COMMON NAMES: A-neg-la-kia (Mazatec), Ch’oxojilghei (Navajo, ‘crazy maker’) Dekuba (Tarahumara), Devil’s Weed, Hehe Camostim (Seri, ‘ plant that produces grimaces’), Hierba del Diablo, Hoozhonee Yilbeezh (Navajo, ‘beautyway decoction’), Indian Apple, Jamestown Weed, Jimsonweed, Katundami (Pima), Loco Weed, Menj (Arabic/Yemen), Mexican Thorn Apple, Nocuana-patao (Zapotec), Nohoch Xtohk’uh (Mayan, ‘great plant in the direction of the gods’), Ooze Apple, Poison Lily, Rauchapfel, Sacred Datura, Tecuyaui (Garigia), Thorn Apple, Uchuri (Tarahumara), Toloache, Toloache Plant, Toloaches, Wichuri, Xtohk-uh (Yucatec Mayan, ‘in the direction of the gods’), Yerba del Diablo (Spanish, ‘devil’s herb’)
Datura innoxia is a 1-2 meter tall annual, although it can grow up to 3 meters in height in the tropics, and lives as a perennial there. D. innoxia has hairy leaves with serrated margins and white, funnel-shaped flowers which bloom at night, giving off a wonderful scent. The fruits are pendulous and covered with many short thorns. The seeds are brown to orange in color (Ratsch 1998, 196).
Datura innoxia originated in the American Southwest and Mexico down to Belize and Guatemala. It has since spread to the Caribbean and was introduced to India very early on. It may also be found growing wild in Greece and Israel. Datura innoxia is grown commercially in Central America, North Africa, Ethiopia, India, and England as a source of scopolamine, which is used in the pharmaceutical industry (Dafni & Yaniv 1994).
TRADITIONAL USES: Datura innoxia, or toloache, is the most ethnopharmacologically important of all thorn apple species in the Americas. Excavations dating to 1200 C.E. have shown that the prehistoric Pueblo Indians of the Southwest used the seeds in rituals (Litzinger 1981). The plant has also clearly been used in Mexico since the prehistoric period. It has been suggested that Aztec sacrificial victims were given Datura preparations in order to prepare them for death. At present, toloache is still used in Mexico for medicinal, ritual and aphrodisiac purposes (Ratsch 1998, 196).
In the Yucatan, D. innoxia is regularly cultivated as an ornamental and an entheogen. Shamans smoke cigars rolled from D. innoxia leaves or eat the seeds in order to do divinations with quartz crystals. Tarot cards are also sometimes used. The datura is said to allow the shaman to gain insight he would not have been able to discover otherwise. The flowers are used as offerings for the gods in ritual, as well (Ratsch 1998, 197).
In modern Mexican witchcraft, or brujeria, toloache has a connection to dark practices and a reputation for causing insanity and death. It is said to give the user dark power. The Huichol regard D. innoxia as a ‘bad plant of the gods’ and associate it with sorcery (Ratsch 1998, 198).
D. innoxia is sacred to the Navajo, who use it in healing ceremonies. During one ceremony known as the Beautyway, D. innoxia preparations are consumed to produce visions. The plant is also used as a medicine to treat hallucinations. The Navajo take small amounts of D. innoxia to protect themselves from the attacks of dark sorcerers, and utilize the plant in divination and love magic. The Navajo Ajilee ceremony is one in which the practitioner is transformed into the Datura spirit and is able to gain power over women he desires and game he wishes to hunt. The ritual is also used to heal individuals who are suffering from sexual excess, and women who have been forced into prostitution (Brugge 1982). The Apache use powdered D. innoxia root in secret ceremonies as a plant medicine. Hopi medicine men chew the roots to induce visions that allow them to diagnose diseases (Ratsch 1998, 199).
D. innoxia was introduced to Pakistan from the Americas and now grows wild there. A few crushed seeds or a dried leaf mixed with tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) is used as an aphrodisiac and inebriant (Goodman & Gharfoor 1992 cited in Ratsch 1998, 199). In India, D. innoxia is used in the same way as D. metel.
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: The dried leaves and flowers of D. innoxia may be smoked alone or with other herbs in a smoking blend. Yucatec Maya shamans combine the leaves with tobacco to make cigars that they call chamal. One leaf of each plant is used to make one chamal. The shaman smokes until he reaches the state of consciousness he desires. The amount needed varies considerably from person to person. The seeds and leaves of D. innoxia may be crushed and fermented to make an alcoholic beverage. The roots are sometimes added to pulque, beer, or chicha (Rasch 1998, 197).
The Yaqui tribe add crushed seeds and leaves of D. innoxia to lard and rub this ointment on to the abdomen in order to induce visions. Fresh roots may be crushed and applied externally, chewed, or dried and powdered. However, dosage information regarding the roots is not available (Ratsch 1998, 197).
Four leaves is an appropriate dose for smoking if one wants to receive the aphrodisiac effects of the plant. Working with the plant in this way prevents overdose, as well. Tea made from the leaves should be consumed carefully – just one small leaf can cause very intense hallucinations. Alkaloid concentration will vary widely from plant to plant, and individuals can react very differently to tropane alkaloids, so detailed dose information is difficult to provide. 30-40 seeds is considered a strong visionary dosage, but as few as 10 seeds can result in significant perceptual changes. In Pakistan, 150 grams of leaves, fruits, or flowers is considered to be a lethal dose, but even significantly less than this can cause death in some individuals (Goodman & Ghafoor 1992 cited in Ratsch 1998, 197).
MEDICINAL USES: In Mexico, toloache is used as a remedy for many disorders and symptoms, particularly fevers. The Apache use the juice of the flowers and roots to disinfect wounds. Dew drops that have collected in the flowers are used as an eye wash (Ratsch 1998, 199).
The Aztecs used thorn apple leaves to treat broken bones and swollen joints. Leaves that had been warmed in a steam bath were placed directly on to the affected areas. Toloache is one of the most important aphrodisiacs and sedatives in Mexican folk medicine. It is given during childbirth to help with pain. In Israel, a decoction of the leaves is consumed to treat diarrhea, and a paste of the leaves is applied externally to treat pain (Dafni & Yaniz 1994). In many parts of the world, the leaves of D. innoxia have been smoked, alone or in blends, as a most effective treatment for asthma (Ratsch 1998, 200).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: The entire D. innoxia plant is rich in tropane alkaloids, particularly scopolamine and hyoscyamine. Some plants produce significantly more scopolamine than others. The effects of D. innoxia are dependent on dosage and method of preparation. The American Indians say that a mild dosage produces medicinal, healing effects, a moderate dosage produces aphrodisiac effects, and high doses produce shamanic visions (Ratsch 1998, 200).
Shamanic doses of D. innoxia cause profound visions and hallucination and delirium. Overdose may begin with excitation, an urge to dance and fits of laughter, and end in acute hallucinosis and death through respiratory paralysis. In Mexico, peyote is used as an antidote for toloache overdose (Nadler 1991 cited in Ratsch 1998, 201).
Brugge, D.M. “Western Navajo Ethnobotanical Notes.” In Navajo Religion and Culture, edited by D.M. Brugge and C.J. Frisbie. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1982.
Dafni, A., and Z. Yaniv. “Solanaceae as Medicinal Plants in Israel.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology, no. 44 (1994): 11–18.
Litzinger, W. “Ceramic Evidence for Prehistoric Datura Use in North America.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology, no. 4 (1981): 57–74.
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.