Thorn apples are the fruit of the plant Datura stramonium, also known as jimson weed, stink weed, and devil's trumpet, a weed in the Nightshade family. Thorn apples grow throughout the world, but originated in either India or Central America. They are poisonous, causing hallucinations and fever, and potentially fatal in the case of overdose. Thorn apples were once used as folk hallucinogens for ritual purposes and as medicine for a number of complaints, but they are currently believed to be too dangerous for such uses.
The thorn-apple plant is an annual herb averaging one to five feet (30 to 150 cm) in height, with forking purple stems, irregular green leaves, and white or purple trumpet-shaped flowers. The thorn apples are a spiked, walnut-shaped fruit filled with small black seeds. All parts of the plant are poisonous and emit a foul odor when crushed.
Jimson weed, an American name for the plant, derives from Jamestown, Virginia, where a group of British soldiers were drugged with it during Bacon's Rebellion in 1676. The incident prevented them from quelling the rebellion, as they experienced hallucinations lasting for days.
Most people who consume thorn apples or other parts of the plant recreationally find the experience unpleasant. In addition to delirium and hallucinations, effects include changes in blood pressure, accelerated heartbeat, flushed and dry skin, dry mouth, extreme dilation of the pupils, constipation, urinary retention, and involuntary jerky movements. Seizure, heatstroke, coma, and death can occur in case of overdose. Overdose is common, as the drug has a low therapeutic index and can take hours to begin showing effects in some users, causing them to take more before the first dose is in effect.
Accidental consumption of thorn apples is not common, but children sometimes eat them because they are somewhat sweet. In case of thorn apple poisoning, one should induce vomiting and seek hospitalization immediately. While the plant is no longer used medicinally, some of its active compounds, atropine, hyoscine, and hyoscyamine, are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat a variety of conditions, including gastrointestinal complaints, heart problems, and nausea. Atropine and hyoscine are also used to dilate the pupils for ophthalmic use.