Say the word “Datura” to a knowledgeable forager and her eyes will grow wide; she may even shudder. Many tales are told about the powerful hallucinogen inside those spiny seed pods, and rarely are they anything but ominous. “Unprepared trippers often end their journeys in straitjackets,” wrote Daniel Pinchbeck in his book Breaking Open The Head.
Shadows swallowed the candlelit room my friend Wesley was sitting in, growing darker and darker, after he ate a pod and a half of the ground seeds many years ago. The air thickened. His body was heavy and walking felt like “swimming through the air.” His dry throat cried out for water but “it tasted so terrible I spit it out.” He gave up, sat back down on the couch with several friends and talked; they had conversations that went on for the whole six-hour trip. It was not until later that he realized, to his surprise, that he had been fading in and out of sleep by himself and they hadn’t really been there. “In retrospect, I realize I was seeing other entities that were present,” he said.
Now years into his studies of shamanic plant medicine, Wesley says he isn’t ready for round two. “It’s very easy for dark beings to get attached to you when you’re on Datura so I am interested in trying it in the future but I’m waiting until I feel better prepared at protecting myself to do so,” he said. “I want to exercise proper caution.”
In 1676, Datura sent some unwitting British soldiers into a stupor for 11 days, according to New York Times blogger Ava Chin.
Datura has been used as a weapon — fatal poison — according to Native American Ethnobotany by Daniel E. Moerman. Not all uses are dark, though: The Cahuilla have looked to Datura for assistance in magical shapeshifting rituals and in male rite-of-passage ceremonies; the Paiute for visions of dead relatives. And some uses are more medicinal — the Mahuna, Moerman says, used it topically as an anti-venom for tarantula bites and the Navajo in a narcotic formulation for pain relief. Interestingly, Moerman mostly refers to preparations of the root whereas most contemporary trip reports refer to ingestion of the seeds.
I’ve seen Datura growing on the street but also in vacant lots. Even if you haven’t stopped to check out the seed pods up close, you may recognize its notorious white trumpet-shaped flower in this photo taken by First Ways reader Patrick Barabe, who passed it along during a Facebook chat. Have you ever walked by Datura on the street? Have you or anyone you know had experiences with it?