The tree of drunkeness

The flowers in the picture are from one of the most notorious plants in South America. Brugmansia is widespread across the continent and is strongly psychoactive causing disorientation, hallucinations and memory loss.

This is due to the fact that it contains high levels of the drug scopolamine and, as a result, it has been used for generations by many native peoples for shamanic rituals.

It is perhaps more commonly known for its criminal uses, however, particularly as a dried, powdered form, known as ‘burundanga’ where it is slipped into someone’s drink making them liable to assault, theft or worse.

There is an interesting popular belief about the drug, namely that it removes free will. The idea being that you have all your mental faculties but will do whatever is suggested to you without resistance, so criminals can get you to take out money from the cash machine or hand them the keys to your house.

This has never been tested though, so we simply don’t know, although one study indicates that scopolamine reduces our ability to keep information in mind but leaves the processes that manipulate it unaffected, perhaps suggesting that victims remain cognitively sharp, but mentally empty.

The plants are remarkably common (I took the photo above at the side of the road in the Risaralda department of Colombia) which probably accounts for their common use although they are not well known outside of Latin America. In fact, the only scientific review article on the psychology and neuroscience of ‘burundanga’ intoxication is in Spanish.

Work in published in English tends to focus on lab-based experiments using scopoloamine as a model of amnesia, plus the occasional sensationalist story in the press about ‘zombie drugs’.

However, the local name for the plant is ‘el borrachero’ – literally, the drunkeness.

Link to Wikipedia page on brugmansia.

5 Comments

  1. Joey Mack
    Posted June 6, 2010 at 12:09 am | Permalink

    Go to erowid.org and read some trip reports, pretty wild.

  2. Posted June 6, 2010 at 12:14 am | Permalink

    Hello Vaughan:
    Here in Peru this plant is known with the name of ‘chamico’ and it is used in folk medicine for get the male partner of a couple more docile and manageable. Big Pharma have to know this, I think. Just imagine the blockbuster.

  3. Posted July 14, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    There is an interesting popular belief about the drug, namely that it removes free will. The idea being that you have all your mental faculties but will do whatever is suggested to you without resistance, so criminals can get you to take out money from the cash machine or hand them the keys to your house.
    I don’t recall using Brugmansia* specifically, but I do have a lot of experience with the Datura genus which are all Tropane containing plants as well. I am not sure how accurate the notion of having all one’s faculties in place would be. While a person under the influence of such plants would be easy to control, they would likely be suffering at least some cognitive impairment. Given even a little higher dose than necessary and they would be unlikely to have a clue what is actually happening in reality.
    I also would point out that the memory loss issue is also rather more complicated than first glance. I have pretty solid recall of most of my experiences with Tropane plants, they just don’t happen to include what was happening outside my head. Ie. I could tell you a lot about what I thought was happening, directly from memory. The only way I can describe what was actually happening, is only through the descriptions of others.
    * After a friend read my response to Abel Pharmboy’s post (here) he emailed me and mentioned that Brugmansia was one of the plants he was cultivating and is pretty sure that I used some. Understand that during that period of my life, I was using damned near every hallucinogen I could get my hands on – most every drug period, really. So many things have gotten jumbled into the mix.

  4. Uncle B
    Posted November 10, 2011 at 12:57 am | Permalink

    Strange for this to appear on the web! Watch the American kids when they catch onto this one! Pain reliever for the masses! Corporate living ‘Easing” Goddamn!

  5. me
    Posted April 1, 2013 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    The CIA uses it regularly. Thieves in Colombia use it every day in combination with other drugs. Is not a ‘popular belief’ and this is not a recreational drug. Search for emburundangado


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