Angel’s trumpet or Devil’s breath?
When you talk about drugs for a long time, there’s a recurrent name you hear over and over: Angel’s trumpet.
Chances are you won’t get much information about it. If you’re lucky, someone will look at you straight in the eye and tell you he or she tried it. You’ll ask how it was and he or she will probably look down and say “It was crazy!” Some hazy recollections might include momentarily feeling like they were losing their minds and being physically ill afterwards.
Naturally, you’ll turn to the Internet to find out more about the elusive plant, but that won’t be of much help either. The moment you start researching about Angel’s trumpet, you come across two major problems:
- A general lack of information regarding recreational use —typical of understudied natural hallucinogens.
- A seemingly inescapable link with a plant that looks just like Angel’s trumpet, but is apparently called Devil’s breath. It’s supposed to be so powerful it could make Chuck Norris feel like a defenseless toddler being mercilessly bullied by an aggressive bodybuilder on steroids.
So what’s the deal? Are the two plants the same thing? Or are they just united by urban legends and forgotten Hotmail chain emails your mother got back in the 90’s? Are we just being fooled because of the lack of legit sources and scientific studies about plants growing in the Amazons?
What is Angel’s trumpet?
The scientific name is Brugmansia, and is a genus that has seven different species. It’s a shrub, with pendulous trumpet-like flowers. The colorful flowers are one of the dead giveaways that can alert you to the presence of a real Brugmansia shrub. The other giveaway is the strong fragrance they emit at night.
Chemically, they contain mainly 3 alkaloids:
- Scopolamine, actually used medicinally quite a lot. It’s been used for various reasons from treating gastrointestinal spasms to eye inflammations. You might even be familiar with it if you’ve ever used medication for motion sickness.
- Hyoscyamine, also used to treat a host of gastrointestinal problems.
- Atropine, more commonly used to treat certain types of poisonings.
Brugmansia has been thoroughly studied for its anti-asthmatic, narcotic, and anesthetic properties. In fact, keep that in mind as we look at some of the myths later on.
As a weird plus, every part of the plant is potentially poisonous. This is probably why it’s not exactly a very common recreational drug. Ingestion causes undesirable effects, like paralysis, dry mouth, diarrhea, migraine, frightening hallucinations and tachycardia.
Where does it grow?
It grows in the wild in South America. More specifically from the Venezuelan Andes to the northern side of Peru and some parts of Brazil. You can find them in the rest of the world as ornamental plants.
What do shamans think of Brugmansia?
In the places where Brugmansia grows in the wild, Shamans are commonly known as Taitas. These are people that have been trained to be in direct contact with “the spirit world of the plants.” They have access to knowledge that has been acquired through centuries of living with the plants and “learning to speak their language.”
They call Brugmansia Toé, and it is often mixed in the Ayahuasca brew. We already know Ayahuasca is the teaching plant. What you might not know is that Toé is all about power. If you ever come across a taita, know this: when they tell you something is powerful, you have to tread lightly. “Powerful” is a codeword for “dangerous” and “potentially harmful” if not handled correctly.
Drinking ceremonies aren’t open to the public or even encouraged and taitas enlist quite a few people to help them oversee the ordeals. These —very frequently— result in the taita and his helpers having to restrain the drinker who generally, becomes agitated, paranoid and terrified by vivid hallucinations.
Toé allegedly offers such a powerful and terrifying experience that those who take it are afterwards, supposedly impervious to any harmful energies sorcerers might send to them. In fact, they become so powerful that nothing in the jungle will be able to scare them.
The fact that it is a deeply disturbing experience, hasn’t stopped people from experimenting recreationally with Brugmansia though.
Relying on the account of other users rather than scientific research is —unfortunately— mandatory for this drug. Though most accounts offer vague recollections, most of the symptoms remain the same: they have an unquenchable thirst and they get a little drowsy as if slightly drunk. Most describe almost dream like feelings and having to do things over and over while experiencing really intense hallucinations. Some recollect talking to people and seeing things that were never there at all.
Risk of overdose
The “controlled” intoxication is unpleasant to say the least. It’s not surprise a Brugmansia overdose sounds specially unappealing. Among the effects, you’ll find: Tachycardia, arrhythmia, unsettling hallucinations, urinary retention, drowsiness or incoherent excitability, dry mouth, and even convulsions.
