Jimson weed (Datura stramonium, a member of the Belladonna alkyloid family) is a plant growing naturally in West Virginia and has been used as a home remedy since colonial times. Due to its easy availability and strong anticholinergic properties, teens are using Jimson weed as a drug. Plant parts ca … Appreciate this witchy weed’s beautiful blooms and spiky seedpods, but beware. Its notoriously toxic seeds and leaves can cause convulsions, hallucinations or even death, and climate change is making its poisons even more powerful. Learn more about JIMSON WEED uses, effectiveness, possible side effects, interactions, dosage, user ratings and products that contain JIMSON WEED.
The dangers of jimson weed and its abuse by teenagers in the Kanawha Valley of West Virginia
Jimson weed (Datura stramonium, a member of the Belladonna alkyloid family) is a plant growing naturally in West Virginia and has been used as a home remedy since colonial times. Due to its easy availability and strong anticholinergic properties, teens are using Jimson weed as a drug. Plant parts can be brewed as a tea or chewed, and seed pods, commonly known as “pods” or “thorn apples,” can be eaten. Side effects from ingesting jimson weed include tachycardia, dry mouth, dilated pupils, blurred vision, hallucinations, confusion, combative behavior, and difficulty urinating. Severe toxicity has been associated with coma and seizures, although death is rare. Treatment consists of activated charcoal and gastric lavage. Esmolol or other beta-blocker may be indicated to reduce severe sinus tachycardia. Seizures, severe hypertension, severe hallucinations, and life-threatening arrhythmias are indicators for the use of the anticholinesterase inhibitor, Physostigmine. This article reviews the cases of nine teenagers who were treated in hospitals in the Kanawha Valley after ingesting jimson weed. We hope this article will help alert primary care physicians about the abuse of jimson weed and inform health officials about the need to educate teens about the dangers of this plant.
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Weed of the Month: Jimson Weed
Jimson weed (Datura stramonium) is a beautiful, witchy plant that begins blooming in late summer and continues through the first frost. A member of the notorious nightshade family, its more famous cousins include tomato, eggplant, pepper, tobacco, and potato. Most members of this plant family are poisonous, and jimson weed is no exception. All parts of the plant are toxic, most particularly the seeds. Potent amounts of alkaloid compounds are present, which potentially cause convulsions, hallucinations, and even death if ingested. And as climate change increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, studies have found that the toxicity of plants like jimson weed only increases.
The genus name Datura comes from the Hindi word for the plant, noteworthy since most botanical names are derived from Latin or Greek. The origins of the plant itself are contested—every source I checked listed a different native origin, ranging from Mexico to India, and it now grows all over the world. Not surprisingly, it has found its way into many cultural and medicinal traditions. Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine, and Native American shamanistic practices all employ jimson weed medicinally or ritualistically. Its seeds and leaves are used as an antiasthmatic, antispasmodic, hypnotic, and narcotic.
Having grown up in Virginia, I was intrigued by one of the common names I saw recurring in my plant books—Jamestown weed—and researched the origins. One story simply connects the first New World observations of the plant to settlers in this early Virginia colony. A more famous tale tells of the plant’s accidental ingestion by some British soldiers sent there to suppress Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676. After eating some in a stew, the soldiers spent 11 days in a hallucinatory stupor, blowing feathers, kissing and pawing their companions, and making faces and grinning “like monkey[s].”
Jimson weed’s white to purple blooms are fragrant at night, attracting moths and other nocturnal pollinators, a common trait in white-bloomed plants. The rest of the plant, however, is stinky! Crush and sniff the oaklike leaves, and you’ll understand why domesticated and wild animals avoid eating this plant—it smells a bit like feet. Indeed, accidental poisonings tend be more common among humans than among other animals.
Though the trumpet-shaped flowers are stunning, my favorite part of the plant is the devilish-looking seedpod. The size of a Ping-Pong ball and covered in spikes, the seed capsule splits into four parts like a monster’s maw, revealing the dark brown seeds inside. In the winter you might notice its tall, dry stalks bearing the prickly seedpods, which to me look like the scepter for a demon. With all its extraordinary looks and lore, jimson weed is a fascinating plant to contemplate (but maybe not cultivate)!
The Weed of the Month series explores the ecology and history of the common wild plants that most gardeners consider weeds.
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Saara Nafici is the executive director of Added Value/Red Hook Community Farm. She is also the former coordinator of the Garden Apprentice Program at Brooklyn Botanic Garden and a longtime activist, feminist, bicyclist, naturalist, and youth educator. Follow her weedy plant adventures on Instagram.
JIMSON WEED – Uses, Side Effects, and More
Jimson weed is a plant. The leaves and seeds are used to make medicine.
