Saturday, April 27, 2013

Devil's Breath or Zombie Drug - Scopolamine

Public Domain
Devil’s Breath has reached television.  The New York police show, Blue Blood, aired the episode, "Devil's Breath".  The character is found dazed and covered in blood not his own. His girlfriend is found dead in a nearby hotel room. Did he kill her?  He lost his girlfriend in one of the most horrifying ways possible. He will always question what really happened that night. The voids in his memory will surely drive him crazy for years to come.

In the episode of Castle, the character is actually dressed as a zombie.  He’s part of a group that roam around New York in the middle of the night dressed as zombies.  One poor guy is the victim of the “zombie drug.”  Once again he is covered in blood, and remembers nothing. Zombie walks occur nightly among the regulars. The wakes in the hospital having no memory of what happened to him or what he did.

Scopolamine is not a new drug.  It’s had medical implications for years.  If you were born before the 1990’s your mother was probably give scopolamine during labor and delivery to induce “twilight sleep”.  If you have siblings, you can thank the drug.  Many women would not have endured more pregnancies leading to more “labor and deliveries” without that twilight sleep. According to, the term "twilight sleep" applied to the combination of morphine - pain relief and scopolamine - amnesia (loss of memory) given by a hypodermic injection. The mixture of the two drugs created a state in which the woman responded to pain, but did not remember the pain after delivering the baby. Twilight sleep was once in trend in obstetrics.

Scopolamine is an oral, intravenous, ophthalmic or topical drug with many uses including the prevention of motion sickness. This skin patch is used to prevent nausea and vomiting caused by recovery from anesthesia and surgery.  While scopolamine is a dangerous drug, its anti-cholinergic properties give it some legitimate medical implications in very miniscule doses.

The drug has been reported as used by astronauts, including those on Skylab, for the treatment of motion sickness. "NASA Signs Agreement to Develop Nasal Spray for Motion Sickness".  Scopolamine is used for mild sedation and saliva management in palliative care as an adjunct to other comfort medications for dying patients.

Scopolamine was named after Giovanni Antonio Scopoli, a Tyrolean physician and naturalist. The plant alkaloid and drug scopolamine was first found in the genus Scopolia. The standard botanical author abbreviation Scop. is applied to species he described. Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist and to whom Scopoli communicated all of his research, findings, and descriptions. Linnaeus greatly respected him and showed great interest in his work. He named a solanaceous genus, Scopolia, the source of scopolamine, after him.

Flickr user: pizzodisevo
The borrachero tree's seeds, flowers, and pollen possess hallucinogenic chemical substances that, when inhaled or consumed, are capable of eliminating a person's free will, and turning him or her into a mindless zombie that can be fully controlled without any inhibitions.  The tree which naturally produces scopolamine grows wild around Bogota, Colombia. The borrachero is so famous in the countryside that mothers warn their children not to fall asleep below its yellow and white flowers.  Don't let your drinks out of your sight when at a Bogota bar or nightclub.

Alcohol, tranquilizers, sedatives, and other drugs that cause stupor may worsen the drowsiness caused by scopolamine. Scopolamine slows passage of materials including drugs through the stomach and intestines.  Quickly dissolved in liquids, criminals slip the powder into drinks or sprinkle it on food.  All the more reason not to leave your drink or food unattended, especially with strangers. Reuters states that victims become so submissive that they have assisted thieves to rob their homes and empty their bank accounts. Women and men have been drugged repeatedly over days and gang-raped or rented out as prostitutes.

"When a patient (of U.S. date-rape drugs) is under hypnosis, he or she usually recalls what happened. But with scopolamine, this isn't possible because the memory was never recorded," said Dr. Camilo Uribe, the world's leading expert on the drug.


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Learn more:

House, R. E. (1931). "The Use of Scopolamine in Criminology". American Journal of Police Science (Northwestern University) 2 (4): 328–336. doi:10.2307/1147361.JSTOR 1147361