While it’s not one of the more well-known hallucinogens, scopolamine is a well known deliriant. It’s been used for centuries, but not always for good purposes. Though some question its misuse in criminal activity, there is valid evidence of these occurrences, highlighting, along with its medical properties, the two very different sides of scopolamine.
Scopolamine is an interesting drug with a history for medical use, government use, and criminal use. This publication focuses on providing independent news for the cannabis and psychedelics fields. Head over to the Cannadelics Weekly Newsletter for daily updates, and also get yourself prime access to deals on everything from smoking devices to cannabinoid products, like HHC-O, Delta 8, Delta 9 THC, Delta-10 THC, THCO, THCV, THCP & HHC. You can find more info in our ‘Best of’ lists, and please, only buy products you’re happy with using.
What is scopolamine?
Scopolamine, which also goes by the names hyoscine and Devil’s Breath, is an alkaloid found in plants like Hyoscyamus albus and Datura stramonium. It’s a part of the antimuscarinic family of compounds, which makes it an anticholinergic drug. Anticholinergic drugs – especially in big doses – are considered deliriant hallucinogens, because of their ability to cause hallucinations in users. Scopolamine is also found in many plants of the nightshade family, a family that includes tomatoes, potatoes and bell peppers. It first gained attention in the late 1800’s, and began being used as an anesthesia around 1900.
Scopolamine has been used for centuries, going back 3000 years, but most information on it, centers on the last hundred years, or so. Around the time it started being used as an anesthesia, it also began use as an amnesia-causing agent for women in childbirth, wherein it was given along with morphine. The two together started the practice of what’s called ‘twilight sleep’ where a patient is put in a state where they’re awake, but in a dreamlike trance. This state is induced for many medical procedures today.
The drug resides in the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, and is generally used these days to treat motion sickness, as well as nausea and vomiting after operations, and to decrease saliva before operations. Scopolamine is given orally, by injection, or with a patch. By injection it takes about 20 minutes for effects to begin. Standard side effects are listed as sleepiness, blurred vision, dilated pupils, and dry mouth, but these relate to use of the drug in small amounts, and do not account for what happens when more is taken.
The other side of scopolamine
Everything above makes the plant sound like a generally good natural medicine, and this is true. But another truth of almost any compound, is that in different doses, wildly different effects can take place. Scopolamine is a great example. An interesting finding during the time scopolamine was used for women during childbirth, is that when they were on it, they answered questions very honestly.
This ability was co-opted by none other than the US’s CIA, where it was used as a truth serum for interrogations. This ability implies quite a bit though. It implies that when on a high enough dose, that a person can’t create argumentative thoughts or lies, and becomes passive to all suggestion. It’s apparently been used a few times in Czechoslovakia to get dissidents to confess. There are also reports of scopolamine use by Nazis for interrogation purposes, and by different crime fighting organizations in the US.
According to a CIA document via Truthout, scopolamine use was discontinued because “Among the most disabling of the side effects are hallucinations, disturbed perception, somnolence, and physiological phenomena such as headache, rapid heart, and blurred vision, which distract the subject from the central purpose of the interview. Furthermore, the physical action is long, far outlasting the psychological effects.”
The document further revealed that scopolamine was used in a US Navy research program by the name of Project Chatter from 1947-1953. The program “focused on the identification and testing of such drugs for use in interrogations and in the recruitment of agents.” Of course, though this was the reasoning, the drug was used later on detainees in the War on Terror, making the reasoning sound like a story to tell the public only.
This ability for use in interrogation certainly brings up questions about just how powerful the drug is, and just how dangerous it can be. Though some articles like to downplay use of scopolamine in crime, many more back it up. Why there are two different stories here is a good question, and it could be nothing more than pressure to protect the interests of companies producing pharmaceutical versions of scopolamine (supposition), since it is widely used as a medicine, where its undesirable to have fear. Outside of medical use, however, scopolamine is known by some as ‘the most dangerous drug in the world.’
Scopolamine and crime
While there are articles that downplay the danger, it should be remembered that we’re talking about a compound that was used to elicit confessions. We might not have much official information from those times, as government entities aren’t usually big on releasing their private (and often controversial) testing information, but we do know it made women going through childbirth, super willing to be honest. So, we know its not about inducing pain in an interrogation, but essentially, taking away the person’s ability to lie or fight back intellectually.
