Tropane Alkaloids in Ancient Practice & Modern Medicine:
Hidden Healing and Curative Properties of a Demonized Plant
"All things are poison and no thing is without poison; the dose makes it a poison or a remedy." - Paracelsus
While the alkaloids of a tropane-based nightshade plant can be considered some of the most devious poisons and feared hallucinogenic substances known to man, there is actually a profound flip side to this equation. The tropane alkaloids- atropine, scopolamine, and hyoscyamine, are also some of the most medicinal compounds when used in smaller amounts.
These plants have been used medicinally and as hallucinogens since the very beginning of our recorded history. It is very important to remember that a poison is only a poison in its dosage. All the medications people take everyday, they have dosages for a simple reason that if the medicinal dosage is exceeded it then becomes a poison. Everything is in some way a poison at a much higher dosage than its suggested use, as so eloquently stated by Paracelsus, an early pioneer of herbalism, alchemy, and healing.
The Way of Solanaceae: Ancient Medicine & Powerful Hallucinogen
The medicinal use of compounds from tropane-based plants in the nightshade family, or Solanaceae, literally stretch across to the entire globe. From Japan to India, Russia to all of Europe, North America to Mexico, to South America, and even to Australia, these plants have always been a staple in either medicinal or spiritual applications worldwide.
Gift of the Gods
These plants have been used by shamans and witches for centuries to open channels to the other side. The elements of reality we see are coming through at a certain vibration. My theory is that since the brain has different channels to perceive it can alternate between different dimensions as though they were channels on a T.V. The brain can attune to other dimensions of time and space by altering the rate of vibration with either powerful meditation or in this case from the ingestion of a powerful hallucinogen. This opens the doorway to communication with the underworld in a dimension far removed from our current medium of reality. This can be further explored from my post on Zombie Parties & Phantom Cigarettes: Strange Phenomena in the Realms of the Unexplained.
A shaman never takes a hallucinogen like a recreational drug or just to feel good. A Shaman takes it with an intent and in combination with meditation or spiritual guidance to see into the spirit world to get information or answers to a problem within his living community. Keep in mind that the survival of a tribe or peoples sometimes depended on the guidance of the shaman and sometimes the way a shaman accessed sensitive information was through the use of plants that brought on knowledge given from the Creator, Gods, or Mother Earth.
Whether the information was thought to be contained in the plant itself or the plant loosened the barriers to communicate with the higher intelligence is not entirely clear in every tribe or people. But the usage of hallucinogenic plants to interact with these other worlds is highly documented around the world.
A Most Ancient Medicine
At the beginning of recorded history solanaceous compounds were being used in medicine. These are truly among the most ancient forms of medicine on record. It was first uncovered that Atropa belladonna was used by the Sumerians as psychiatric medicine to treat conditions brought on by demons that caused depression, psychosis, and delusions.
Whether in India, Japan, Peru, Mexico, Europe, or North America, The indigenous people in these areas all recognize the medicinal value of tropane-based nightshade plants like belladonna, datura, mandrake, henbane, brugmansia, among others. With herbal medicine its application was even more far reaching.
- Rashes & Skin Inflammation
In South America tribes have used the leaves of Brugmansia suaveolens to treat skin rashes, wounds, ulcers, and snakebites. These were helpful in the treatment of the pain involved and to help speed healing. Since tropanes promote a dryness of fluids, this would make sense.
In many areas Datura is smoked to relieve asthma. This was practiced in India for a very long time. The leaves are also smoked with other herbs like tobacco, marijuana and opium. Smoked alone it produced a high similar to marijuana.
- Birth Control
In South America they have employed Brugmansia versicolor in birth control. Although what this did to prevent or reduce the risk of pregnancy is not entirely clear
- Fever and Malaria
In Indian medicine the fruit of Datura metel was used in the treatment of colds, phlegmatic and bilious fevers such as malaria. It was parched in clay pots with cow dung and heated with fire. Afterwards the burnt material was powdered and kept for use in treatment of malaria and fevers alike.
