Datura Stramonium, thornapple, or Jamestown weed, is an annual plant from two to six feet high, growing in all quarters of the world, and flourishing especially in rank soil, as on dung-heaps, and on the road-sides and commons near towns and villages, where refuse matter is apt to be collected. Its original native country is uncertain. It is often clustered in patches, and scents the air of the neighbourhood with its disagreeable odour. All parts of it are active. The U. S. Pharmacopoeia recognizes the leaves, seeds, and root.

1. Stramonium Leaf

Stramonii Folium. U.S. - Stramonii Folia. Br. - These have short footstalks, are five or six inches long, unequal at the base, irregularly sinuated and notched at the border, dark green above, and pale beneath. When fresh and bruised, they have a fetid. narcotic odour, which they lose by drying; retaining, however, a bitter and nauseous taste.

2. Stramonium Seed

Stramonii Semen. U. S. - Stramonii Semina. Br. - These are small, kidney-shaped, flattened on the sides, of a blackish-brown colour, without smell, and of a bitter, nauseous, somealkaloid seemed to be less powerfully antagonistic than in reference to the pupil. The general conclusion, however, was that the two alkaloids neutralized each other in their action both on the retina and the ciliary muscle.

S. Cerebral functions. Here there was found to be a decided antagonism in some points. Thus the headache, phantasms, visual disorder, and deafness caused by atropia were lessened or disappeared under the influence of morphia: while the drowsiness and stupor of the latter alkaloid were controlled by the former. The pallor of morphia and the flush of atropia were also mutually modified.

4. Other actions. The nausea often caused by morphia was not diminished by atropia.

The effects of the two alkaloids on the mucous membrane coincided; but the property of inducing dryness in the throat was greater in atropia.

In producing dysury, they appeared to concur.

The influence of morphia in the relief of pain was not disturbed by atropia.

According to the same experimenters, neither atropia, daturia, nor conia, has any power of lessening pain when administered hypodermically. In this respect, however, the conclusion of the authors does not coincide with that of many others, who have found great relief to painful affections from the subcutaneous injection of atropia. Dr. Erlenmeyer states that the atropia and morphia given jointly, will, in many cases of neuralgia, succeed perfectly, after entire failure with both administered separately. (Arch. Gen., Mars, 1866, p. 862).

From all these results it may be inferred that, while a certain degree of antagonism exists between atropia and morphia on some points, in others they coincide or are indifferent; and therefore that it would be unsafe to rely upon either exclusively in poisoning by the other: though they may be employed to meet certain indications. (See Am. Journ. of Med. Sci., July. 1865, p. 67.) - Note to the third edition.

3. Stramonium Root

Stramonii Radix. U.S. 1850. - This is large, whitish, branched, with numerous fibres, fleshy when fresh, light and spongy when dry, and of very little smell or taste, though it leaves a slightly acrid impression in the mouth when chewed.

All these parts yield their virtues to water and alcohol.

Active Principle The odour of the plant would suggest that the volatile principle might possess narcotic properties; but it is asserted that water distilled from the fresh leaves, though it has their odour in some degree, is without effect on the system; and the seeds, which are inodorous, are stronger than the leaves. It is probable that the virtues of the plant reside exclusively in an organic alkali, which has been extracted from the seeds, and received the name of daturia. In its sensible, chemical, and physiological properties, this bears so close a resemblance to atropia as to have led to the supposition that the two principles are identical; and if their composition be, as stated by Von Planta, precisely the same, the supposition must be considered as correct. Upon this ground we can explain the extraordinary resemblance of stramonium and belladonna in their effects upon the system, and their remedial application. Daturia, like hyoscyamia and atropia, is rendered inert by admixture with even a weak solution of caustic potassa or soda, but is not affected by their carbonates.

Effects on the System

The operation of stramonium on the system so closely resembles that of belladonna, that it is necessary to do little more than refer to the account of the latter medicine. (See page 785.) It is sufficient to say, in reference to the effects of stramonium in full medicinal doses, that it produces dryness and uneasy sensations in the throat, dimness or perversion of vision, sometimes dilatation of the pupil, not unfrequently vertigo, headache, mental confusion or slight delirium, and, in some rare instances, sleep; and that its operation on the brain is attended with little or no disturbance of the circulation, and no tendency to constipation, but with an occasional increase of perspiration or urine. In poisonous quantities, it causes great uneasiness of the throat with a feeling as of strangulation, anxiety and faintness, partial or complete blindness, great dilatation of the pupil, sometimes deafness, flushing of the face, vertigo, headache, hallucinations, delirium of a whimsical, ludicrous, or more rarely furious character, tremors, paralysis, and at last stupor, with convulsions in rare instances. There is usually, in the advanced stage, great prostration, as indicated by the very feeble pulse, and cool skin; and sometimes the local irritant influence of the poison is evinced by a burning pain at the stomach, nausea, and vomiting. From the worst symptoms mentioned, recovery has often taken place; but not unfrequently they have ended fatally, in a period varying from six to twenty-four hours. In case of recovery, the poisonous symptoms are of variable duration, but generally begin to disappear within twenty-four hours; and the patient, upon rising out of his lethargy, has no recollection of what has passed. Little definite is known, as to the smallest quantity that may cause death. A child two years old was killed by 100 seeds, which were swallowed whole, and were afterwards found in the stomach and bowels. Dr. Young states that a single capsule with its contents proved fatal to a child. It is the seeds which are most frequently taken in poisonous quantities, and generally by children, who gather them from the plant. Stupor in a child, with extraordinarily dilated pupil, should lead to the suspicion of this kind of poisoning, if access to the cause was possible. The late Dr. Dorsey used, in his lectures, to relate a case in which this symptom induced him to suspect narcotic poisoning, and, upon this suspicion, to administer an emetic, which caused the discharge of numerous stramonium seeds, with the effect apparently of saving life. Alarming symptoms have followed the external application of the leaves to a burn.

Herbivorous animals are less affected than man. Five ounces of the fresh juice produced only slight drowsiness in a horse; and two pounds and a half of the seeds, given to another horse, though they proved fatal, did not destroy life until after fifty-two hours. (Pereira's Mat. Med.) Upon dogs the poison acts as in the human subject.

The treatment of poisoning by stramonium is the same as that for opium. Animal charcoal may be given at the same time, as an antidote to the poison remaining in the stomach.

Like belladonna, stramonium produces its peculiar effects, no matter to what part of the body it may be applied; and, in like manner, the expressed juice, an infusion of the leaves, or the extract dilates the pupil, when introduced into the eye, or rubbed upon the eyelids and neighbouring parts. There is little doubt that it acts on the brain exclusively through the blood.