Though there have been reports of highly intoxicated people hospitalized for several days due to Brugmansia ingestion, any proven deaths have yet to be reported or investigated. Usually the patients will show up requiring treatment for poisoning with symptoms similar to a psychotic breakdown.
It’s important to note that Brugmansia, out of all the hallucinogenic substances we’ve covered so far, is the most potent and dangerous one. Unlike LSD, Psilocybin or even mescaline, Brugmansia will make you terrifyingly drowsy to the point where your limbs might not respond to your own commands.
Even taking every precaution and enlisting a trip sitter to watch over you, Brugmansia can screw you up.
What is the Devil’s Breath then?
Well, we’ll never know for sure. Based on the symptoms reported, we can speculate that it is actually Burundanga, also known as Scopolamine. You might know it as that little alkaloid we talked about just a few paragraphs back; i.e: one of the alkaloids present in Brugmansia.
So, are they the same thing?
Well, close. Angel’s Trumpet refers to the whole plant. The term includes the flowers, leaves, seeds and so forth. Devil’s breath on the other hand, is one of the aliases of one of the chemicals that is derived from the plant, namely Scopolamine. This drug has quite a colorful history and it is believed that it was used by the Nazis and by the CIA as a truth serum though conclusive evidence is not available. It is currently administered medically prior to surgery to reduce secretions. NASA astronauts use it against motion sickness at doses of 0.33mg and they swear by it. The same drug, can be administered at doses of 3 to 4mg and apparently render someone temporarily into a zombie. Numerous cases of criminal use of the drug, have been reported using its other notorious alias —Burundanga, in South America. Victims are either completely amnesic about the events after the drug wears off or remember vaguely being unable to resist following commands that range from withdrawing money from ATMs to performing sexual favors to total strangers. It’s hardly unlikely though that this zombie-like state was induced with a single administration of Scopolamine but it wouldn’t be far fetched to believe that this effect could be reached lacing a drink with Scopolamine and something else.
Is there any truth in the stories?
That largely depends on which sources you’re reading. The drug is extremely potent but many urban legends might not be entirely true.
Most of the stories you hear might be exaggerations on the recollections from experts. Taitas sound almost theatrical when talking about their experiences. That’s easily exploitable by storytellers and people prone to creating gory hoaxes out of thin air. Let’s check them out:
Myth #1: So Andreas, this German 18 year old kid, was tending to his garden —as I’m sure most teenagers do on their free time— when suddenly, his mom looks out the window and sees poor Andreas holding a bloody towel between his legs and bleeding profusely from his mouth. Upon closer examination she finds out he’s cut his tongue and penis using garden shears. He’s immediately taken to the emergency room where Dr. Andreas Marnero takes care of the first Andreas and tells a journalist that was apparently there, that the victim will need psychological help for years to come and that “Angel’s trumpet tea is extremely dangerous” and we get the shady report on the incident.
Why it couldn’t happen: The only way that story could be more dramatic is if Andreas had bitten off his own penis and then cut his tongue with the garden shears.
Finding the original source for the tale should qualify as an Olympic sport. Search to your heart’s content and all you’ll find is the same account, copy/pasted verbatim on several different websites. Try to go to the original sources they used, and you’ll enter a loophole of 404 errors. All we have is two Germans in Halle, both named Andreas, and no way to confirm their identities.
Let’s look at the facts:
First: It’s very unlikely that Andreas found a Brugmansia shrub on his garden, in Germany. The shrub grows only in the tropics and can’t withstand the winter.
Second: Unless Andreas decided to munch on a flower it’s very unlikely that he actually brewed Brugmansia tea in the garden and took it —for obvious reasons.
Third: Where’s the toxicology report? How did everyone know he’d taken Brugmansia tea? How did they all know it wasn’t PCP, or meth, or some super hip drug only the kids know about?
By now, you can see how this is —more than likely— a very creative and gruesome hoax. There are no records of the German kid whatsoever and we’re just left with a bunch of plot holes.
What you should worry about instead: The few recreational users that have shared their stories do report vivid hallucinations. As in, being completely convinced they’re talking to someone that isn’t there at all.