Datura seeds were used in the treatment of patchy baldness. As Indian Dr. Navin Yoshi points out “A paste made with datura seeds, liquorice, saffron and milk cream is heated in coconut oil thoroughly till the solid mass converts to a charred powder. The oil when applied on bald patches has the power to stimulate hair growth.”
- Analgesic and Soporific Sponge
Hyoscyamus niger and Mandragora officianarum have been recognized in more ancient European times in the treatment of pain and especially used a soporific sponge- something used to cause a profound sleep before specific medical operations and bone setting. This would be like an anesthesia before surgery.
a concentrated oil made with Datura leaves, swallow wort, and sesame oil was prepared in the treatment of earache. A few drops of this oil was dropped into the ear and it cured earache and other infections in or around the ear.
The condition of impotency was treated using “The seeds of 15 ripe fruits should be extracted and boiled in eight kilograms of cow’s milk on gentle fire. This milk should then be made into curd in the usual way and churned the next morning to extract butter which is stored in a broad-mouthed bottle. This butter, massaged every morning and evening on the penis and the spine, will provide the desired effect. It is also used as an oral medicine. Four grains with betel leaf can be taken. The use of this butter both externally and internally in this way will gradually promote health and vigor and restore absolute fitness in the body.”*
Indian and other traditional Chinese medicine have recognized the power of tropane alkaloids in treating anxiety disorders. Datura metel was the most commonly used Datura plant in Asia. This has been something I have always wanted to see more research on as I believe that the study of anxiolytics is extremely relevant in today’s society. It would be interesting to measure acetylcholine levels during a state of anxiety. And if this shows to have a heightened flow of acetylcholine during such sates then an anticholinergic would make a lot of sense. I tend to think it’s a worthy area of study.
In parts of Africa Atropa belladonna is used in the treatment of depression. This practice, as I stated earlier, originated at the beginning of recorded history with the Sumerians using it to treat depression caused by ‘demons’.
Aside from what you see before you, I’m sure there are even more applications out there in obscure places, but you get the idea. These are some of the best plants to have at your disposal. If you are an herbalist or even a survivalist it would be a good thing to know how to use these plants. I always go with the notion that if you don’t know your poisons and how to use them medicinally, you’re not the healer you could be.
The use of solanaceous compounds by the modern medical industry is almost as diverse and far reaching as its use in traditional herbal and ancient medicine. In our next section we find these plant compounds at work in so many different areas of medicine and as she so ominously prefers it she remains almost hidden in the backdrop…
Tropane Alkaloids in Modern Medicine
The tropane alkaloids – atropine, scopolamine, and hyoscyamine, isolated from plants in the nightshade family like Atropa belladonna, have played such an important part of our modern medical industry in treating a variety of different types of sickness and disorder. In fact, two of these three compounds (atropine and scopolamine) make it on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines: The most important medications needed in a basic health system.
This is due to the fact that these are extremely effective anticholinergics. As I have stated in a recent post, Lucid Nightmare: Tropane Alkaloids & Acetylcholine:
“Acetylcholine is a parasympathetic neurotransmitter in the brain. I know. it doesn’t really explain things if you aren’t familiar with biology, medicine, toxicology, etc. I will do my best to bridge the gap and put it in such a way that anyone can understand it.
The brain has many important compounds needed to run the body. but for this lesson think of Acetylcholine as say, Windows for a computer. The glue that keeps the system in place to run smoothly. It allows programs to interact with other programs, download information from the net, etc. Much like acetylcholine does within our system. If you removed Windows or OS X from your Computer It would crash.
Parasympathetic means that its actions run “alongside” other transmitters and receptors keeping the nervous systems going. A neurotransmitter is an organic chemical within the brain that relays messages and allows certain functions to occur in the body and mind. Acetylcholine allows calculations and messages to communicate and command important functions autonomously: on its own and without us having to think about it.
Some of these functions include:
- Muscle coordination
- Decision making
- Rest and digest responses
- Saliva/sweat/digestive glands
- Heart rate
It may not be the sole commander in all of these functions but rest assured Acetylcholine makes it all possible. Acetylcholine is a biological necessity in keeping life going.”
