The botanical family of nightshades contains edible as well as poisonous plants. Well-known poisonous plants, such as Atropa belladonna (deadly nightshade), Datura stramonium (thornapple), and Brugmansia spp. (angel's trumpet), have been used for their psychoactive properties for hundreds of years . Common names such as dwale, death's herb, or witch berry give an impression of their toxicity and use in the Middle Ages. The toxicity and pharmacological effects of deadly nightshade, for example, are also part of the etymology of the botanical name. The genus Atropa is named after the goddess Atropos, who is known in Greek mythology as the cutter of the life thread. The species name belladonna is Italian for "beautiful lady" and originates from the historical use of its berry juice by women to dilate their pupils .
Plants of this family are distributed generally throughout temperate and subtropical regions. Some species like Brugmansia sp. are often cultivated in pots as house plants.
Many plants of this family contain toxic tropane alkaloids such as (S)-(—)-hyoscyamine and (S)-(—)-scopolamine. (S)-(—)-hyoscyamine is converted during storage and/or isolation to a racemic mixture of 50% (S)-(—)-hyoscyamine and (R)-
(+)-hyoscyamine, called atropine. Atropine (5) and scopolamine (6) act pharmacologically by blocking acetylcholine receptors of the muscarine subtypes . The blockage of these receptors causes symptoms such as tachycardia, dilated pupils, decreased gastrointestinal motility, dry hot skin, and dry mouth due to decreased sweat and saliva production. Apart from these peripheral effects, atropine also affects the central nervous system, causing agitation, disorientation, and hallucinations . Due to the hallucinogenic properties of these alkaloids, plants are often abused. For example, this increasing misuse has prompted a prohibition by law in Florida of planting angel's trumpets.
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