atropa belladonna and hallucinations

atropa belladonna and hallucinations
   Atropa belladonna is known under many names, including belladonna, black cherry, devil's cherries, devil's herb, divale, dwale, dwayberry, great morel, mandragora of Theophrastus, naughty man's cherries, and Solanum lethale. The name Atropa derives from Atropos, in Greek mythology the name of one of the Fates who held the shears to cut the thread of human life. The name belladonna comes from the Italian words bella (beautiful) and donna (lady). It is said to refer to the erstwhile custom whereby Italian women used the substance to dilate their pupils, so as to appear more attractive to men. In an alternative reading, belladonna preparations were thought to promote a fair complexion. The introduction of the name belladonna has been attributed to the Italian herbalist Petrus Andreas Matthiolus (1500-1577). It was the Flemish physician and botanist Charles de l'Écluse, better known as Carolus Clusius (1526-1609), who first used belladonna as a generic name, while the Swedish physician, botanist, and biologist Carl von Linné or Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778) added the name Atropa. A. belladonna is a perennial herbaceous plant of the family Solanaceae or nightshade, which contains the powerful tropane alkaloids atropine, apoatropine, hyoscine (i.e. scopo-lamine), and hyoscyamine. Since ancient times the plant's root, leaves, and berries have been used as an " entheogen, an aphrodisiac, a therapeutic, an anaesthetic, an analgesic, and a poison, as well as for many other purposes. A. belladonna is indigenous to Europe, North Africa, and western Asia. As the ingestion of one leaf of A. belladonna can lead to death in an adult, it is considered one of the most toxic plants found in the Western world (hence the generic name Atropa). Using the criterion of psychoac-tive potential as a guiding principle, belladonna is usually classified as a "deliriant. The symptoms of belladonna intoxication are similar to those of henbane and atropine. They include anticholiner-gic symptoms such as mydriasis, blurred vision, tachycardia, vertigo, a sense of suffocation, an extremely dry throat, constipation, and urinary retention, as well as "illusions, hallucinations, the so-called belladonna "delirium, sopor, and eventually coma and death (usually due to respiratory paralysis). Pathophysiologically, these symptoms are associated with the inhibition of the action of acetylcholine at the acetylcholine receptor in the nerve synapse, thereby blocking the physiological function of the parasympathetic nervous system. A person intentionally employing belladonna for the purpose of exploring the psyche may be called a " psychonaut. Belladonna is seldom used as a " hallucinogen for recreational purposes. It can be smoked, ingested raw, or consumed in the form of a tea. In all cases, belladonna is reputed to mediate vivid "visual or "compound hallucinations, sometimes described as a 'living dream', complete with highly realistic scenes and "personifications. According to the German anthropologist and ethnopharmacologist Christian Rätsch (b. 1957), "Belladonna-induced hallucinations are typically described as threatening, dark, demonic, devilish, hellish, very frightening, and profoundly terrifying. Many users have compared the effects to the effects of a 'Hieronymus Bosch trip' and have indicated that they have no intention of repeating the experiment." The use of belladonna carries a grave risk of an accidental overdose. Moreover, belladonna's lack of popularity as a recreational drug is due primarily to the adverse anticholinergic effects it induces. These tend to commence before the onset of the hallucinations and to continue during the hallucinatory episode. Because belladonna slows the motility of the stomach and gut, the side effects may continue for a long time after the moment of ingestion.
   Pultney, R., Watson, W. (1757). A brief botanical and medical history of the Solanum lethale, Bella-donna, or Deadly nightshade, by Mr. Richard Pultney. Communicated by Mr. William Watson, F.R.S. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 50, 62-88.
   Rätsch, Chr. (2005). The encyclopedia of psychoactive plants. Ethnopharmacology and its applications. Translated by Baker, J.R. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press.
   Fig. 12 Atropa belladonna. Woodcut. Source: Tabernaemontanus, J.Th. (1687). Neu Vollkommen Kräuter-Buch. Basel: Joh. Ludwig König und Johann Brandmyller

Dictionary of Hallucinations. . 2010.

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