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What is Datura?

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  • Written By: Soo Owens
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 06 December 2016
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Datura is a plant genus. The species included within the genus are all flowering plants that bloom in the evening. Each of the nine species within Datura are toxic, and many of them have been used as hallucinogens or poisons. Examples include Datura stramonium or Jimson Weed, Datura inoxia, and Datura wrightii.

The genus Datura is a member of the Soloanaceae family, which also includes the Nicotiana genus, tobacco, and the Solanum genus, made up of tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant. This family is frequently cultivated by humans, who grow many of the species for food and medicinal purposes. Many other species contain toxic alkaloids, which are detrimental to human health and sometimes deadly.

Datura species are considered herbaceous, meaning the stem and leaves of the plant return to ground level when the plant reaches the end of its growth cycle and its flowers stop blooming. Despite the absence of a woody stem, the single flower does not droop but firmly holds its upright position. Datura can reach heights of up to 2 feet (70 cm), while the leaves often grow to about 6 inches (15 cm) long with miniscule hairs covering the surface.

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The upright flowers are shaped like bells and may be white, pink, or purple depending on the species. Other, less common Datura may even have red or yellow petals that display lighter hues the farther away form the stem the flower grows. Datura flowers can be anywhere from 2 inches (5 cm) to 7 inches (20 cm) long. The seeds are produced in small, spiked pods that open and release them when ripe.

Species within Datura possess tropane alkaloids, especially in the flowers and seeds, making them toxic to many animals, including humans. Throughout history, these plants have been gathered and used to produce deadly poisons and to induce hallucinogenic visions. The practice of harvesting Datura for lethal and hallucinogenic purposes dates back to at least 3,000 BCE and is prevalent in shamanic cultures.

Similarly, the tropine alkaloids, particularly atropine and scopolamine, found in Datura species are anticholinergic, which means they inhibit the central and peripheral nervous system's ability to control involuntary movements. These alkaloids can affect a number of different nerve receptors in various parts of the body, such as the lungs and gastrointestinal tract, depending on the species of Datura. Death can result from circulatory, reparatory, gastrointestinal, and urinary system shutdown upon overdose.

Cases of Datura overdose, especially from recreational use, are common in uninformed individuals. If a child ingests Datura, fatality is the typical outcome. Overdose can induce symptoms for up to 36 hours, during which time hospitalization is necessary.

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