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The Toxicity of Recreational Drugs

Alcohol is more lethal than many other commonly abused substances

Robert Gable

A worshipper smokes...Click to Enlarge Image

The Shuar tribes in Ecuador have for centuries used native plants to induce religious intoxication and to discipline recalcitrant children. By comparison, most North Americans know little about the mood-altering potential of the wild vegetation around them. And those who think they know something on this subject are often dangerously ignorant. Over a three-week period in 1983, for example, 22 Marines wanting to get high were hospitalized because they ate too many seeds of the jimsonweed plant (Datura stramonium), which they found growing wild near their base, Camp Pendleton in southern California.

A dozen seeds of jimsonweed contain about 1 gram of atropine, 10 grams of which can cause nausea, severe agitation, dilation of pupils, hallucinations, headache and delirium. Tribal groups in South America refer to datura plants as the "evil eagles." Of approximately 150 hallucinogenic plants that are routinely consumed around the world, those with atropine have the most pernicious reputation—something these Marines discovered the hard way.

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