It’s not shocking that a compound of this nature would find itself used for criminal activities. After all, isn’t it easier for a criminal if you give up your bank code, and willingly let them take your stuff? Well, that’s exactly how it’s used, with rumors of it slipped in drinks, or a powder blown in people’s faces. Stories out of Colombia tell of local women taking advantage of rich tourists, and of robberies where the victim simply sat there and watched their things be taken. To anyone watching, no crime was committed. Some stories go as far as saying touching the substance is enough for these effects, but its likely such exaggerations are what cause confusion in the first place.
How often does this happen, and where? The where is easier. Reports surface in South America, with Colombia being a main hot spot. And there’s a lot of documented evidence to support these occurrences, like this report from 2017 entitled Million dollar ride: Crime committed during involuntary scopolamine intoxication. As of yet, there aren’t official numbers, but an advisory from 2012 used the number 50,000. Several reports have come out over the years, with the Overseas Security Advisory Council stating in 2014:
“The U.S. Embassy informs U.S. citizens that the Regional Security Office has received a number of recent reports regarding the use of the drug Scopolamine to facilitate robberies and in the furtherance of other crimes. This drug can render a victim unconscious for 24 hours or more, but the initial effect is to render a person complacent and unaware of their surroundings. In large doses, as in a recent case in Guayaquil, it can cause respiratory failure and death.
It is often administered in liquid or powder form in foods and beverages. Scopolamine can also be given in a residue on handouts from street vendors and promoters. The majority of these incidents occur in night clubs and bars, sometimes men, perceived to be wealthy, are targeted for crimes of opportunity. Other cases involve women victims for the facilitation of sexual assaults. To minimize the chances of becoming a Scopolamine victim, never leave food or beverages unattended, and do not accept food or beverages offered by strangers or new acquaintances. If you are a victim of Scopolamine or other drugs, seek immediate medical attention.”
A study out of Madrid from 2022 shows that the drug is used elsewhere in the world. The study, Drug facilitated crimes by “burundanga” or scopolamine, assessed drug facilitated crimes in San Carlos Clinical Hospital in Madrid. All analysis was done at the National Institute of Toxicology and Forensic Sciences, also in Madrid.
According to the findings, 1 out of 292 records included scopolamine. While this might not sound like much, consider that this is usually a crime carried out in South America, so the fact that there was any case in a place like Madrid, says a lot for possible uses in other places.
Let’s think about it…
The situation around scopolamine is odd, and a little like the situation with absinthe, in that there shouldn’t be confusion. Both wormwood (from absinthe) and scopolamine are testable substances, each with a long enough history of accumulated evidence. Why are there different stories? This can be seen with drugs like cannabis and psychedelics as well, where though plenty of evidence from years of use exists, publications will often still put out stories saying the opposite, even as the stories go against nearly all personal experiences.
It’s almost funny that with wormwood’s long history, and absinthe’s many decades of use, that there’s still uncertainty. Yeah, it could be the high proof alcohol, but wormwood is a tincture. All you’d have to do is test out different quantities, in something other than alcohol. It’s strange that no study was done like this, or if it was, it’s certainly not available to the public. It gets weirder still when considering the absinthe craze was so big, culminating in bans. Bans which then got lifted…but without this testing done. So while plenty exists about wormwood, the question of simply whether it causes its own specific high and hallucinations, wasn’t answered, though plenty of people attest to its abilities.
In the same vein, scopolamine has been around for centuries, with Datura used for tons of ritualistic ceremonies, purely for the reason that it gets people messed up, and causes hallucinations and other spiritual feelings. Plus, we actually know it was used by different groups in interrogation, specifically because it got people to talk honestly, to not fight back, and to not even remember the session.
Is it that weird to think the same thing capable of eliciting confessions from those who otherwise wouldn’t give them, would also be used to rob people (and kidnap or rape them)? Seems pretty straightforward to me. Yet for whatever reason, even with evidence, many publications will deny this entirely. Sometimes as consumers, we just don’t get the full story, and unfortunately, we don’t always get to know why.
Scopolamine, like many other plants, has plenty of medical benefits, but it also has a darker side. Travelers should always be wary of their surroundings, as scopolamine is certainly not the only way to drug a person. It does seem this deliriant hallucinogen has some interesting effects, but should definitely be used with caution, outside of a medical setting (Eastern or Western).
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