What it's like to take belladonna

Entry #20 in the Mondo 2000 History Project is R.U. Sirius' entertaining essays about his horrible belladonna experience in 1968.

NewImageIt was early in the summer of 1968. Myself and my friends had heard stories about people taking this drug, Asthamador, that you could buy in the drug store that contained belladonna. Someone described spending the entire night picking bugs off of his skin. Nothing speaks to the weird reality of being fifteen than this fact – we all agreed that this sounded really cool! We decided to get some of this belladonna and take it that Saturday night for the Ronnie Dio (yes, that Ronnie Dio) and the Electric Elves show in downtown Binghamton, New York. Dio was our biggest local star.

The day of the show, bottle of asthmador in my hand, we walked down to the neighborhood store and bought drinks to wash down the medicine. I bought a Coke, and I can’t remember what the other guys bought, but the Coke would turn out to be important. We went into the alley behind the small grocery store where teens sometimes would hang out and smoke cigarettes. Finding it empty, we prepared to take our medicine. None of us really knew anything about dosage, so we just went with what we had, a tablespoon that my friend and upstairs neighbor Dave Waffle had grabbed out of his kitchen. I went first. I gulped down the tablespoon of asthmador, washing it down with the Coke. You do not know the meaning of the word bitter unless you’ve done this. It was like swallowing Satan’s fetid bowels, which should have given me a clue as to the kind of experience that was to follow. I vomited some of it, but still managed to keep most of it down. After watching me, the rest of the gang decided to take only half a tablespoon. I learned an invaluable lesson in drug experimentation that would stay with me for life: never go first.

The Belladonna Shaman (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #20)


    1. but if you phrased it that way, then the question almost answers itself.  Because “What it’s like to overdose on X” is almost always “not so great, actually”

      1. That’s fair. I was just disappointed that there was almost nothing about the actual trip in the article, which, to be fair, is only because the author blacked out for most of it.

        1. Agree, agree.  My comment was more meant to be flippant humor than actual commentary.  As a followup:
          I overdosed on LOLCats once. 
          wuz not so gret aksualy.

  1. I honestly thought this was going to be a recounting of someones experience with the porn star.

      1. Capable, talented, impressive, flexible are all words that come to mind regarding those two… but “scary?”

  2. Can’t find a thing about atropine and cola – but then a) what did they know in ’68, and b) what can this guy really remember from ’68?

    1. Interestingly, atropine has been evaluated against our current finest antidepressant medications. 

      It’s not that anyone thinks atropine has any particular mood-enhancing qualities, but it does have various side-effects (dry mouth etc.)  So it was used to test the idea that (so-called) antidepressants are essentially placebos, whose effects are enhanced because they have side-effects people can recognise – giving the users an impression that the medicine must be having an effect.

      The results were interesting – standard placebos give 80% of the benefits of antidepressants.  Atropine appears to give the full 100% benefit (I understand the statistics are tricky though, because it involves compensating for an awful lot of publication bias.)

      1.  A quick googling led to a lot of results about atropine and caffiene. Both of these are drugs that have been in use for a long time so I’m sure in 1968 they were aware of interactions between them.

  3. …my friend and upstairs neighbor Dave Waffle…

    Dave Waffle!

    Speaking of hallucinogens in medicine, remember the cough syrups that contained DXM?  Sales of Robitussin and Vicks spiked on weekends, and once the FDA got wind of what was happening, purchasing restrictions were put in place.  I’m picturing empty cough syrup bottles littering all over the place on Sunday mornings.

    1. Going “roboing” was a very popular pastime when I was a teen in Iowa, back in the 1990s. 

      1. My neighbors degenerate brother used to chug it at the school bus stop.

        He later went to prison, got out, died of hepatitus.

    2.  I remember when you could buy cough syrup with codeine in NC.  You had to  find the rare pharmacy that sold it, and sign you name on a clipboard page that went to the state.  But they had Terpin Hydrate with Codeine or Tylenol Elixir.  Saved a trip to the doctor, and let you still smoke a couple packs a day with bronchitis. 

      1. It only cost a nickel, and in those days nickels had pictures of bumblebees on ’em.  Gimme five bees for a quarter, you’d say …

        1. “…….The important thing was that I had an onion tied to my belt, which was the style at the time. You couldn’t get white onions, because of the war….”

          Actually that is a good piece to memorize for time when a social occasion calls for incoherent babbling. Like at Thanksgiving when Uncle Phil starts blathering about politics. Just talk right over him.

          1. You young’uns just don’t appreciate the medicinal properties of a good strong narcotic, what with those new fancy pants designer drugs that make you want to eat your buddies face off and all.

