Substances & Homeopatic Remedies

Stramonium

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The daturine alkaloids are also known to cause dilation of the pupil of the eye (mydriasis) and paralysis of the muscles of accommodation (cycloplegia). They effect the nervous system too, with atropine acting as a stimulant and hyoscine as a depressant. Atropine is used to counteract the depression associated with morphine and hyoscine acts as an antidote to highly toxic phosphate insecticides and so called "nerve gases." Other applications of hyoscine Include prevention of motion sickness, as an analgesic along with morphine in obstetrics to produce "twilight sleep," and as a truth drug (Avery 1959:51).

While people may not have been aware of the chemical constituency of Datura, the plant was used medicinally all over the world in historical times. in the Old World, the Chinese used Datura to treat colds and nervous conditions (Siegel 1989:21). in India, the powdered seeds were mixed with butter and taken internally for impotence as well as being applied to genitalia to obtain sexual vigor (Lewis 1977:330). Referred to as the tuft of Shiva, the god of destruction, Datura was also used in the form of a liquid extract by thugs - worshipers of Kali, the goddess of fertility and death - to stupefy sacrificial victims. The plant was also given to young girls in India to bring them Into prostitution as well as on their clients (Siegel 1989:21). The leaves were smoked as well in that country to relieve asthma (Lewis 1977:395).

European usage of Datura can be traced back to pagan rituals. The Church suppressed knowledge of the plant during the medieval witch-burning period and associated Datura and other plants such as deadly nightshade and monkshood with the Devil. "...flying ointments and magical salves were compounded out of Datura roots and seeds, parts of the plant rich in delirium- and delusion-producing tropane alkaloids. When this material was applied to the witch's body, it produced states of extraordinary derangement and delusion" (McKenna 1992:90). The use of broomsticks by witches can be explained by these practices, serving to apply the salves to sensitive vaginal membranes (Lewis 1977:420).

Experiments on these controversial religious practices were carried out by Andres Laguna, a physician to Pope Julius III, and showed how the salves containing Datura took the women on "Journeys" by producing dreams only, contrary to widely-held folk beliefs of the period. Giovanni Battista Porta, a colleague of Galileo and who also took part in Laguna's experiment, described how men drank potions of Datura to create the illusion of being a bird or beast. The men wore wolfs skin and ran about on all fours following ingestion of the hallucinogen, providing the basis of our modem werewolf stories (Siegel 1989:22).


While Datura was definitely used in the Old World, no where did it have as much application as in the New World. The seeds were used by ancient Peruvians in trepanning operations as an anesthetic and archeological evidence Indicates that these complex surgical procedures had a higher survival rate than one would expect (Heiser 1969:136). The use of enema syringes in Peru dates back to 600800 AD and could have contained Datura among other things, considering the vast herbal knowledge of the healers of this region (McKenna 1992:197-8). Wild and cultivated species of Datura were also used in other parts of western South America by indigenous peoples to Induce partial intoxication, to control unruly children, and the plant was given in large doses along with tobacco to women and slaves to deaden their senses before being buried alive with their dead husbands or masters. Extracts made from the bark, leaves, and seeds were also used in shamanistic rites and practices of this region (Avery 1959:4).


It appears that Daturas have always played a significant role as 'culture plants' and evidence regarding their uses both in Asia and in the New World dates back at least 3000 years.
In both hemispheres Daturas were regarded as sacred and especially valued for their power to induce visionary dreams, to see the future and to reveal the causes of disease and misfortune.

