Scary, Scary Plants!

Written by on February 10, 2014

I’m reading a book at the moment entitled ‘Synthetic Panics‘, which goes through the various moral panics that have arisen around drugs since they were first synthesised and used for recreational purposes.  Although we’ve recently heard a lot about ‘synthetic drugs’, the plants and fungi of the known psychoactive world have also turned up in moral panics over the decades and centuries.
The world of psychoactive inebriation scares a lot of people, instilling fear of the unknown, of madness or of evil, of other worlds or entities possessing the minds of humans and making them do odd, dangerous or violent things.

The fears though are often misrepresented, exaggerated beyond their reality and thrown into a black-and-white moral lens of the world.  It’s sometimes hard to tell whether many of the fears would exist without the influence of the popular media.

The Daily Mail (UK) published an article entitled, “The deadly household plant that teens are using to get high and kills hundreds each year” which kinda sounds pretty serious.

The plant they are talking about is Datura:
The moral panic part of the article is this:

“But the flowery plant also is deadly, and kills hundreds of people a year, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Thousands of others, the group says, are treated for Datura poisoning each year.
Experts say use of the drug is becoming more and more popular — especially amongst teens — and its popularity is being fueled by the Internet.”

The Poisons Garden Website put together a post after this article came out to look in to and counter some of the claims made by the Daily Mail piece… especially the claim (apparently made by ‘experts’) of a rising popularity and the apparent AAPCC claim of large amounts of deaths and hospitalisations due to datura.
Poisons Garden found no such data from the AAPCC and there is no source for the apparent ‘experts’ warning of an uptake of datura use.

There is plenty of information on the internet about the effects of datura.  Have a read of a few Erowid experience reports if you want to get a feel for what people experience.  Nearly every report comes with some sort of warning from the person who tried it and rightly so.

Although the Daily Mail article does serve as a warning, the data used is inaccurate, misleading or made up.  Many people have become used to the popular media lying to them about drugs and don’t take these scare reports very seriously.  The problem is that articles like this exaggerate any real issue, bring it to the attention of legislators and action groups who attack what ends up being a distorted perception of a problem, often without learning anything more about the issue than that which was reported.

There is another, powerful source of distortion and delirium.  Proliferated popular media articles from sensationalist authors who neglect sources and research.

In Lak’ech Ala K’in

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