The regulation and balance of acetylcholine is extremely important and necessary to maintaining health. That being said, let’s take a look at the ways tropane alkaloids have been useful in bringing our health back into balance…
In the medical industry smoking has always been said to be a hazard among people suffering from asthma. But yet interestingly enough, There was a medicine made by the R. Schiffmann Company in the 1800’s called Asthmador. It was a powdered mixture that was added to herbs and smoked as a cigarette. The main ingredients were hyoscyamine and atropine. These ingredients, when smoked, helped the lungs and the bronchial region to breathe better.
Kind of a paradox in how we understand asthma and smoking today but its the smoking of these horrible commercial cigarettes that made smoking with asthma so horrible. Commercial cigarettes have all sorts of additives that are extremely toxic and unhealthy to the body and especially the lungs. So it is no wonder why smoking with asthma was seen as so destructive. But if the cigarettes were medicated and smoked with herbs known to be easy on the lungs then it can be understood why it happened to be so widespread at one point. But as always with the spirit of Nightshade, she prefers to function in a paradox realm…
Stomach & Digestive Disorder
Many stomach and digestive disorders, diseases, and infections can be alleviated by introducing tropanes into the equation. Because the regulation of the digestive tract is directly regulated by the flow of acetylcholine, administering tropane-based medications can clear this up extremely well, in most cases. These would be disorders such as:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Gastritis/Colitis (inflammation of the digestive tract)
- Crohn’s disease
- Stomach ulcers (sores in the digestive system)
- Stomach spasms/pain
Some of these medications employ tropane alkaloids, which were generically named belladonna alkaloids, and mixed with a sedative barbiturate like phenobarbital. This combination became a most prescribed drug for such disorders under the brand name Donnatal. The belladonna alkaloids are potent in their dosage guidelines and only small amounts of it would be administered in each tablet or elixir dose. This would be a typical dosage of Donnatal:
Motion Sickness & Nausea
Scopolamine has a large place in the medicinal prevention of motion sickness, and especially so with the nausea associated with post-surgery sickness. There is a transdermal scopolamine patch under the brand name Scopoderm. This is a small, clear patch placed behind the ear and allowed to absorb and distribute 1.5 mg of scopolamine over the course of 3 days.
Atropine: The Antidote for Nerve Gas Poisoning
Atropine is an extremely effective antidote for nerve gas poisoning. In the military field many soldiers are equipped with an atropine injection shot that would be administered in the event of nerve gas poisoning.
MARK I Kit, is United States military nomenclature for the “Nerve Agent Antidote Kit”. It is a dual-chamber auto-injector: Two anti-nerve agent drugs — atropine sulfate and pralidoxime chloride — each in injectable form, constitute the kit. The kits are only effective against the nerve gents tabun (GA), sarin (GB), soman (GD) and VX.
If you read my post on acetylcholine and how tropane alkaloids tend to block the flow of acetylcholine, you will understand how this works. A nerve agent is an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor. This inhibits the acetylcholinesterase enzyme from properly breaking down acetylcholine, thereby flooding the brain with too much acetylcholine. As a result, You will have such effects:
- Runny nose and eyes
- increased salivation, drooling, foaming at the mouth
- small, constricted, pinpoint pupils
- headache, fatigue
- Nausea, vomiting,
- muscle tension
So with an anticholinergic agent like atropine, this will halt that overflow of acetylcholine in the brain, thereby bringing the affected person back to health
Twilight Sleep & Child Birth
Scopolamine is also used in combination with morphine to induce a “twilight sleep” while a mother was giving birth. This would combine a shot of analgesia with amnesia. Pain relief and no memory of the event. Once a sought after method, but not without some residual downsides. Removal from the birth experience was important to many mothers. And the primary concern was the effect scopolamine had on the newborn. This would sometimes produce a drowsy, depressed baby with abnormal breathing, and some difficulty in resuscitation.
Hyoscyamine & Parkinson’s Disease
Hyoscyamine is another tropane alkaloid useful in many of the above ailments and disease. But Hyoscyamine is also recognized to help in reducing the effects of Parkinson’s Disease. These include things like drooling, muscle tremors, twitching, etc.
