Informal Names: Black Cherry, Deadly Nightshade, Death's Herb, Devil's Cherries, Devil's Herb, Divale, Dwale, Dwayberry, Great Morel, Love Apple, Murderer's Berry, Naughty Man's Cherries, Poison Black Cherry, Sleeping Nightshade, Sorcerers Berries, Sorcerer's Cherry, Witch's Berry Type: Hallucinogen. See page 25 Federal Schedule Listing: Unlisted as natural product
USA Availability: Nonprescription natural product; some pharmaceutical preparations are prescription Pregnancy Category: None
Uses. Belladonna bushes thrive in the United States, Europe, North Africa, and Southeast Asia. Some persons seeking a hallucinogenic effect eat the berries. Leaves and roots are used medically. The wood has an even higher drug content but does not seem to be exploited medically. The plant grows wild and has also been cultivated on a commercial scale for the pharmaceutical industry. Drugs found in the plant include atropine, hyoscyamine, and sco-polamine, all of which are also found in jimson weed and European mandrake.
Belladonna substances can ease premenstrual syndrome. They can reduce spasms in smooth muscles of the digestive tract, but they cause tremors or stiffness in other muscles. Heart rate is accelerated. Migraine headaches can lessen. An experiment showed that belladonna can reduce breathing abnormalities in infants. Some medical traditions have used belladonna for reducing sweat and other secretions and against tonsilitis, meningitis, scarlet fever, whooping cough, and epilepsy. At one time medical practitioners gave belladonna to fight Parkinson's disease and drug addiction, but those treatments have been superseded by others. Belladonna preparations have modern usage against vesico-ureteral reflux, a condition in which urine flows back toward the kidney from the bladder. Caregivers have administered belladonna to treat various pains, ranging from kidney stones to sore throat. Belladonna powders and cigarettes have been used against asthma. The natural product is considered effective against afflictions of the gallbladder and liver. Belladonna is used with uncertain results for depression, middle ear inflammation, and some heart complaints and for attempts to promote weight loss. Depending on dosage, the substance can act as a depressant or as a stimulant.
At one time the plant had cosmetic uses from which it supposedly gained its Italian name meaning "beautiful lady." The precise cosmetic usage is uncertain: One authority mentions a rouge; another authority says the substance whitened the skin; still another says that belladonna was simply a medicinal application to remove pimples and other skin blemishes. Many accounts today say that the cosmetic function was to make women more alluring by dilating the eyes' pupils, but those stories do not explain how flirting women would have handled the pain and near-blindness caused by artificial dilation. Modern medicine uses the belladonna component atropine to dilate pupils.
Erotic dreams may occur from ingestion, and reputedly belladonna is considered an aphrodisiac in Morocco. Users have reported hallucinating interactions with landscapes and other persons, experiences so compelling that their hallucinatory nature was unapparent until the belladonna dose wore off.
Drawbacks. Dosage with the natural product belladonna is so risky that persons are routinely advised to use it only under guidance of a trained expert. For example, depending on circumstances a fatal dose can vary by a factor of 10, meaning that a given ingestion might be survivable, but on another occasion one tenth that amount could just as easily be fatal. Three berries have been enough to kill youngsters. People have been poisoned by meat from animals that ate belladonna. Just handling the plant can pass its drugs into cuts and scrapes and even through unbroken skin. During World War II troops stationed in East Africa suffered "wholesale poisoning" from belladonna, presumably due to recreational usage. Yet despite powerful effects on humans, some nonhuman species (including birds, rabbits, pigs, and sheep) can consume the plant without injury—an example of why caution is needed in reaching conclusions from drug experiments on animals.
Experiments show that the scopolamine component of belladonna reduces attention and vigilance while interfering somewhat with memory. Some volunteers testing the drug report dizziness and blurred vision. Nonetheless, aerospace researchers have concluded that scopolamine is a satisfactory motion sickness medicine for active-duty crews.
Belladonna can interfere with urination and bowel movements—drug actions that are sometimes desirable, as in persons who have lost the ability to restrain such body functions. Unwanted belladonna effects include delayed passage of food from the stomach, overheating (aggravated by diminished perspiration), dry mouth, skin rash, glaucoma, hyperactivity, jabbering (or sometimes an opposite inability to speak), mania, anxiety, delirium, and convulsions. Psychedelic drug advocate Timothy Leary is reputed to have claimed he was unaware of anyone ever having a good experience with using belladonna as a hallucinogen, and firsthand accounts do seem mostly negative. Stories say that in olden times belladonna was a component of witch's brews; if so, such persons certainly partook of it for purposes rather different from those of modern recreational drug users. A medical journal author who observed several recreational belladonna sessions judged the substance to be powerful, but none of the users needed medical aid. Modern negative ac counts often derive from hospitalized individuals, and they are not necessarily a representative sample of typical users. For example, compilers of one series of case reports noted that six of the seven patients were psychologically abnormal before using belladonna. Another pair of case reports noted that both patients had histories of depression and drug abuse.
Abuse factors. Not enough scientific information to report about likelihood of addiction, tolerance, dependence, or withdrawal.
Drug interactions. Not enough scientific information to report about the natural product.
Cancer. Not enough scientific information to report.
Pregnancy. Belladonna is suspected of causing birth defects if used during pregnancy. Belladonna drugs have been given to pregnant women, however, to control excessive salivation and vomiting, without apparent injury to offspring.
Additional information. "Belladonna" is a nickname for PCP, but the substances have no other connection.
Additional scientific information may be found in:
Forbes, T.R. "Why Is it Called 'Beautiful Lady'? A Note on Belladonna." Bulletin of the
New York Academy of Medicine 53 (1977): 403-6. Gowdy, J.M. "Stramonium Intoxication: Review of Symptomatology in 212 Cases."
Journal of the American Medical Association 221 (1972): 585-87. Nuotto, E. "Psychomotor, Physiological and Cognitive Effects of Scopolamine and Ephedrine in Healthy Man." European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 24 (1983): 603-9.
Schneider, F., et al. "Plasma and Urine Concentrations of Atropine after the Ingestion of Cooked Deadly Nightshade Berries." Journal of Toxicology: Clinical Toxicology 34 (1996): 113-17.
Southgate, H.J., M. Egerton, and E.A. Dauncey. "Lessons to Be Learned: A Case Study Approach. Unseasonal Severe Poisoning of Two Adults by Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna)." Journal of the Royal Society of Health 120 (2000): 127-30.
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