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Datura in Magic and Medicine
An Excerpt from Psychedelic Drugs Reconsidered
by Lester Grinspoon and James B. Bakalar


The beladonna alkaloids, mostly in the form of a drink made from the leaves or powdered seeds, also play an important part in American indeian magic and medicine. Jimsonweed or stinkweed (Datura stramonium or Datura inoxia) was familiar in North America before the Europeans arrived; the name, a corruption of "Jamestown weed," is derived from an incident in which it was eaten by seventeenth-century English colonists at Jamestown Virginia. The Aztecs used the drug toloatzin or toloache (Datura inoxia) in divination and prognosis; other tribes still use this and other datura species for sores and internal injuries, as a preparation for the hunt, in rain-dance rituals and puberty rites, and above all in witchcraft. California Indians personified toloache as a great shaman and used it in their vision quests for an animal spirit helper. It is still sold in Mexican markets as an aphrodisiac and medicine. A Spanish term for datura is hierba del diablo, the devil's weed; under this name it is used, along with other "power plants": like peyote and a psilocybin mushrooms mixture, by the (probably fictitious--see De Mille 1976) Yaqui Indian sorcerer Juan Matus in Carlos Castaneda's popular series of books. European investigators were once inclined to identify any unknown drug said to produce visions or hallucinations as the familiar datura, and in the twentieth century the lysergic acid amide morning glory ololiuqui was misidentified in this way.

Plants containing atropine and scopolamine are also in common use in South America, from Columbia (Methysticodendron amnesianum) to southern Chile (Latua pubiflora, known as "the sorcerer's tree"). Various species of Datura and Brunfelsia are known in the Amazon and the Andes as chamico, chiric sanango, borrachero, and maikoa, among other names. Datura is often one constitutent of the Amazonian drink ayahuasca, and in coastal Peru it is sometimes added to the mescaline drink cimora made from the cactus Trichocereus pachanoi. The Jivaros of the Amazon use datura as well as the harmaline drink natema; they regard datura as stronger, more dangerous, and more suitable as a preparation for war. It is taken for spirit voyages to encounter the supernatural, but is not used in healing because the effects are so uncontrollable that the shaman cannot retain his ties to this world while journeying in the other one (Harner 1968). Many South American datura species unlike those of other regions, are tress; interestingly, these tree daturas are all, like coca, domesticated plants that are unknown in the wild.