COMMON NAMES: Almizclillo, Angel’s Trumpet Tree, Baumdatura, Borrachera (Spanish, ‘inebriator’), Campachu, Cojones Del Diablo, Engelstrompetenbaum, Floripondio, Guarguar, Huantac (Zaparo-Quechua), Kecubong (Bali), Mataperro (Spanish, ‘dog killer’), Qotu (Quechua), Saharo, Tecomaxochitl (Nahuatl), Tree Stramonium
Brugmansia arborea is a perennial bush that grows up to 16 feet tall. It produces five-pointed trumpet-shaped flowers that are pure or creamy white and that exude a seductively sweet scent at night. The fruits are smooth and berry-like, containing large brown seeds. The flowers of these, and all Brugmansia plants, hang straight down, differentiating them from members of the Datura genus, in which the flowers mostly grow upwards (Ratsch 1998, 94-95).
All angel’s trumpet trees are originally from South America. They are at present only cultivated, and there are no known wild species. It is still unknown which wild plants originally produced the species we are now familiar with. Since there are no known wild Brugmansia, we know that humans have been cultivating the plant intentionally for quite some time. Based on this fact, it is entirely possible that angel’s trumpets were being used as psychoactives in prehistoric times! (Ratsch 1998, 94)
Brugmansia arborea is a fairly rare species of Brugmansia which is found from Ecuador to Peru to northern Chile (Bastien 1987). Brugmansia are best grown through cuttings. To do this, one cuts off the end of a branch, strips all but the newest buds, and then places the cutting in water. Roots appear in a few weeks, at which time the cutting may be planted in rich soil. Brugmansia trees cannot handle frost, and so must only be grown in pots in colder climates (Ratsch 1998, 94-95).
TRADITIONAL USES: Andean priests smoke the leaves of the tree in order to see the future and to diagnose diseases. The seeds are still used in the Andes to this day as an additive to Chicha, a psychoactive maize beer that is consumed during festivals and rituals. Many South American artifacts depict angel’s trumpet trees and flowers, but it is mostly impossible to determine which specific species are represented (Ratsch 1998, 94).
The Chibcha of Colombia once gave Chicha, a maize beverage prepared with Brugmansia seeds, to the wives and slaves of dead nobles in order to cause a stupor before these individuals were buried alive with the corpses of their masters. Many Peruvian shamans still believe that ingesting Brugmansia species allows them to communicate with ancestors and to find treasures buried in graves (Voogelbreinder 2009, 105-106).
Brugmansia intoxication is actually fairly common in the West, as young people seeking free and novel psychedelic experiences often intentionally consume parts of these plants. These ingestions often result in hospitalization, as the individuals are rarely capable of handling the intense state that the plant creates. In most cases there is full recovery of all normal function after a few days, but death may result if too much plant matter has been consumed (Voogelbreinder 2009, 105-106).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: B. arborea leaves may be extracted in cold water or decocted in hot water. Four leaves or one flower prepared as a tea is considered a psychoactive dose. The crushed seeds are sometimes added to chicha, a psychoactive maize beer, and in Peru, the leaves are added to cimora, a psychoactive beverage that often contains San Pedro cactus and which is used in shamanic ritual (Bastien 1987). The dried leaves may be smoked, either alone or with other herbs, such as Cannabis indica and tobacco (Ratsch 1998, 95).
Brugmansia arborea is a deliriant, and extreme care must be taken when ingesting it in any form or quantity. Angel’s Trumpets are the most potent naturally occurring hallucinogens in the world, creating visions which are not recognized as being separate from physical reality. South American shamans strongly warn against untrained individuals working with angel’s trumpets, and they are used almost exclusively by very experienced shamans. Brugmansia overdose may result in delirium that lasts for days, with side effects lasting for weeks after consumption. Not only that, different individuals can react to the tropane alkaloids found in these plants in radically different ways, so proper dosing is incredibly difficult.
On the other hand, smoking the dried leaves of Brugmansia arborea is fairly harmless. Smoking an amount similar to a cigarette will have only subtle effects. The effects are potentiated when combined with Cannabis. When smoking the leaves, a headache is a good sign that one has smoked enough, and that it is not necessary to go any further (Voogelbreinder 2009, 105-106).
MEDICINAL USE: In Peru, the leaves of angel’s trumpet bushes are used to treat tumors and to alleviate fevers. It has been suggested that the seeds were used as an anesthetic in pre-Columbian times, perhaps along with coca leaves (Bastien 1987). A tincture made from Brugmansia arborea flowers is also used in homeopathy (Lindequist 1992 cited in Ratsch 1998, 95).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: The indigenous peoples of South America use Brugmansia arborea to become intoxicated. The intoxication may be so intense that the individual will not be able to see or hear, even with the eyes open. Due to this, preparations of the plant are reported to be used to drug and rob people. This practice is known as chamicado, meaning ‘touched by the angel’s trumpet’ (Bastien 1987, 114).
All parts of Brugmansia arborea contain tropane alkaloids, particularly scopolamine. Coumarins and scopoletin are also present in all parts of the plant. Consumptions of Brugmansia arborea produces dilation of the pupils that may last for days afterwards, and extreme dryness of the mucous membranes. Incredible hallucinations, complete loss of touch with reality, delirium, coma and death through respiratory paralysis may also result, depending on dosage. It is said that the intoxication brought on by ingesting Brugmansia arborea is so intense that physical restraint is often initially necessary, lest the individual hurt himself or someone else. After this, a deep stupor featuring incredible, often terrifying visions is said to occur (Voogelbreinder 2009, 105-106).
Bastein, J. Healers of the Andes: Kallawaya Herbalists and Their Medicinal Plants. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1987.
Hofmann, A., Ratsch, C., Schultes, R., Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers. Rochester: Healing Arts Press, 1992.
Homeovision. “Datura arborea – Myths & legends.” Homeovision: Scientific Project for Homeopathic Medicine and Homeopathic Remedies. http://www.homeovision.org/en/for-homeopaths,substances-homeopatic-remedies,d,datura-arborea,myths-legends/ (accessed August 1, 2011).
Ratsch, Christian., The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and its Applications. Rochester: Park Street Press, 1998.
Voogelbreinder, Snu, Garden of Eden: The Shamanic Use of Psychoactive Flora and Fauna, and the Study of Consciousness. Snu Voogelbreinder, 2009.