There is a great deal of nonsense being spread about COVID-19. No matter how outrageous a claim, it gets traction with some people. It seems hard to believe that some actually believe that Bill Gates is bent on controlling the world by implanting people with microchips via vaccines or that Datura seeds can cure the disease because their shape resembles the coronavirus. Yet these beliefs are out there and they are not benign. When, and if, a vaccine becomes available, some may refuse to be inoculated for fear of their movements being tracked by some sort of new world order orchestrated by Gates. As far as the Datura seeds go, twelve people in India ended up in hospital after consuming a concoction made with the seeds of the plant after watching a video on social media claiming that the seeds would provide immunity against the disease. What evidence was provided? That the shape of the seeds resembled that of the coronavirus.
This harkens back to the “Doctrine of Signatures” introduced by the ancient Greek philosophers that the shape of a plant, or of its parts, provides a clue as to the medical condition the plant can treat. Needless to say, Datura seeds have no effect on COVID-19 but they can certainly have an effect on the health of the person who buys into this nonsense.
There are several species of Datura with belladonna, jimson weed, and angels’ trumpets among them. They all contain the naturally occurring compounds atropine and scopolamine which can interfere with the activity of the nervous system by blocking the action of a key chemical known as acetylcholine. Ingestion of any part of these plants can cause dilation of the pupils, blurred vision, rapid heartbeat, reduction of salivation, sedation, and even hallucinations.
A disturbing report in the Journal of the American Medical Association records the case of four boys who went out into the desert in Texas to search for jimsonweed in order to have a good time. When they didn’t return, a search party was sent out. Two of the boys were found sitting at their campsite, hallucinating, oblivious of their friends who were lying at their feet, overdosed on atropine. This drug, it seems, is well named. Atropos was the Greek goddess who decided how long a person would live. At a new birth, her two sisters would spin the thread of life and Atropos would cut the strand, determining the length of life. For the two boys in the desert, she cut the thread very short.
One of the problems in dealing with Datura abuse is that the plants can be found almost anywhere. They are often purposefully grown for ornamental reasons. The trumpet-shaped flowers of the Angels’ Trumpet are prized by gardeners. When it became apparent in the Florida community of Maitland that the plants were also prized by teenagers, the city council took the unprecedented step of banning the planting of this particular flower. Horticulturists protested, but perhaps the ban is not such a bad idea. A Canadian couple who had a close call because of the plant would probably agree.
The two had just finished a meal of hamburgers at home when the gentleman suddenly collapsed. His wife called for an ambulance, and soon after its arrival she also lapsed into unconsciousness. Carbon monoxide poisoning was suspected but was quickly ruled out. Both regained consciousness within twenty-four hours and questioning soon solved the mystery. The lady remembered that she had wanted to add seasoning to the hamburger meat as she was preparing it and reached for a spice container. After adding some, she realized that she had picked up the wrong bottle, a bottle that contained seeds of Angels’ Trumpets that she was planning to plant next year. She had removed most of the seeds from the meat but apparently enough had been left behind to almost allow the couple to hear the sound of real angels’ trumpets!
Luckily for the twelve individuals in India, the dose of atropine they ingested was not lethal but it could have been. Nonsensical information being spread about COVID-19 may in some cases be more dangerous than the disease.