Is Jimson Weed the Next Miracle Cure or the Next Drug Epidemic
1676 is the year that Bacon’s Rebellion began (Spearman, 2018). This rebellion was escalating so the British sent troops to control Bacon’s Militia. After suppressing Bacon’s forces, the British troop decided to investigate the hallucinogenic plants they had heard about from locals. One plant that they found was Jimson weed. After eating the troops hallucinated for multiple days and acted extremely out of character. They had no recollection of this later (Spearman). Now Jimson weed has become an important contributor to the medical field. It is mainly used as an analgesic, something that relieve pain, or for antiasthmatic proposes (Soni et al., 2012).
This is because of two very important compounds found in the plant. These compounds are atropine and scopolamine (Weber, 1984). Atropine is used commonly in medicine to decrease salivation during surgery and to treat bradycardia, hypertension (Atropine). Scopolamine is used for nausea and vomiting and can also be used to control salivation during surgery (Scopolamine). Both compounds can perform a similar function because they have a similar structure. Although Jimson weed has many medicinal uses its highly psychoactive properties make it unsuitable for medical use.
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Jimson weed is a part of the Solanaceae family with commonly known produce like the potato, tomato, eggplant, and peppers (Friedman, 2004). It is a part of this family because it has a flower that is broken into five parts and has the symmetry as a starfish (Solanaceae). It is a tall leafy plant that can grow up to 6ft. tall and has trumpet shaped flowers (Weaver, 1984). These flowers can be white or purple and they reproduce by seed.
A typical Jimson weed plant contains around 24 chromosomes however is possible to have more. Some plants have up to 36, 46 or as little as 25 or 12. This is because less aborted pollen grains corelates with a greater number of chromosomes and vice versa (Weaver, 1984). There is no definitive answer on where the plant originated. It is likely that it originated in a tropical region. The plant grows in warm places like Central, South and North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa (Weaver). The most important part of this plant is the compounds it contains.
It contains the alkaloids atropine and scopolamine. Atropine is used in medicine as a drug for its antimuscarinic and properties. It is used to help muscle contract and relax by blocking the substance acetylcholine. It sends messages to the nervous system and is prescribed to help with bladder problems and Parkinson’s (Harvard). Scopolamine is used to treat motion sickness and post operation nausea. It is also used to inhibit salivation during surgery (Scopolamine).
Jimson weed is a very toxic plant. It contains both atropine and scopolamine which are powerful anticholinergics (Soni et al., 2012). Ingesting any part of this plant cause delirium, seizures, tachycardia, hypertension, and coma. This is highly concerning because of how wide spread the plant is across the Americas and Asia. Any person or animal that stumbles upon this plant and decides it eat it will suffer a number of these symptoms from several days. This is more likely to happen than you think as there are common cases of poisonings in India (Gaire, 2013). The cause for this is likely because Jimson weed is used in Ayurvedic medicine. It is used to treat ulcers, inflammation, fever, asthma, and bronchitis (Gaire).
When used outside of a medical environment they can have very adverse effects on the body. Even more cornering the toxins are not contained to one part of the plant. While the highest concentration is in the seeds every part of the plant contains both atropine and scopolamine. Ingesting this plant can also cause hallucinations, subsequent amnesia, and it affects the central nervous system. A lethal dosage for an adult would be 10mg for an adult and around 4mg for a child (Gaire, 2013).
One example of Jimson weed affecting human health is when two teenagers were poisoned by the plant. The eight teens ingested several hundred seeds altogether and suffered from hallucinations, disorientation, and dilated pupils (Spina, 2007). Several teens were at a party and consumed around 100-300 seeds with alcohol.
The male experienced high blood pressure, tachycardia, and was combative. He was released after 48 hours. The female experienced dilated pupil, sinus tachycardia, and fever. She was released in 72 hours (Spina). Another example is six adults went to the hospital for Jimson weed poisoning (Jimsonweed poisoning). They made a stew containing the plant and felt the affects of the poison 4-5 hours later. They experienced hallucinations, tachycardia, confusion, and mydriasis.
Even with all of these dangerous affects there are those that still seek Jimson out use it for recreational purposes. The Drug Enforcement Administration gives a synopsis of the plant stating that: typically, younger teens try the plant once to experience the effects of delirium and supposed euphoria (Drug Enforcement). What about usage by adults, if an adult was to purposefully use Jimson weed what would that purpose be? In 1983 there was a case on a military base in California. 22 Marine Corps employees were treated for Jimson weed poisoning (O’Grady, 1983).
They had consumed varying amounts of seeds and experienced mydriasis, altered mental states, and visual hallucinations. Around half of them experienced tachycardia which is when your heart beats abnormally fast. The reason why they ate the seeds intentionally could be because most of the patients have a history of drug abuse. Not only that but 3 of them had been to the ER previously for similar actions (O’Grady). This case show that those with a history of drug abuse can turn to something like Jimson weed into a new street drug. This pose a threat because of how accessibly Jimson weed is. It grows on the side of roads and is all other the country. However disturbing, these cases are few and far between so is there any real reason to worry?
Jimson weed has been used by North American tribes in rituals and medicines in early history (Litzinger, 1981). The Aztecs, Hopi, Navajo, Yuman, and many other use Jimson weed for multiple medical and religious purposes. Th Aztecs like many other tribes used the plant for fractured bones and sprains. They also used it as an antiseptic, sedative and an anodyne which is a pain killer. In rituals for initiation, devination, euphoria, hallucinations, and to obtain luck or skill (Litzinger).
These tribes like any other hunter-gather society have extensive medical knowledge of the plants around them. That means that they are also aware of the negative effects. The Aztecs noted that excessive amounts of Jimson weed based medicine could cause a person to have a reduced mental state and experience hallucinations (Litzinger, 1981).
The main reason jimson weed is used is probably because of how accessible it is. It grows in many different parts of the world and grows in a bush. Instead of having to cultivate a crop of the plant you can pick it off the side of the road. This however is still an issue because some of the places it grows is in crops (Weaver, 1984).
This is dangerous because Jimson weed is a common weed in crucial crops like corn, wheat, and rye and sometimes the seeds contaminate the crops. These seeds are also poisonous to farm animals like horses, cows, chickens, sheep and others. These animals eat these foods in their regular diet. If it is contaminated, they will either become very sick and diet or the farmer will have to find an alternative (Weaver).
The compounds in the plant have a lot adverse side affects but these can be avoided by using different compounds. There are 5-HT3 receptor antagonists which are structurally similar to scopolamine and atropine (Lochner, 2016). They also perform the same functions (Lochner). There are already drugs developed that can be used instead. There is a drug called Phenergan that uses a substance called promethazine (Transderm-Scop). Its helps prevent nausea and vomiting from surgery, motion sickness, and pregnancy. This drug is cheaper and can be used to treat pregnant women.
Pregnant women are important patients because they are developing a life so what they put into their body is important. There are other drugs like Zofran and Compro that try to help prevent nausea. Both Phenergan and Compro cheaper than scopolamine and they are offered in my forms. Scopolamine is only available in skin patches, but these medicines are available in pill form, or liquid form.
Jimson weed is an extremely useful plant that’s components provide solutions to many different medical aliments. It is these same compounds that in the wrong amounts can cause large amounts of medical problems. The medicine that we are using should not skate the line of helpful and hurtful. It also has the potential to become drug used by those who have suffered from past drug abuse and because of its easy accessibility and hallucinogenic properties. They show promise in helping to produce natural based pesticides some they should stay out of medicine and help produce more environmentally friendly pesticides. They produce secondary metabolites, terpenoids, and glycoalkaloids that biological harm pests.