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What are Thorn Apples?

Niki Foster
By
Updated May 21, 2024
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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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly are thorn apples?

Thorn apples, scientifically known as Datura stramonium, are a species of flowering plants in the nightshade family. They are known for their distinctive spiky seed pods and trumpet-shaped flowers, which can be white or purple. These plants are also recognized for their psychoactive properties and have a history of use in traditional medicine and spiritual rituals.

Are thorn apples safe to consume?

No, thorn apples are not safe to consume. All parts of the plant contain toxic alkaloids such as scopolamine, hyoscyamine, and atropine. Ingestion can lead to severe symptoms like hallucinations, delirium, rapid heartbeat, and can be fatal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accidental poisoning from Datura species is a serious health concern.

Where can thorn apples be found?

Thorn apples are native to the Americas but have been spread worldwide. They thrive in a variety of environments, particularly in temperate and overgrown areas. They are often found in fields, along roadsides, and in waste areas. Their adaptability allows them to colonize disturbed lands easily, making them a common sight in many regions.

How do thorn apples affect wildlife and ecosystems?

Thorn apples can have both positive and negative effects on wildlife and ecosystems. Some animals, particularly birds, may feed on the seeds without apparent harm, aiding in seed dispersal. However, the plant's toxicity can pose risks to mammals and insects. Additionally, as an invasive species in some areas, thorn apples can outcompete native flora, altering local ecosystems.

Can thorn apples be used for medicinal purposes?

Historically, thorn apples have been used in traditional medicine for their antispasmodic and analgesic properties. However, due to their high toxicity and the difficulty in controlling dosages, modern medicine does not commonly use them. Any medicinal use should be approached with extreme caution and under professional supervision to avoid potentially lethal consequences.

How should one handle thorn apples if encountered?

If you encounter thorn apples, it's best to admire them from a distance and not touch the plant. Handling the plant can lead to absorption of toxins through the skin or accidental ingestion if hands are not washed thoroughly. If removal is necessary, wear protective gloves and dispose of the plant carefully, keeping it away from children and pets.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Niki Foster
By Niki Foster , Writer

In addition to her role as a AllThingsNature editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

Discussion Comments

By sputnik — On Sep 03, 2008

Thorn apple, is also known as apple of Peru, angel's trumpet and dewtry. Even though the plant is poisonous it has some beneficial uses. The thorn apple protects other plants from beetles.

Niki Foster

Niki Foster

Writer

In addition to her role as a AllThingsNature editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual...

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