On the topic of scary drugs.
In the later half of the last decade an unsettling stream of chain emails came out, seemingly from various sheriff’s departments, warning readers about a string of recent robberies. The story reported that a young woman was recently assaulted after receiving a poisoned business card at a gas station. Shortly after handling the attacker’s card she began to feel dizzy and was nearly attacked by the thieves. Luckily she survived, but the emails strongly cautioned readers to beware doped cards and this new, mysterious drug: the dreaded ‘burundanga’!
However, I bet you caught on as soon as I said chain emails. The story? Completely false. What’s really interesting? Burundanga isn’t made up. And it might be more dangerous than even the myth makes it out to be.
It’s real name is scopolamine. Like most drugs it has its medical uses and can be useful in controlling nausea and depression. However, in larger doses it can cause delirium, temporary amnesia, and loss of inhibition. These symptoms are persistent and can sometimes last for days. Like rohypnol it can be used to force compliance and has been used both as a date-rape drug and experimentally as a truth-serum by the infamous MKULTRA project (The problem with the truth-serum idea was that scopolamine, like most barbituates, can also produce powerful hallucinations and any ‘truth’ you get out of someone is just as likely to have been made up as true).
What’s really scary about this drug is the ease that it can be administered. It can be ingested, inhaled, or imbibed. It’s said that you can just blow it in people’s faces. And while both toxic clouds of powder and doped business cards are unlikely to be true, the drug should be quite easy to slip into an unsuspecting person’s drink or food. Victims are said to become docile and agreeable ‘zombies’ who are not only compliant with requests but even eager to help. Stories circulate about people who have invited robbers into their own homes under the effects of burundanga.
Luckily, scopolamine attacks are not a common phenomenon and both it’s prevalence and effects are likely exaggerated, although the U.S. State Department has warned people to be careful travelling in both Colombia and Thailand.
Oh, by the way, scopolamine is derived from a family of plants that includes Datura which I’ve written about before and want to avoid like the plague. The TV show Vice recently produced a half-hour documentary about scopolamine. It’s definitely worth a look. You can find it here.