Monday, 5 December 2016

A criminal's perfect drug?

Picture the scenario. You meet a stranger on the street, have a brief, perhaps cordial exchange, and moments later you're handing over practically everything you have in your possession. If you've your bank cards on you, you might even go the nearest ATM, withdraw your limit and give it to your recently met acquaintance.
Most scopolamine attacks happen during or after a night out. Taking public transport home alone can be risky ...
Scopolamine: Bringing people in Bogotá on a 'trip' they don't want to go on?
Nice, if you're on the receiving end of such 'generosity' that is. If only, eh? Yet, here in Bogotá, these kinds of things do happen. No, it's not a case of there being more giving types here compared to other places – it's more likely the opposite on that score.

It's all to do with what you could describe as a type of hypnotising drug, sourced from plants found in these parts. For those unaware of scopolamine/hyoscine, or Devil's Breath as it's also called, how it allegedly affects individuals under its influence reads like some sort of horror/science fiction movie.

Basically, if you're unlucky enough to be exposed to it, so it goes, you'll become completely subservient to whoever happens to be around you; you'll pretty much do whatever they ask you to do. You can still function, superficially and physically in any case, more or less as normal. The problem is that you lose your will power. Pretty much whatever is asked of you, you'll do, no questions asked.

Now some pharmacological experts are unwilling to give scopolamine, or whatever similar version of it is used, such lofty 'credit' as a drug that takes away your will power with just the slightest sniff of it. They dispute the commonly held belief that inhaling a small dose in powder form – one of the ways Devil's Breath dispensers drug their victims is by blowing it in their faces – would instantly send somebody into a puppet-like stupor.

Nonetheless, you'll find plenty of people who were robbed or taken advantage of in Bogotá who swear that they were maliciously administered something that dramatically altered their behaviour, something other than the usual alcohol and whatever else they might be having.
Brugmansia, the innocent source of something much more sinister ...
The Brugmansia plant, source of scopolamine. (Photo from web.) 
So for those who have had nights where they've found themselves acting completely out of character in the company of strangers – and normally robbed to boot – they're convinced that if it's not exactly scopolamine that's to blame, some sort of nasty concoction is.

Despite all the anecdotes of such freaky episodes, in a lot the cases there's a lack of hard evidence available to say whether it was actually Devil's Breath at play or not – that is to say, no toxicology tests were taken.

For this reason, it continues to remain in some sort of limbo: an urban myth or a dangerous criminal reality? Whatever the case, for some victims of crime in Bogotá, something sinister has been, and continues to be, lurking in the air. More reasons to always have the guard up around here.
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2 comments:

  1. Nice piece. I suspect it is an urban myth. I could never really believe that puffing it in someone's face is how criminals actually would use it. Especially when you think about getting the dose even a mg wrong would kill the victim. I thought spiking a victims drink was how it would most likely be used. But then those cases are just probably a mix of alcohol and a plain old fashioned date rape drug. I put a little post up about scopolamine (Devil’s Breath) on my website not too long ago: http://stuartoswald.com/2015/02/vice-colombias-scopolamine-devils-breath-drug.html. I went recently to visit the Laguna de Guatavita (http://stuartoswald.com/2016/11/visiting-laguna-de-guatavita-the-legend-of-eldorado.html) and the guide there pointed out a brugmansia plant and went on the explained that sleeping under one for an extended time could kill you. Then again not sure if it is fact of if he was just perpetuating the myth.

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    1. It's hard to know and without solid evidence we won't I guess. I've obviously known about this for the last few years, but what prompted this post was an incident that happened to a good friend of mine here just last week. He says he couldn't remember his name nor his address, and found himself in a TM station that he had no need to be in, where he collapsed. His money was stolen, but that was it (he had his laptop on him, but that wasn't).
      He said it had to be scopolamine; but throw in a good amount of alcohol consumption and things get blurry. Yes, there may have been something else used to make him more susceptible, but we can only surmise at this remove.

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