      2.  Terpin hydrate, huh? Stephen King mentioned a character in one of his books that was supposedly hooked on the stuff, but I bet it was the codeine.

      3. A friend brought back a couple small bottles of Paragoric from Jamaica., paid about $2 an ounce.

        Our bottle of Paragoric was the go to medicine when we were kids – coughs, stomachache, diarhea.  But they quit selling it because a determined junkie could cook down a pint to get the equivalent of a dose of morphine.

      4.  You can still buy cough syrup with codeine, though most pharmacies make you jump through hoops to get it (it’s the only thing that helps when I have bronchitis).

    3. I never did the Robo.  It was enough for me to watch a guy I worked with at a grocery store become completely convinced he was Satan.  Then again, he likely already had serious mental issues before doing it, but I wasn’t going to find out for sure myself.

      1. Costco’s brand got me through school when I was working 90 hours a week and constantly sick.  I was standing in the checkout line swilling tussin right from the bottle and I told the guy beside me – “This is not what it looks like, I really am sick as a dog.”

    4. Only effect I’ve ever gotten off DXM is profuse nosebleeds.  No cough suppression, and certainly no high (I imagine you’d have to take such extreme amounts I’d be higher off the blood loss than anything else by that point)

      Interestingly, nosebleeds aren’t listed among the side effects on the package – I googled it, and the only place I found it was on a forum discussing robo tripping.

  4.  Does the popularity stem from naming it belladonna?  I note that none of the users seem to want to call it by its other name: Deadly Nightshade, aka one of the deadliest poisons going.    Even the women who used it as a cosmetic agent (which is where it got the name belladonna) knew better than to take it internally.   Are people this desperate for a fix?

    1. My botanist friend, when showing me an Atropa, said, “If all the poisonous plants gave a party, Atropa would be the belladonna of the ball.”

    2.  People are often quite despreate/stupid when it comes to taking drugs.

      Anecdote: I used to own a few bead stores here in PDX, as a result I had a bunch of little zip-lock baggies (some beads/findings are expensive and sold individually the baggie is a standard packaging so they don’t get lost). On very boring days in mu downtown store I would put random (but not toxic) thins in the bags and drop them on the sidewalk within view of my shop. Little bits of colored craft  paper I’d carefully cut to look like blotter, sugar, salt, crap I’d pull off the brush-roller on my carpet cleaner that looked organic, etc. Invariably someone (and not always someone skeevy looking) would be walking along and spot the baggie, look around cautiously, and pick up the bag. Most would pocket it, but about 1/4 would ingest right away if it was the paper. Less if it was some sort of powder.

      I’d really bag on this but when I was a club-going kid and later a DJ I ingested a lot of crap found in the club. It wasn’t quite Studio 64, but on any given summer night you would find several hits of acid and a few grams of weed, and various powders.

    3. “Are people this desperate for a fix?”  Uh, when you’re young and stupid, yes. I read about this stuff in college in the early 70’s and found an ancient pharmacy that actually sold it. Silly me, I tried to do what you were supposed to do with it, i.e. smoke it. No joy.
      It is also rather interesting to note that the common potato is a member of the nightshade family. Pretty sure that is why you want to get rid of the ‘eyes’.

      1. Green tissue on a potato  contains the alkaloid solanin.

        I’m not aware that tomatoes contain any alkaloids, but at one time tomatoes were widely considered to be poisonous.  

        1. According to wikipedia the leaves and stems contain tomatine in amounts large enough to be at least occasionally fatal. Green tomatoes apparently have it as well, although not in large enough amounts to be a problem.

          1. The tobacco hornworm eats all that stuff for lunch.  Not sure what the defense is…

    4.  Nicotine is a very deadly poison; if you soak a standard-sized cigar in water for a while and then drink the water, the dissolved nicotine will kill you. (Smoking destroys most of the nicotine.) It’s the dosage, not the chemical.

      1. While it is true that nicotine is dangerous, I can’t help wondering if this oft-cited illustration is true.  It is propagated in a lot of mystery novels and scare literature as the absolute truth.

        From what I can find, a ‘standard-sized cigar’ should have something on the order of 3mg of pre-smoking nicotine.  Even if that full quantity were imparted to your solution it’s still well short of the 30–60 mg that is listed as a potentially fatal dose.

        If one could make a fairly concentrated solution and manage to keep it down (emesis being a rapid effect of tobacco solution) then yes, you could potentially be poisoned by it, but there sure are easier methods.

        Needless to say, soaking [qty x] of tobacco and drinking it is just not a good idea.

  5. And to think there are idiots out there using belladonnna as a teething remedy on infants.

      1. It’s homeopathic, so it’s made up of essence of air that once wafted over a belladonna plant, or something like that.

      1. “extremely weak” as in it contains none at all – it’s a homeopathic remedy.

