Saturday, August 8, 2009


Last summer, Em and I, and some friends from Tucson (he’s an inventor and his wife is a DNA analyst) rented a gas-guzzling monstrosity, and headed for Denver WorldCon by way of the National Parks in Utah. After the roadtrip, the WorldCon was a disappointment – the science fiction world is a wasteland these days – but all that fantastic geologic splendor ! Talk about inspiration. Em got an idea for a novel and wrote over ten thousand words on the road and at the con. I got some ideas for my Nanohudu Mars stories.

But then, that’s not what I’m getting at here.

I kept noticing this leafy weed-like vine growing by the side of the road. It had white flowers that had fang/horn-like things sticking out of its petals. It looked a lot like datura, the infamous hallucinogenic plant that the Mayans used in enemas that made them feel as if they were flying with strange winged creatures, like what Tahir Shah wrote about in Trail of Feathers.

"That looks like datura," I said.

Em mentioned a similar-looking plant that it could have been. I was willing to go with it. Hell, I’m not an expert on such things.

Later, on a tour bus through Zion National Park, the driver mentioned the funny white flowers. She them "sacred datura." She also warned us against touching the flowers because they are highly poisonous.

I kept an eye out, and kept seeing datura growing wild and flourishing, and the roadside, in National Parks, even among the decorative plants along the main street of Moab. I thought about the Mayan datura enema while eating in two restaurants that had the diabolical plant growing in front of them. One of the restaurants even offered some Mayan dishes.

Which all makes me wonder . . . with all the blood and money being spent on the War on Drugs, and a useful plant like hemp hunted down as Weed With Roots In Hell, why is it that the Devil’s Trumpet grows wild all over Utah?

Also, why isn’t there a datura problem that government has to crack down on? Is the Mormon influence so powerful that a few verbal warnings – there was not one sign posted anywhere – are enough to keep an otherwise drug-crazy consumer culture from coming in and going wild? Since when do Americans have that much self-control?
Thinking about this triggers the What’s Wrong With This Picture reflex in my brain. Could it be that something the authorities have been saying about human nature all through the Twentieth Century is wrong? Or maybe the fantastic landscapes of Utah are so amazing that hallucinogenic drugs become somehow irrelevant?

No wonder WorldCon seemed dull.


  1. Oh, you have lots of reasons why nobody's doing anything about datura. Firstly, you're absolutely right in how nobody's going to do a damn thing about it when it grows wild all over the area: your standard drug control issues are with plants with limited range, such as peyote cacti or opium poppies. Secondly, much like the fuss about Salvia divinorum, datura isn't a drug for those who want to get wasted, and anyone who decides to take a hit of datura because it's cheaper than weed deserves everything s/he gets. Thirdly and most importantly, though, it's all a matter of misdirection. It never occurs to anybody that datura, like morning glories, are anything but pretty flowers.

    (As a really funny sidebar concerning your and Em's place of employ, the B******* store here in Dallas right up the street from my house has a huge collection of datura in a planter space out front. I can smell them when they bloom every night, and I grabbed seeds from one to grow my own on my front porch. Even better, the space is shielded from the worst of our winter winds, so the plants don't freeze solid, and it's on the west side of the building so it captures a lot of heat from the winter sun in the late evening. Suddenly, the behavior of its current managers makes perfect sense.)

    Incidentally, I love going through the local Lowe's garden center and pointing out all of the interesting plants with similar heritage all over the place. My favorite is the ornamental tobacco, simply named Nicotiana, which is perfectly legal to own. Just don't try growing it to make cigarettes.

  2. My friend Lael, who lived for many years in far West Texas, says they call it Puke Weed. There are occasional kids who get high (and/or really sick) on it from time to time - but the aggressive vomiting response keeps most people away.

  3. Or maybe it's because datura is so lethally poisonous that you really have to be an expert in order to collect, prepare and take/administer it - a bit like the skills needed to be a fugu chef. Pufferfish are plentiful and easy to catch, but how often do you hear of Japanese fishermen eating them?

    The vast majority of Americans don't know about datura's hallucinogenic properties; nearly all of them could tell you that jimsonweed (its more common name) is dangerous, deadly stuff.