Worst of all? The hallucinations don’t have to be human. You might end up with drowsy limbs, struggling to move and hallucinating a gigantic fly coming right at you.
The point is: There’s a chance you’ll see some pretty gruesome things while under the influence and since you’re completely disconnected it has the potential to put you in a extremely dangerous situation. One of the reports on Erowid, for example, paints the picture of a user putting his hand in his pocket, taking out a cigarette, lighting it up and finding out a few minutes later there was actually nothing in his hand and having to repeat the whole process. That happens to him quite a few times actually.
So we do know that at least some people have actually hallucinated objects they’ve been able to manipulate in their fantasy world. Whether it is a common trend among the hallucinations, remains to be seen, but thinking that you could end up hurting yourself because of the hallucinations is not that far fetched.
Myth #2: You’ll be happily walking down the street and all of a sudden someone will blow a strange powder into your face. Next thing you know, you wake up in the middle of the street with torn clothes and no memory of the last 24 hours. You manage to find the authorities and after some research you find out that a weird couple took you to several ATMs and forced you to clear your savings account. They later commanded you to steal someone’s car, which you did. As if things couldn’t get worse, you also took them to your house and gave them every single one of your belongings. You even helped them pack.
With some light Google searching you can find any variation of that story. Maybe it wasn’t a couple but a band of foreigners (because no hoax would be complete without some low-key racism). They might have stopped you to ask for directions instead of rudely just blowing the powder without stopping to chat first. They might have taken internal organs too, just to make the story even more dramatic. The point is: Someone was unknowingly drugged, became a zombie and suffered for it.
Can it actually happen? Well, even though Scopolamine is quite potent, it’s highly unlikely someone can administer a dose of sufficient strength to render you into a zombie by blowing some powder on your face. I’m not going to tell you it’s impossible though, just very unlikely.
So do you still need to worry about your unattended drink? Let’s see…
Myth #3: You’re good looking wholesome guy. You’re taking a break from your strenuous job in finance, so you head to a bar. An attractive young girl starts flirting with you. You share a couple of drinks so you go to the bathroom. Not long after getting back, you black out. The details may change, but almost always, you’ll wake up on a dingy hotel in the middle of nowhere. You look for your phone but there’s nothing there. You get out and look for help, only to find you’re in a whole different city. Getting some cash out of your bank account is useless, because there’s nothing there. You go to the police and they tell you they’ve seen this before: you’ve been drugged, and it was probably burundanga.
Can it actually happen? You should take care of unattended drinks and be distrustful of food or beverages offered by strangers regardless of Burundanga. There are thousands of things that people can put in them. It theory at least, someone could kill you. Yes, someone can lace your drink with Burundanga but it will hardly turn you into a zombie unless you were already on your way to become one to begin with. Unfortunately, if you’re tipsy or downright drunk and someone laces your drink with scopolamine you might end up doing nasty sexual favors to a total stranger or emptying your bank account. The truth is that there are many drugs your drink can be laced with that would make it really easy for someone to take advantage of you and there is no telling of the effect that a mix of these drugs can produce.
What should you do? If you suspect you’ve been drugged you need to find a safe place immediately. Call some one, share your location and wait for help. Scopolamine will make you drowsy and turn you into a blabbering mess, but you won’t be extraordinarily compliant. In fact, do you remember why taitas have helpers during Brugmansia ceremonies? Hint: It’s because drinkers become so agitated they need to be restrained. But then again, if you are already drunk…
In a nutshell, it can really put you in danger
Yes, all those myths have actual, full blown lies, in them. Still the fact remains that a dose of scopolamine can make you extremely drowsy. I can’t testify to criminal masterminds knowing about it and going out of their way to procure the drug so that they can find you in a bar and kidnap you, but it’s not a completely impossible scenario. Rohypnol is used that way, after all, and criminals who use it actually do go out of their way to get it.
What I can tell you is that Scopolamine is dangerous. Every part of it is potentially poisonous and making the choice to experiment with it can result in a very unpleasant visit to the emergency room. Has it earned its title as the world’s most dangerous drug? Suffice it to say it is very dangerous. We know very little of it in its natural state. Even if you’re relying on the psychonaut community for information, you won’t find much in regard of set, setting or dose. This is one of those drugs that even the most experienced users should fear.