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 (D. innoxia, D. stramonium, D. tatula, D. ferox D. ceratocaula and D. discolor) by the indigenous population is well documented. In the tropical regions the more common Brugmansias tend to take the place of Daturas, in both their sacred and medicinal roles.
From historical accounts recorded by the Conquistadors 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 D. innoxia. It was used as a painkiller in certain initiation rituals and given as a narcotic to 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 (D. ceratocaula), 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.
In many areas of South America various Brugmansia species are cultivated and used in much the same way as Datura species are elsewhere. To this day the ground seeds are mixed into the Chicha, the sacramental corn beer (Zea mays) found everywhere on that continent. The combination of Datura seeds and alcoholic drinks appears to be a global phenomena. It is a documented practice amongst all kinds of unrelated tribes throughout the Americas, was practiced in China (mixed with wine), and even became popular in Europe during the Middle Ages (mixed into beer). Whilst in the New World the beverage was generally used within a ritual context, in the Old World the brews were generally consumed for more recreational purposes.
In the Andes Datura (probably D. arborea = Brugmansia arborea) is known as Chamico. Here, as in other parts of South America it is taken as a tea or smoked to induce visions. Apart from its sacred significance it is also regarded as one of the most ancient healing herbs. It is thought that the ancient Peruvian healers and shamans employed "Datura's" narcotic and anesthetic properties when performing ritual or medical operations (e.g. skull trepanations).
The Auruks who are at home in present day Chile still use Datura in much the same way as their ancestors did. It not only plays a significant role as a shamanic plant but is also widely used as medicine. They even give a brew of the leaves (D. ferox) to unruly children - trusting in the powerful plant-spirit to teach the children a good measure of respect. The Jivaros prepare a drink with roasted maize and the juice of Brugmansia sanguinea fruits for the same purpose.
The Shamans and Brujos of the New World know how to use the plant for astral travel. In this context Datura not only provides a visionary journey but also facilitates the shape-shifting process. Transformations into birds seem to be especially closely associated with the shamanic use of Datura.
In the Amazon various species of Brugmansia are used either alone or as an additive to Ayahuasca, the most important sacred visionary brew of that area. Ayahuasca preparations are commonly used for initiation rites, healing ceremonies and shamanic journeying. The Jivaros use Brugmansia in initiation rituals to obtain 'an outer soul', a soul that is able to communicate with the ancestor spirits. Medicinally Brugmansias are mainly employed as an external application for rheumatic and arthritic aches, pains and swellings, skin rashes and wounds. Among some tribes of the Sibundoy region Brugmansia is mixed in with the dog-food as part of an ancient hunting magic ritual. It is believed that in this way the dogs too will partake in the visionary powers of the plant which will help them to 'see' the prey more easily.

Carlos Castaneda learned about Datura from his mentor Don Juan.
The wise old brujo was never too fond of the 'devil's weed', claiming its power was like that of a woman. "She is as powerful as the best of allies, but there is something I personally don't like about her." he tells his pupil, "She distorts men. She gives them a taste of power too soon without fortifying their hearts and makes them domineering and unpredictable. She makes them weak in the middle of their great power."
Nevertheless he instructed Castaneda in the preparation and uses of all parts of the plant, roots, leaves, flowers and seeds. According to Don Juan each part has a different power which must be conquered in its own special way. He taught Castaneda the secrets of 'lizard divination' in which the use of Datura plays a central role. In this method two lizards are caught and specially prepared for the ritual. Whilst under the influence of the Datura preparation the diviner asks the lizards to help find the answer to his question. One of the reptiles is sent away to search for clues, whilst the other remains sitting on the shoulder of the diviner, whispering in his ear all that the wandering lizard is seeing and experiencing.

The native people of the southwestern regions of North America also hold Datura sacred.

Datura (D. metel ) plays an essential role in the Initiation ritual of the Chumash.The Chumash also use Datura medicinally as an anesthetic for setting bones, to treat bad bruises and wounds, to 'freshen the blood' and to treat hemorrhoids. Among some groups Datura was used to induce a quasi comatose state in cases of severe trauma. The anesthetic and narcotic properties of the plant would numb the pain receptors thereby reducing stress and tension in the patient, which in turn speeds up the healing process.

The Bokors and Exumas, the black healers and shamans of the Caribbean islands obviously also knew of less sinister uses of the plant. Like other shamans they used the plant to induce visionary trances, to divine the sources of disease and misfortune and to retrieve lost objects and employed it medicinally.

 In Eurasia references to the uses and sacred status of Datura (predominantly D. metel) can be found from the Caspian Sea to China. Especially in India it found a highly revered place of honor as one of Shiva's sacred plants. According to the vamana purana it grew out of Shiva's chest and the garuda purana gives instructions for ritual offerings of Datura flowers, which should be made to Yogashwara (=Shiva) on the 13th day of the waxing Moon in January.

In Europe Datura was apparently not commonly known in the classic period. It appears to have been introduced by the gypsies, or maybe the wandering herb found its own way into the warmer regions of southern Europe. The gypsies certainly knew and used the plant for magical purposes, such as scrying and as an aphrodisiac. It is also reported to have been one of the essential ingredients of the infamous flying ointment of the witches. Numerous accounts of 'journeys to the Sabbath' during which the accused 'danced with the devil' were recorded by the executioners of the inquisition. These accounts were usually obtained through severe torture and it is difficult to separate actual experience (visionary or real for that matter) from things admitted to out of fear and terror. However, it now seems to be clear that the experiences of flying through the sky, dancing with the devil and partaking in orgiastic feasts and rituals were in fact references to hallucinatory journeys whilst under the influence of some pretty powerful alkaloids. The prosecution of course took every word as naked factual truth and the 'witches' were condemned to burning at the stake for their 'shameful sins'.

Throughout the Middle Ages Datura flowers were commonly sold for their aphrodisiac qualities all over central and southern Europe. They had the reputation of breaking down any resistance to sexual approaches. Pimps in particular knew how to use the herb to their own best advantage. An indignant German writer aptly documents this common use of Datura, which he describes as: 'a tool of brothel-keepers, wicked seducers of girls, depraved courtesans and shameless lechers.'