Despite serious safety concerns, jimson weed is used to treat asthma, cough, flu (influenza), swine flu, and nerve diseases.
Some people use it as a recreational drug to cause hallucinations and a heightened sense of well-being (euphoria). Parents should be warned about the online availability of jimson weed for purchase.
How does it work ?
Jimson weed contains chemicals such as atropine, hyoscyamine, and scopolamine. These chemicals interfere with one of the chemical messengers (acetylcholine) in the brain and nerves.
Uses & Effectiveness ?
Insufficient Evidence for
- Nerve diseases.
- Causing hallucinations and elevated mood (euphoria).
- Other conditions.
Jimson weed is UNSAFE when taken by mouth or inhaled. It is poisonous and can cause many toxic effects including dry mouth and extreme thirst, vision problems, nausea and vomiting, fast heart rate, hallucinations, high temperature, seizures, confusion, loss of consciousness, breathing problems, and death. The deadly dose for adults is 15-100 grams of leaf or 15-25 grams of the seeds.
Special Precautions and Warnings
Jimson weed is UNSAFE when taken by mouth or inhaled. It is poisonous and can cause many toxic effects including dry mouth and extreme thirst, vision problems, nausea and vomiting, fast heart rate, hallucinations, high temperature, seizures, confusion, loss of consciousness, breathing problems, and death. The deadly dose for adults is 15-100 grams of leaf or 15-25 grams of the seeds. No one should take jimson weed, but certain people are especially at risk for toxic side effects. These side effects are especially dangerous if you have any of the following conditions:
Children: Jimson weed is UNSAFE when taken by mouth or inhaled by children. They are more sensitive than adults to the toxic effects of jimson weed. Even a small amount can kill them.
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Jimson weed is UNSAFE for both mother and child when taken by mouth or inhaled.
Congestive heart failure (CHF): Jimson weed might cause rapid heartbeat and make CHF worse.
Constipation: Jimson weed might cause constipation.
Down syndrome: People with Down syndrome might be especially sensitive to the dangerous side effects of jimson weed.
Seizures: Jimson weed can cause seizures. Do not use jimson weed if you suffer from frequent seizures.
Esophageal reflux: In esophageal reflux, food and liquid in the stomach leak backwards into the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach (esophagus). Jimson weed might make this condition worse because it slows down the process that empties the stomach. It also lowers the pressure in the bottom of the esophagus, making it more likely that stomach contents will go back up.
Fever: Jimson weed might make fever worse.
Stomach ulcer: Jimson weed might delay stomach emptying and make ulcers worse.
Stomach and intestinal infections: Jimson weed might slow down the emptying of the stomach and intestines. As a result, “bad” bacteria and the toxins they produce could remain in the digestive tract longer than usual. This could make infections caused by these bacteria worse.
Hiatal hernia: Hiatal hernia is a condition in which part of the stomach is pushed up into the chest through a hole or tear in the diaphragm. The diaphragm is the muscle that separates the chest space from the stomach space. Taking jimson weed might make hiatal hernia worse. It can slow down the process that empties the stomach.
Glaucoma: Glaucoma is an eye disease. It raises the pressure inside the eye and can lead to blindness, if it isn’t treated. Jimson weed is especially dangerous for people with glaucoma because it might raise the pressure inside the eye even more.
Obstructive digestive tract disorders, including atony, paralytic ileus, and stenosis: Jimson weed might make these conditions worse.
Rapid heartbeat: Jimson weed might make this condition worse.
Toxic megacolon: In this life-threatening condition, the large intestine (colon) suddenly becomes extra wide because of an infection or other intestinal disorder. Taking jimson weed might make this condition worse.
Ulcerative colitis: This is an inflammatory bowel disorder that affects the large intestine. Taking jimson weed might make this condition worse.
Difficulty passing urine (urinary retention): Taking jimson weed might make this condition worse.
Be cautious with this combination
Drying medications (Anticholinergic drugs) interacts with JIMSON WEED
Jimson weed contains chemicals that cause a drying effect. It also affects the brain and heart. Drying medications called anticholinergic drugs can also cause these effects. Taking jimson weed and drying medications together might cause side effects including dry skin, dizziness, low blood pressure, fast heartbeat, and other serious side effects.
Some of these drying medications include atropine, scopolamine, and some medications used for allergies (antihistamines), and for depression (antidepressants).
The appropriate dose of jimson weed depends on several factors such as the user’s age, health, and several other conditions. At this time there is not enough scientific information to determine an appropriate range of doses for jimson weed. Keep in mind that natural products are not always necessarily safe and dosages can be important. Be sure to follow relevant directions on product labels and consult your pharmacist or physician or other healthcare professional before using.
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