Datura (or Thorn Apple) has long been used as a sacred hallucinogen, especially in Mexico and the American Southwest, and it has played a major role in native medicine and magico-religious rites. The Datura plant has also been recognized since ancient times as a dangerous and potent narcotic.
In the Old World, Datura has had a long history as a medicine and sacred hallucinogen. Early Sanskrit and Chinese writings mention Datura metel. It was undoubtedly this species that the Arabian doctor Avicenna reported in the eleventh century under the name Jouz-mathal ("metal nut"); this report was repeated in Dioscorides's writings. The name Metelis taken from this Arabic term, while the generic epithet Daturawas adapted to Latin by Linnaeus from the Sanskrit Dhatura.In China, the plant was considered sacred: when Buddha was preaching,heaven sprinkled the plant with dew or raindrops. A Taoistlegend maintains that Datura metel is one of the circumpolar stars and that envoys to earth from this star carry a flower of the plant in their hand.
In ancient China, Datura was taken together with Cannabis in wine as an anesthesia for minor surgery. In India , it was called the tuft of Shiva, the god of destruction. Dancing girls sometimes drugged wine with its seeds, and whoever drank of the potion, appearing in possession of his senses, gave answers to questions, although he had no control over his will, was ignorant of whom he was addressing, and lost all memory of what he did when the intoxication wore off.
Even today, seeds of powdered leaves of this plant are often mixed with Cannabis or Tobacco and smoked in Indochina. In 1578, its use as an aphrodisiac in the East Indies was reported by psychic investigators. The English herbalist Gerard believed that Datura was the Hippomanes which the Greek writer Theocritus mentioned as driving horses mad. In ancient Greece,the priests of Apollo are believed to have induced their prophetic state with Datura.
When intoxicated by Datura, physiological activity begins with a feeling of lassitude and progress into a period of hallucinations followed by a deep sleep and loss of consciousness. In excessive doses, death or permanent insanity may occur.