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Source:     from the species' Atropa belladonna known as Deadly Nightshade, Hyoscyamus niger (from the family Solanaceae) known as Henbane, Datura stramonium known as Thorn Apple, Jimson Weed and Angel's Trumpet, and Mandragora officinarum known as Mandrake.

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   The alkaloid Atropine in the drug form "Atropine Sulphate" or "Sal-Tropine" has a range of modern medical applications, but its roots originate in folk-lore. It is said that the witches of ancient Europe (circa. 1500 BC) used the plant in their "brews" to enable a person to fly. It was applied by rubbing on the body's "pulse points" on the hands, genitalia and feet. The drug is a derivative of tropine, a tropane alkaloid like cocaine.

   The effects of the drug are varied and many of these effects have been exploited. Taken in larger quantities such as consumption of the very small, black, "tomato-like" berries, leaves or bell flowers of Deadly Nightshade, these effects may be rather unpleasant. Also present in Deadly Nightshade are Jasciamine and Belladonnin. Henbane and Thorn Apple are pictured here (1 and 2) respectively.

   Atropine begins to take effect, 30-60 minutes after consumption and may last as much as 24-48 hours as these alkaloids repress the digestive tract (it is excreted in urine). It has a half-life of 2-3 days. After absorption from the gastro-intestinal tract, Atropine can increase the heart rate by a speed of 20 to 40 beats per minute, causes inhibition of secretions from glands hence giving dryness in the mouth, nose and then skin, and relaxes the intestinal muscles. It will also cross into Central Nervous System (CNS) from the blood to the brain (through the Blood-Brain Barrier) and hence depresses and excites different parts of the CNS, by interrupting the nerve receptors, acting as a "sympathetic cholinergic blocking agent", a blocking agent to the nerve transmitter acetylcholine. This effect is very prevalent in the elderly, inducing amnesia, excitation and mental confusion. It will also result in pupil dilation and an increase of pressure within the eye (intraocular pressure) with blurred vision.

   In doses up to 0.5mg their may be some dryness in the mouth and nose. Upto 1.0mg, increased dryness and thirst, slight pupil dilation and heart rate fluctuations (slowed then accelerated). At 2.0mg there may be great thirst, abnormal heart rate (tachycardia), flushed dry skin, palpitations and pupil dilation. After a 5mg intake, the skin is now hot and dry, swallowing becomes difficult, there will be similar symptoms as before but heightened with headache, restlessness with fatigue, and vision and speech becoming affected. After 10mg and above the symptoms become extreme with excitement, delirium, mental confusion and disorientation, hallucinations, the person finds speech and movement difficult and may become unconscious of comatosed. Paralysis of involuntary muscles is possible and internal paralysis (of the CNS) may be fatal. Death from the poison however is rare, and severe poisoning can be treated by a trained doctor.

(for laboratory safety statistics from the University of Oxford Physical Chemistry site click here)

   Atropine is exploited in small quantities where it is sold on prescription as small white tablets imprinted with "HOPE" or "742", containing 0.4mg of Atropine Sulphate, marketed as Sal-Tropine; and also as an eye drop solution and ointment. It is used as a pre-medication to anaesthesia to reduce secretions (bronchial and salivary) and to slow the heart slightly (bradycardia) in preparation for unconsciousness. It is used in eye surgery to dilate the pupils; as an ointment to lessen pain and inflammation; and relieving of asthma and whooping cough. It has also been used as an antidote to opium (counteracts opium's depressive qualities), nerve gas poisoning and relieving heart attack victims (induces the heart to work). Worryingly however, it has been found added to foreign foods (seized goods) and even a batch of seized Ecstacy tablets.

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