The Future of Tropane Alkaloids in Modern Medicine
This next section will take a look at the potentials of tropane alkaloids in the areas of medicine that are needed most in this troubled world. I believe that these compounds have a much needed place in helping some of the sick in our society. I believe that there is promising research to be done with tropane alkaloids in the treatment of:
- Drug addiction & withdrawal
- Anxiety disorders
- major depression
Drug Addiction & Withdrawal
Its no secret that society in all areas of the world has been riddled with the unfortunate problem of drug addiction. Adding to these already deadly behavior patterns are the agonizing withdrawals produced by opiate-based drugs like heroin, morphine, Oxycontin, fentanyl. Sometimes even more long and drawn out with opiate-derivative drugs like Methadone and Suboxone. There are also a wide variety other drugs that can bring on extremely unpleasant experiences similar to these.
- muscle aches
- runny nose & eyes
- excessive sweating
- inability to sleep
- abdominal cramping
- goose bumps on the skin
- nausea and vomiting
- rapid heartbeat
- high blood pressure
Now let’s look at scopolamine as a potential treatment for this issue.
We know that scopolamine is used for intestinal disorders. This will stop:
- abdominal cramping
Notice how some of these effects have some common effects of nerve gas poisoning. We know that tropanes like scopolamine and atropine dry up the system. This will take care of:
- runny nose & eyes
- excessive sweating.
We know that scopolamine is used to treat motion sickness. This would remove:
- Nausea and vomiting.
We know that Hyoscyamine is used to treat muscle issues and general restlessness in Parkinson’s Disease. So this could also play a part in relieving:
- Muscle aches
We know that scopolamine is used to put mothers in child birth into twilight sleep. It is generally known to have sedative qualities that would reduce agitation/anxiety and enable one to sleep. This would reverse:
- Inability to sleep
- High blood pressure
- Rapid heartbeat
- Goosebumps on the skin
These could be probably be managed with some other medications and it is possible that the general sedative quality of scopolamine could bring these things down but as far as alleviating the suffering of withdrawal is concerned, this is very promising. I’m very surprised that the medical industry has not run any clinical trials, considering how many people are affected by opiate addiction today. It has become like an epidemic here in the United States.
There is however, promising research already done by a group of doctors in China who actually ran the trials with much success and it seems that he is using that method regularly now for opiate addicts. I found this information in a published medical journal entitled:
This was run by a Dr. Yang G., Xu K., and Luo Q. at the Ningbo Drug Withdrawal Research Center in Ningbo, China.
The trial was as follows:
OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the efficacy of treatment of heroin addicts (n = 100) by scopolamine detoxification (10 days program). METHODS: Methadone detoxification (10 days program) group (n = 50) and clonidine treated group (n = 50) served as controls. RESULTS: The scores of abstinence syndrome in scopolamine detoxification group were lower that those in clonidine treated group in the first three days of protocol, but this difference disappeared in the late stage of treatment. While scopolamine detoxification was effective as methadone detoxification in the control of abstinence syndrome during the first five days of treatment but the difference in the scores of abstinence syndrome between scopolamine and methadone group was observed during the late five days of protocol. The side-effects produced by scopolamine in general were dry mouth, somnolence, tachycardia, blurred vision and so on, which relieved gradually or disappeared with decreasing of its doses. CONCLUSION: Scopolamine does not result in potential dependence and has definite curative effect in the treatment of heroin addiction.
So here we have it that in fact scopolamine is very useful in the treatment of opiate withdrawal and the management of the early stages, without having to resort to keeping patients on more addictive opiate based medications like Suboxone and Methadone.
There are also a few other articles I found in published medical journals on these same principles and some by the same doctors:
The combined use of scopolamine, naltrexone and naloxone as a rapid, safe and effective detoxification treatment for heroin addicts
Tropane Alkaloids & Anxiolytics
The use of solanaceous compounds could be a very promising road for those who suffer from anxiety disorders if the medical industry found it a worthy road for research. I’m actually very surprised it hasn’t been studied already. I had been wondering for some time now if there’s a relationship between acetylcholine & anxiety. I would bet to say there is a definitive link.