        So, when the dosage is reduced to zero, it’s safe.  Wouldn’t go so far as to call it useful.

  6. funny article.. as someone who foolishly tried datura (aka belladonna) I felt exactly the same way. & also ended up in a padded cell!! certainly not a recreational drug you’d take for ‘fun’… 

    1.  datura is NOT ‘aka belladonna’ .. they are different but related plants. they contain the same drugs (atropine, scopolomine, and hyoscamine) but in differing concentrations.
      dature IS aka Jimson Weed or Loco Weed.
      I too had a datura experience. for me it was marvelous tho shocking. It opened my to the realm of faerie for about three days, with continuing lingering affect.
      Had I not been in the middle of the woods on a mountain in Virginia, I may well have ended up in jail, the hospital, or a padded cell myself. As it is, I was and still am fine.
      Hallucinogens are all about mindeset and setting. =D
      belladonna, datura, henbane, mandrake, et al are DEFINITELY not something you take ‘for fun’ … but if you’re open to completely new experiences that may be disturbing but will almost certainly result in a learning experience … consider but be VERY careful, for atropine, scopolamine, and hyoscayamine are ALL poisons that have a delicate level between ‘safe’ and deadly. also, they never leave your system, as they are tropane alkaloids.

      1. Could you elaborate on that last point?  If they never leave your system, do they remain dormant or is there ongoing interaction (positive or negative)?

        1.  It’s been awhile, but IIRC it stays in your fatty tissues or something? I forget the specifics, but it’s kinda like PCBs in the water. Builds up over time.
          And I certainly DO still have the occasional ‘flashback’ i suppose you’d call it. Not sure how related that is to what remains in my system.
          Also, unless you’re cooking plants down in a laboratory, you’re never actually sure of your dosages so you’re ALWAYS taking a huge risk with such substances. I admit I was lucky to a degree, but also the person who prepared it had been taught how from native americans. sorry i forget which tribe. he had an M.A. in cultural anthropology with a focus on the Americas. He made a tea and we did a sweat lodge and there were some ritual words …

          1. Drugs don’t “stay in your system” for 20 years. They can, however, open a door in your mind and leave it open. 

            Thus, flashbacks. 

            It’s not like you knock a piece of belladonna loose out of your spine that was hiding since 1987 or something.

          2. IIRC it stays in your fatty tissues or something? I forget the specifics, but it’s kinda like PCBs in the water. Builds up over time.

            No, tropane alkaloids don’t accumulate like that. PCBs do, as does DDT, because they’re extraordinarily hydrophobic.

            THC and some of the other components of cannabis are moderately hydrophobic, and these can stay in the body for a couple of weeks. They aren’t soluble in water, hence the need to use fat or oil to dissolve them if you cook with hash.

            Tropane alkaloids are soluble in water, and most of an oral dose will end up unchanged in the urine; the rest will be gone within a day or so.

      2. Interestingly the second listed ingredient in Asthamador is ‘stramonium’ which is Datura stramonium, so the OP would have had plenty of psychoactive substances all mixing together.

        1. Most plants that contain alkaloids  contain a soup of various alkaloids. So if you die from them, it’s not from getting one big dose of poison, it’s  from ingesting a big combination of sublethal doses of many different toxins which may kill you only after agonizing days of torture.

          1. They do stay in the system tho no? As in they’re still in my system almost 20 years later? If you know, could you elaborate how because I forget the specifics =D

  7. The southern belles used drops of it to dilate their pupils. 
    This discussion reminds me of a line by Mark Twain: “Picking up a cat by the tail will teach a man something he can learn no other way.”

    1. Not according to Drug Enforcement Administrator Leonhart: http://boingboing.net/2012/06/23/top-us-drug-cop-cant-tell-th.html


      1. @boingboing-5c971edc0c2cc92fc99b5a3609450cb7:disqus  i think you mean ACCORDING to Drug Enforcement Administrator Leonhart.  She is the one whom equates them all. 
        @SedanChair:disqus while that comment might work for some, it certainly does not work for all.  some just need to see for themselves and others just don’t like weed; amongst the myriad of other reasons as large as the pool of experimenters, or users.

  8. Your experience was far more dramatic, but in 1976 I learned the “don’t go first rule”.  My friend scored a large quantity of “THC”. which was almost certainly in actuality the horse tranquilizer PCP.  I went first and snorted a large line of it.  I spent an entire night on a couch, staring straight ahead, essentially paralyzed until I finally got my motor skills together enough to throw up all over my friends and the wall with explosive vomit.  Fortunately, my friends that had done a bit less PCP than me were still tranquilized enough that it wasn’t quite as distressing as normal for someone to puke all over them.  Good times, good times.

