What is Datura and Benefits

A well-known ingredient that was used in love potions and witches’ brews, Datura has found itself a long historical use. Datura also known as Angel’s trumpets or Moonflowers or Devil’s berry consists of the dried leaves and flowering tops of Datura metel Linn. and Datura metel var.factuosa belonging to the family Solanaceae. It should contain not less than 0.20% of total alkaloids of Datura calculated as levo-hyoscyamine. The percentage of alkaloids in Datura metel var.factuosa is 1.5 times more than that of Datura metel.

Datura metel known as white datura is a dichotomously branched herbaceous plant. Lower branches and the base of the plant are woody. Its stem is cylindrical, glabrous and the flowers are large, white and funnel shaped. Datura metel var.factuosa known as black datura has the same characters as that of Datura metel except that it possesses purple colored stem, branches, main veins of leaves and flowers. 

As researched by experts, datura has got nine biological sources. Adulterants of this plant are Datura innoxia and Datura wrightii which are found in India and its leaves contains both hyoscyamine and hyoscine. Similar to Datura metel is also another species and that is Datura stramonium which shows only a slight morphological difference and it is treated as separate plant under the name Stramonium.

Chemical Constitution

Datura herb contains up to 0.5% of total alkaloids, among which majorly hyoscine (scopolamine) as the main alkaloid is present, while levo-hyoscyamine (scopoline) and atropine are present in very less quantities.

The proportions of both hyoscine and hyoscyamine are nearly equal in both white and black datura plants but as stated above the percentage of alkaloids being present in more amounts in black datura, black datura is considered more efficacious or more toxic.
Among the other characteristics of datura, it has a characteristic but unpleasant odour and a bitter taste. These plants are found in India, England and other tropical and subtropical regions.

Health benefits of Datura

As an anticholinergic/parasympatholytic agent - Hyoscine, present in datura belongs to tropane alkaloids and these are useful in blocking the cholinergic reactions by displacing acetyl-choline at the receptor sites. As a result, the give parasympatholytic effects such as reducing or checking the secretions of salivary glands, sweat glands or also of the alimentary organ system. Hyoscine as such is given in its salt form i.e. hyoscine hydrobromide in treating gastric or duodenal ulcers. It is also used in hyperacidity or gastro-enteritis because of its depressant effect on gastro-intestinal tract as well as by decreasing the peristaltic activity and secretions.

Datura and benefits

As anti-tussive/bronchodilator agent – Along with morphine, hyoscine drug is used as preoperative medication and also in treatment of respiratory ailments like asthma and cough. They mainly act by relaxing the bronchial smooth muscles. So datura may also be termed as anti-spasmodics.

As Central-nervous system depressing agent - Hyoscine, as hyoscine hydrobromide has an effective sedative action on the central nervous system. So, datura is used in cerebral excitement, in shocks including those of aerial bombardments, in motion sickness specifically those of air and sea and as a ‘truth-serum’ for getting the information from war prisoners.

As a local anaesthetic agent - Hyoscyamine is responsible for this effect. It is present in datura although in small amount. Because of this anaesthetic and anodyne action, datura can be used to remove peripheral pains.

Miscellaneous use

  • Most parts of datura plant have found to show hallucinogenic effects and a reason of causing delirious states and in severe states, death.
  • It has been used for centuries as a poisoning agent for suicide and murder in some cultures. 
  • Because of presence of small amount of atropine and hyoscyamine in datura, it can be used as an anti-dote in treatment of poisoning caused by choline-esterase inhibitors like physostigmine and organophosphorous esters employed in insecticides.
  • It is also used as a blend with cannabis, tobacco by smokers as datura is less euphoric and more intoxicated. But this should be considered under great caution.

Adverse drug reactions – Intoxication of datura causes delirium, tachycardia (increased heart rate), hyperthermia (increased body temperature), bizarre, photophobia, amnesia and also violent behavior. It also causes visual disturbances and might lead to mydriasis. There are also the possibilities of getting headaches, flushed skin, convulsions and ultimately coma. In the elderly, datura is found to cause memory loss, constipation, and drowsiness.

Precautions while using Datura

  • If you are suffering from glaucoma, do not use datura. It can worsen the condition more. It dilates the pupil and hence severe the condition of mydriatic patients.
  • Do not use datura in combinations with anti-cholinergics as it may extremely dry up your mucous membranes of eye, mouth and anus.
  • You should specifically avoid using Datura recreationally.
  • If you are suffering from any sort of cardiac disease, avoid using datura. It worsens the condition by increasing the heart rate.

Ways of administration

datura as such is toxic when ingested orally and hence it must be employed either by preparing tea using specially the leaves and flower part as they contain the alkaloids. It is also medicinally used in the form of ointment so that it is released slowly into the body after applying it on the topical areas. Areas of soft skin are the most efficient way of getting the alkaloids into the body.

Summary

Datura as such is being used profoundly in traditional as well as in medicinal purposes. It was historically used for fatal intentions. The negative impact of Datura is found more than its medicinal utility and hence it must be used with caution. It is extremely poisonous and only a slight ingestion may result into dangerous results and also death.