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.