Measured Against Reality

Monday, August 14, 2006

Zombie drugs identified

This is amazing. Tetrodotoxin, the poison from the puffer fish, can turn you into a zombie.

Well, sort of.

For those not inclined to click the link, here’s the short version. The drug causes paralysis in all of the muscles of the body, which usually leads to respiratory failure. But in some cases the victim will maintain a faint heart beat, which is only detectable by EKG. During the time, the victim is completely aware (although without a sense of touch, according to fugu (the dish made from the deadly puffer fish) fanatics).

So what happens is that someone is given this drug without their knowledge, declared dead, presumably by doctors without modern life support systems? This is happening in Haitian villages. The victim is dug up, beaten, dragged off to a plantation, and then fed a diet of Datura stramonium. This plant is also known as “zombie cucumber” or more commonly, at least in the Northeast, Jimson Weed.

This weed contains tropane alkaloids that can act as true hallucinogens, detaching the consumer from reality. Its seeds are brewed into a tea by people wanting to get high here in the US, but it keeps the zombie slaves in some kind of a trance. It keeps them docile enough not to run away, and aware enough to do work.

While this is clearly horrible for the people stolen as zombies, it’s pretty fascinating. I’d heard of Haitian zombie myths before, but never in the context of anything besides superstition, usually in the context of voodoo. It’s good to know that one more superstition has been explained by science, yet another victory for naturalism.

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  • I believe the work of Harvard ethnopharmacologist Wade Davis suggests that the Haitian stories are more than myths

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:24 PM, August 16, 2006  

  • This subject is treated at length in the book "The Serpent and The Rainbow".

    It is a fascinating read.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:05 AM, August 17, 2006  

  • The link provided yields the home page for the American Chemical Society, with no reference there to this subject; entering "fugu" or "tetrodotoxin" in the search box produces a handful of articles that don't seem to pertain to anything in Haiti.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:21 AM, August 17, 2006  

  • Many years ago, an idiot/jerk dosed my drink with a crude extract of jimson weed. I spent the rest of the day in a dull haze of vague waking nightmares - a thoroughly unpleasant experience, though probably not as hellish as that I would have inflicted on my poisoner if I had encountered him afterwards.
    The strangest part of the whole experience was being told later by a mutual acquaintance that this fool thought he was doing me a favor - he had prepared this brew for his own use, and actively enjoyed it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:29 AM, August 17, 2006  

  • Anonymous commenter, you're right, the link stopped working some time recently (I swear it did earlier!) But here's the original paper the article was based on:

    By Blogger stupac2, at 11:04 AM, August 17, 2006  

  • Thanks for the follow-up - and that account from Chem Matters is amazing!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:25 PM, August 28, 2006  

  • Your faith in science is amazing. As soon as scientists offer a possible explanation, you latch onto it as if it is a proven fact.

    Of course, science can tell us how something could have happened. Assuming that the answers are absolute is antithetical to science, as it would end research in this area.

    To claim that science has disproved religion is like saying, "Since fire has been proven to heat water, microwaves cannot heat water."

    By Blogger Truth Beyond Reason, at 8:01 AM, June 11, 2008  

  • I used to take some pills that was supposed to be for headaches and they turned me into zombie mode.

    By Anonymous Viagra Online, at 11:58 AM, August 25, 2010  

  • Datura stramonium has been used during hundreds of years in the pre-colonial america, there's a famous case of a guy in Haiti who is actually declared the first modern zombie and it's suspected that he was poisoned with this plant. if69

    By Anonymous viagra, at 11:19 AM, April 15, 2011  

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    By Anonymous About Health, at 3:16 AM, July 22, 2011  

  • Thanks so much for the article, quite effective information.

    By Anonymous, at 10:18 AM, November 25, 2011  

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