After inhaling the “Devil’s Breath,” victims have been known to wake up with no memory of withdrawing their life savings and giving it away.
Scopolamine, dubbed the “Devil’s Breath,” is often referred to as the most dangerous drug in the world. Mainly prevalent in South America, the drug is used to commit the perfect crime — while under the influence of scopolamine, someone could convince you to willingly withdraw and give away your life savings from your bank account, but you would wake up and remember nothing.
What’s particularly unsettling is that anyone could be unknowingly sent under scopolamine’s strong spell within seconds. The drug comes in a powder form, and according to a documentary by VICE, people have been known to ask for directions and pull out a map sprinkled with the drug, or hand over a drug-soaked business card. Then, with just a quick blow of the powder into the victim’s face, he or she will expectedly lose all power of free will.
Scopolamine, also known as burundanga, is derived from nightshade plants. The drug is odorless and tasteless, and in high amounts, can be lethal.
Val Curran, a professor of pharmacology at UCL’s Clinical Pharmacology Unit, told The Guardian that high doses of scopolamine would “completely zonk you out” and “be completely incapacitating,” but she’s not totally convinced that the drug could remove free will. She says high doses would likely eliminate any memory of the night, but then again, so would high doses of alcohol or other benzodiazepines like Xanax or Valium.
The top legal dosage for scopolamine is set at .33 milligrams, and a dose of just 10 milligrams would be enough to send someone into a coma and possible death. Under what circumstances is this questionable drug legal? Interestingly, scopolamine is used in Alzheimer’s research, and is also used in very low doses to treat motion sickness via a transdermal patch.
NASA has mixed scopolamine with dexedrine to form a substance called scop-dex and then administered the drug to trainees during the reduced gravity program. They state that scop-dex drops the motion sickness rate to 15 percent or less.
Of course, since the drug can potentially strip someone of all rational thinking, scopolamine is surrounded by conspiracy theories. It is said to have the abilities of a “truth-serum,” and some stories claim that the drug was used in Nazi Germany as an interrogation tool, according to The Guardian.
The CIA has also been accused of using scopolamine to force the truth out of people, and a wild conspiracy theory states that the Batman movie shooter, James Holmes, was set up and drugged with scopolamine in order to brainwash him to commit the mass shooting. It sounds crazy, but these conspiracy theorists argue that the US government wanted to keep Holmes’ dad from testifying in a high-crime fraud case, and they point out all the strange things about Holmes that just don’t seem to add up.
In VICE’s documentary, Ryan Duffy travels to Colombia and interviews Demencia Black, a drug dealer in the area. Black says scopolamine is “worse than anthrax” and that, once someone is under the drug’s effects, “You can guide them wherever you want. It’s like they’re a child.”
Duffy also interviews some scopolamine victims in the video, and one woman recounts how a man asked her for directions, and then offered her a glass of juice (scopolamine can be slipped into drinks). She says she has no recollection of the following events, but she took the man to her house and helped him gather all of her belongings to steal, including her boyfriend’s expensive cameras and savings.
It remains somewhat of a mystery why scopolamine-related crimes seem to happen so frequently only in South America — if you haven’t even heard of the drug until now, it’s because scopolamine drugging rarely happens anywhere else around the world.
Dr. Les King, a chemist and former forensic scientist, told The Guardian that the idea that people could become zombified and stripped of their free will “seems pretty unlikely for a start,” and he says there’s no evidence the drug is being used in Europe. “The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction has never had any mention of scopolamine being used in this way.”
So it appears that places in South America are the only ones enduring these severe scopolamine-related crimes, but the history of the drug and how it seems to strip its victims of free will remains more of an enigma.
If someone asks for directions or hands you a business card, the chances that you’ll end up inhaling the “Devil’s Breath” are extremely small. But the drug’s notoriety serves as a reminder that it’s always best to stay alert when dealing with strangers. Waking up with a nasty hangover and no recollection of the night is one thing, but waking up with a ransacked apartment and empty bank account with no recollection of the night is another.