You may have heard of rumours, hoaxes or a friend talking about a drug that makes people act like zombies. The first time I heard stories about this drug was when I was working as a beer promoter. A friend had gotten in a matatu and on his way home, he got into a conversation with a lady who then offered him chewing gum. The next thing he knew was being woken up by the driver to get off the matatu because he was the only left passenger in the vehicle. and the driver had reached the last stop. On him, he neither had his shoes nor his wallet and neither could he remember how he had lost his belongings.
Another incidence was of a classmate who had been waiting at the bus station for her friend. What she didn’t expect was to be led by a stranger to withdraw all her fees, which she willingly did. It was only moments before she could give the money to the perpetrator, that an onlooker who was observing the events from a distance, intervened.
What is Scopolamine
Recognised as the world’s most dangerous drug, also known as the devil’s breath, for reasons justified, Scopolamine/hyoscine/burundanga falls under the category of anticholinergics. Anticholinergics are a type of medication that works by blocking the neurotransmitter, that triggers nausea and vomiting. Hence, in low dosages, scopolamine is used to treat motion sickness or prevent nausea and vomiting that often ensues after one has had surgery.
But that is not why you should beware of this drug. Scopolamine has been found to facilitate criminal activities in various countries including South America, streets of Paris and even here in Nairobi.
In the early 20th century, scopolamine used to be administered as anaesthesia. Often it was administered in childbirth helping the woman to forget the pain of childbearing. But from this, obstetricians noticed how the women who had taken the drug would become open and honest when responding to questions. From then it acquired another use as a truth serum and according to The Guardian, the drug was hence used dubiously to coax the truth out of criminals. It is also reported to have been used by the Nazis as an interrogation tool.
Nowadays, apart from medicinal uses, the drug is used to facilitate robbery without violence. Just like on the aforementioned incidences and countless other stories that you may have heard of, Scopolamine renders you incapable of exercising your free will, leaving you vulnerable to do anything an attacker demands. Once you recover from its effects, you will also have no memory of what happened and neither can you identify a perpetrator.
Common Scopolamine poisoning cases include giving out confidential details like bank PINs, passwords, ATMs, withdrawing or transferring money from your Mpesa account or even helping an attacker rob your home. In incidences of sexual assault, a victim is not able to fight back and neither do they have the will or ability to call out for help.
Scopolamine is tasteless and odourless therefore it can be passed through a spiked drink or food. Claims that the drug can be effective if passed through a handshake, a laced piece of paper, a business card, or blown-in your face have yet to be supported by science. Nonetheless, these claims are not negligible.
However, doctors claim that the amount of drug passed through such mechanism is too small for the drug to be effective. On that note, its important to beware of other drugs abused in the same way. Valium and Xanax are a good example.
Effects of scopolamine
Since the drug is instantly absorbed in your skin, its effects are nearly immediate and they include; Drowsiness, dizziness, a dry mouth or skin, blurred vision, restlessness, confusion, hallucinations, paranoia, difficulty speaking, difficulty urinating, constipation or dry and dilated pupils. In high dosages, Scopolamine completely zonks you out and you don’t remember what was going on. It can render you unconscious for more than 24 hours, cause respiratory failure and even death. Reports show that Scopolamine is used in Alzheimer’s research, therefore, it has an amnesic effect.
Security, safety tips and how to avoid Scopolamine poisoning
- Majority of incidences occur in night clubs, taverns or bars. Therefore, avoid leaving your drink/food unattended if you happen to be in public dining places or a nightclub. Have these for a stress-free night out.
- Do not accept already served food or drinks from strangers or people you do not trust.
- Avoid engaging with strangers or inviting them to your home/hotel.
- In case you are meeting someone you do not know, do so in a mall, café or a restaurant in a public place. In this case, too, do not leave your meals or drink unattended.
- Beware of people who insist on asking for directions when you try to avoid them or those who ask you to take them to the specific place.
- Be very suspicion when in public, when a stranger approaches you, (regardless of how they are dressed) and especially when you’re in the midst of crowded areas like bus stations or traffic packed areas.
- Be aware of who you sit next to especially if you are using public means of transport.
- Do not walk alone at night, especially in high-risk lanes and streets.
What can you do in the case of scopolamine poisoning
- Seek medical help immediately.
- Also, avoid driving if you suspect poisoning. Scopolamine slows down the central nervous system, thus impeding reactions.
- Cases of drug poisoning are least reported. It is a good practise to report the incident to the nearest police station as this can prompt awareness, public alert or even better the necessary action.
When all is said and done, remember that safety begins with you. Therefore, avoid putting yourself in places/circumstance where you’re likely to be vulnerable or taken advantage of.
Featured image via telegraph