    1. I knew someone who had done PCP.  He talked about the superhuman strength being more than urban legend and how he and a friend had intentionally walked right through the plate glass window of a bowling alley, emerged relatively unhurt and staggered away laughing.

  9. When approaching atropine, scopolamine, and hyoscayamine, one MUST do it with caution and reverence; be it in  Hensbane, Mandrake, Belladonna, or Datura (my experience. in the woods of the mountains in Virginia.  Let me just say it opened my experiential limits to include the realm of faerie for about 3 days. .. with continuing lingering affects)
    Also, they are CERTAINLY not something well suited to urban environments … or the general public … you DEFINITELY don’t do these looking for “a fun trip” or you’re in for a BIG surprise.

      1. Yep. Don’t specifically recall any leprechauns, but gnomes were rolling me cigarettes when they weren’t turning into sticks. The faerie folk could enter and exit any seemingly material object. They would tease me for not being able to do it myself, like I tease cats for not having opposable thumbs. It never even occurred to me that I might be hallucinating. I let one of them use my sleeping bag that nite as she (?) looked quite comfortable.
        From what I’ve read post-facto, my experience was quite in-line with the norm for datura. Except I approached it with respect and not “for a good time” and, perhaps most importantly, I was on private property in the middle of nowhere. .. there were certain oddities that occurred that would’ve attracted the attention of the authorities were we in civilization at the time. =]

  10. The story that I read (may or may not be true) about how the legend of witches riding around on broomsticks got started was that your average witch/wiccan/pagan/midwife/whatever would make up an ointment incorporating belladonna, smear it on a broom handle, and straddle it while “skyclad” (i.e. naked); she’d absorb enough belladonna through the mucous membranes of her vulva to create the sensation of flying. Could be true, and certainly puts a certain twist on the Harry Potter books if so. 

    1. I too have read that in several sources. Even that they would vaginate the broom handle, not just straddle it. Thus legends of sex with the devil or what have you.

  11. There’s a very overblown video about scoring scopalamine in Columbia, and how it’s used as a date rape drug. 

    Of course, the plants that make this stuff (Devil Trumpet, Jimson Weed) are naturally abundant and also sold as ornamentals.   I used to see Jimson weed all the time growing on river sandbars.  Checking out the seed pods they were packed with bright red bugs just slurping up that poison.

    Not only do these plants give  a bad trip of puking, frightening hallucinations, and temporary BLINDNESS, these really are the drugs that make people do the things LSD supposedly did – implusively gouging out an  eye, cutting off their own tongue, etc etc.

  12. There is a really strange series of anecdotes involving Belladonna and the Manson Family. At some point, before they went off the deep end and became murders, the Manson Girls discovered Belladonna. At first they saw it as a drug, but after trying it a few times, they figured out that it wasn’t really much fun as a high. It made them nauseous, stumbly and sleepy.

    They came up with the bright idea that it would be a useful dug for robbing “squares”, to add cash to their Helter Skelter escape fund. The Manson Girls would all wear little pouches of crushed up Belladonna leaves on their belts, and surre[titously brew up tea and get people to drink it. While these people were bugging out or passing out, they would rob them blind.

    There is one really out there story about the Manson Girls Belladonna Caper, that I read in Ed Sanders Manson book, “The Family”  [ http://www.amazon.com/Family-Ed-Sanders/dp/1560253967 ] which is a really fantastic book. Some of the Manson Girls were hitchhiking in Northern California, near Ukiah. A truck driver, seeing a few cute hippy waifs decided to pick them up. They immediately propositioned him, and convinced him to drive his truck to a secluded rural lane.

    Once they got there, they told him that before they could get it on, they wanted to brew up some coffee for him. One of the Gore Girls snuck off, started a little campfire, and brewed up some Belladonna A short time later, he was losing it, and eventually got sick and passed out. The girls stole he big rig, and drove it to another secluded spot and on the way there, they called Manson and Co who showed up with a few cars and dune buggies. They loaded everything from the trailer into the cars and buggies and were on their way. The driver was found a day later wandering through the woods disoriented, and the truck was found abandoned on some wilderness road.

    Ed Sanders claims this is the first (and only!) robbery conducted with Belladonna as a weapon.

    1. Very similar to the Columbian scopalamine video.  Also, people claimed to have gone into a trance like state where they could be ordered around. One guy claimed to have woken up in his empty apartment and when he asked the doorman why the doorman had let the theives haul away all his stuff, the doorman told the victim that the victim had helped the theives  load the truck.

  13. If he was experimenting with belladonna, was there a control group? It isn’t a real experiment unless there’s a control group. After all, maybe those bugs he was picking off his skin weren’t a hallucination.

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