeds and leaves and lard (as some Yaqui Mexicans do). Rubbing it over the abdomen is said to induce visual hallucinations. Indeed, the plant is often used in flying ointments.
Fresh roots too can be applied externally.
What are Datura‘s effects?
- In general, the effects begin with a state of weariness/lack of energy.
- Then, it progresses into a period of strong hallucinations, profound visions, and delirium. The hallucinations may seem so realistic that they are indistinguishable from reality.
- Then, deep sleep and loss of consciousness.
- In excessive doses, death through respiratory paralysis or heart failure may occur.
Given the nature of the plant, there isn’t really any science underpinning its anecdotal effects observed by users.
That said, there is quite a bit of subjective knowledge out there in this regard.
The tropane alkaloids in Datura provoke a series of rather unpleasant side effects that accompany overall stimulation.
Such effects include constipation, abnormal heart rate, dehydration, dizziness, high blood pressure, increased perspiration, muscle cramps, spasms, nausea, overwhelming physical fatigue, tactile hallucination, and the dilation of the pupils.
As if the above weren’t enough, the compound also induces painful jolts through the body, which occur with hiccup-like frequency.
Users have reported feeling that their bodies become extremely heavy. Performing any movement under such circumstances is very uncomfortable.
Urination is affected by Datura as well. On one hand, it induces the urge to urinate frequently. On the other, the actual act of urination becomes extremely difficult and unpleasant.
Hallucination is one of the most prominent effects of Datura, even in very small doses. It encompasses every sense: it affects touch, taste, smell, and vision. Users have reported very confusing and intense experiences in this regard. “Phantom cigarettes” are a hallmark of the Datura experience, which even non-smokers may experience.
Synesthesia may also be experienced.
Overdoses can lead to a delirium lasting days followed by amnesia, or not remembering anything of what happened.
Datura‘s effects on the reproductive system are just as contradictory. On one hand, it increases libido. On the other, it causes erectile dysfunction.
It also suppresses language, focus, and memory.
Cognitive fatigue is another one of its effects, as is cognitive dysphoria and amnesia.
Anxiety, photophobia, and the suppression of visual acuity are all after-effects of Datura.
Adding feelings of impending doom to the above picture does not do much to further tarnish Datura‘s already sketchy reputation.
In Southeast Asia, the ground root of the coconut palm and licorice are used as antidotes to Datura metel poisoning.
In Mexico, peyote is used to treat overdoses of Datura innoxia.
My Own Experience with Datura Innoxia
I have been smoking Datura innoxia leaves and flowers without any noticeable effects, except for light sedation maybe. I also experimented with eating/smoking an occasional seed of Datura. Nothing spectacular happened until…
The day I decided to smoke around 3-4 Datura seeds (one of them I crushed before adding it to the mixture) together with some Cannabis and kanna. Went to bed immediately after I finished smoking the mixture and started to relax in preparation of my astral projection routine.
I suddenly became anxious that I would stop breathing or my heart would stop. I got up from bed and felt very cold. My heart was beating way too fast (tachycardia). My blood pressure was at the roof as well. Felt waves of nausea from the stomach along with panic, breathlessness, and an awful feeling of dread, followed by a sense of euphoria, joy, and happiness of being alive. I felt as if I am dying. I was sedated, but stimulated at the same time. I was almost delirious, but not quite. The state was dream-like, and I was very apathetic and found it difficult to talk.
After about 2 hours, my blood pressure returned to normal, and I felt a bit better. Went to bed as I was very sleepy, and calmer then before.
It was still a bit difficult to dream and the nausea and feeling of sickness still accompanied me the next day. Nothing interesting happened dream- and sleep-wise during the night.
Bottom line. It was a very powerful experience. And one which I will not be in a hurry to replicate.
Datura as a Dream Herb
Given its hallucinogenic effects, it is hardly a surprise that Datura also affects dreams. It may cause more vivid dream images, including erotic dreams, but it is doubtful that it helps with dream recall. After all, it does decelerate thoughts and it disorganizes the thought process.
The Chumash tribe refers to their local species, Datura wrightii, as a “dream helper.” The use it frequently to induce prophetic dreams. The Kawaiisu tribe as well use it to produce visions and dreams.
According to anecdotal evidence, Datura stramonium may be used for dream enhancement and lucid dream induction. They may also potentiate the effects of psychedelics, such as magic mushrooms, cannabis, and DMT.
For this purpose, the safe dose is a microdose of about 1-3 seeds (each seed weighs about 5-10 mg so a maximum of 30 mg seeds; others claim that up to 100 mg is a safe dose). The seeds are chewed and swallowed about 1 hour before bed.
This is said to generate short-lasting stimulant effects at first, and then a mild euphoria. Datura stramonium (but not D. innoxia) may also alleviate nausea.
According to this report, “dreams start almost immediately before he even fall asleep.” Sleep latency is shortened from around 30 minutes to 5 minutes. They following day people report feeling very well rested.
Regarding the difference between D. stramonium and D. innoxia, some say the former is a stimulant (high in hyoscyamine) while the latter is a sedative (high in scopolamine) and as such may serve as an effective sleep aid.
Datura dreams often have sexual undertones.
Other Psychoactive Uses of Datura
Datura metel is sometimes used to improve the bitter taste and potentiate the effects of a drink made from opium and rum.
Datura is often an ingredient of witches’ (flying) ointments.
In the voodoo cult of Haiti, zombie poison is consumed, a powder made from various plant, animal, and human ingredients. D. stramonium is one such ingredient.
I do not recommend using Datura without the guidance of an experienced shaman.