I was talking to a Dr. Marina Picciotto, PhD from the Yale School of Medicine in recent months about tropane alkaloids in the study of anxiolytics, or anti-anxiety medication. She did some research earlier in her career with anticholinergics in the treatment of depression. I asked her if there was any research done on anticholinergics in treating anxiety. She was not aware of any research being done on humans but her response is telling because apparently there was some research done on mice and found that link between acetylcholine and anxiety:
“Acetylcholine blockers have not been tried for anxiety in humans, that I know of, but increasing acetylcholine in mouse brain increases behaviors related to anxiety. This could be an interesting direction for human anxiolytic development.“
We know from earlier in this post that some of the traditional medicine of India and surrounding areas have utilized Datura metel in the treatment of anxiety for many years. There is only one rationale explanation for their continual practice of using it to treat anxiety: it works.
the solanaceae and Major Depression
It is a fact that when the brain produces too much acetylcholine this can result in depression. So if that is true an anticholinergic must be of some use. After all, it has been used in traditional medicine for such a condition. Earlier in this post we saw how some of the earliest known people, the Sumerians, used Atropa belladonna for this condition. This could very well be the earliest known treatment for depression.
Fast forward to current time, as I stated just above that a Dr. Marina Picciotto, PhD from Yale had initially done some research in this area of anticholinergics for the treatment of depression. How far she went with this is currently unknown to me, but how she came to the conclusion that an anticholinergic could possibly be a remedy for depression is still unclear. Perhaps it was the research done on what happens in the brain when acetylcholine production is on overdrive that brought her to this conclusion. What is rather telling, given that Ms. Picciotto is unaware of the Sumerian people’s remedy for depression, Atropa belladonna as an anticholinergic, may be more revealing than meet’s the eye. Perhaps the Sumerians were not as primitive as we originally thought?
A Sacred Plant long demonized
It seems to sometimes be forgotten that the Dark Lady that is the Spirit of Nightshade is not always as mean and sinister as she is painted to be. She gets a bad rap because unsuspecting teenagers and thrill seekers don’t treat her with respect. They go tear off a few seedpods from a neighbor’s datura plant because they heard one could ‘trip’ or ‘get fucked up’ off it. The next thing you know one kid is dead and two surviving friends come back with a horror story of an intense hallucinogenic experience of what her world was like.
Then there is the criminal element of scopolamine. How dangerous her gifts can be when used for criminal intent or even murder. But this again, is misuse of the plant and it cannot be held against her because people have malice in their hearts.
I once came across someone in a forum on a psychedelics website who blamed the Manson Family murders solely on the fact that months before the Tate Murders they had used jimsonweed excessively. That this was the cause. Charlie did not brainwash them. She made them do it.
So quick to place blame on these compounds and on her in general but not many seem to recognize all the good that she has brought our species. How painful things like bone setting would have been if not for the soporific sponge of nightshade plants like henbane and mandrake. How horrible a death would have resulted on the killing fields if not for atropine to reverse the deadly effects of nerve agents? The people of indigenous tribes have always recognized the tropane-based nightshade plant as a sacred plant. This was a gift of the Gods and for a plant that can bring so many things to both shaman and his people as both entheogen and medicine, it was right to embrace it as such. Our current paradigm, far removed from the give and take of nature, loses so much in denying our connection to sacred plants. And as far as sacred plants are concerned, the Nightshade family is one of a kind. For what plant could open the doors of death as well as it opens the doors to life?
Ayushdarpan. “Medicinal Importance of Thorn Apple/Datura Metel/Angel’s Trumpet.” YouTube. YouTube, 2012. Web. 02 Aug. 2016.
Cleversley, Keith. “Atropa Belladonna – Belladonna – Entheology.com.” Entheologycom. N.p., 2002. Web. 02 Aug. 2016.
Cleversley, Keith. “Brugmansia Suaveolens – Angel’s Trumpet – Entheology.com.” Entheology.com. N.p., 2002. Web. 02 Aug. 2016.
Cleversley, Keith. “Datura Metel – Indian Thorn Apple – Entheology.com.” Entheology.com. N.p., 2002. Web. 03 Aug. 2016.