Tuesday 2 June 2015

Surviving the Madness of Sakarana — Hyoscyamus muticus (aka Deadly Nightshade)

Surviving the Madness of Sakarana — Hyoscyamus muticus (aka Deadly Nightshade) by Omar Cherif, One Lucky Soul

Since I was younger in Egypt, I always heard about the friends of my older cousin who took this little-known hallucinogenic plant called Sakarana and totally lost it for a few days. Sometimes in the early 90s, one of them had brought some from Sinai and they did it in Cairo. Originally found in the deserts of Sinai among other places in South of Egypt, not many people knew of this bizarre plant; even fewer people have had the chance — or the guts — to consume it.

The Trips

Once in our early 20s, my friends and I were camping in Nuweiba by the Red Sea and were able to get some Sakarana and try it. The beautiful desert, the sea, no phone, the perfect place to disconnect. We boiled the Sakarana just like tea and drank it. That’s what we knew from the older generations as well as from the Bedouins who had guided us to the whereabouts of the plant, which grows in the deserts of rocky localities, wadis, and plains.

Being highly poisonous, urban myths talk about camels changing directions when they smell Sakarana from a large distance. There are also tales about Bedouin wives adding it to their husbands’ tea as an act of revenge if they had wronged them.

Surviving the Madness of Sakarana — Hyoscyamus muticus (aka Deadly Nightshade) by Omar Cherif, One Lucky Soul

I remember the Bedouin guide who took us to the place where the Sakarana grows. We offered him some but he kindly refused, telling us we’re crazy to do this. As much as they feared this plant and rarely consume it themselves, as much as our exhilaration to try it increased. 

By that time, we had all done LSD and mushrooms many times, among a multitude of other substances. We were actual psychonauts, one could say. I also remember the excitement we felt to be on the verge of tripping on a new drug that not many actually knew.

The Sakarana ‘trip’, however, is so different than other hallucinogens like psychedelics (LSD, mushrooms) and dissociatives (Ketamine). It is also way more dangerous as we later find out. Unlike psychedelics, your senses and perceptions are distorted instead of heightened. You get episodes of believing your hallucinations. Logic, reasoning, vision, and balance are also impaired.

Even though the first trial wasn’t fun, nor was it intense in terms of ‘high’, but I must say that the novelty added something to the experience, which lasted about 10 to 12 hours and throughout our sleep. I specifically remember the feeling of overall fatigue, not feeling well in the stomach, and later the weird dreams.

The below photo is from that day. This was maybe a few hours after drinking three cups.

Surviving the Madness of Sakarana — Hyoscyamus muticus (aka Deadly Nightshade) by Omar Cherif, One Lucky Soul
Wonder if the cat was sensing my bizarre dreams, or energy

A few years later when we were 25 years old, without any planning we happened to meet again in that same camp on the beach and go fetch for more Sakarana. Due to that first experience a few years prior, however, I wasn’t [that] excited to do it again. But since we were right there I went along with it.

We took the car, a black plastic bag, and headed to a valley where we know the plant grows wildly between the rocks. This time we were our own guides.

I believe there is a video of that specific moment somewhere... with Cuban music in the background coming from the car. We kept filming well into the trip. Sadly, we cannot seem to find the tape.

Back to the camp, we boiled some Sakarana and had a few cups each — pretty much like the time before. The effects start by 45 minutes and intensify by 90 minutes. We spent the trip sitting on the sand, just staring at the sea. Even though we were somewhat out but compared to what happened the next day, it was still under control. Well, kind of. 

We all woke up later in the day, still dazed and confused. We probably ate something and it was again night time. Being the last of our five-day trip and having consumed all our goodies, my friends suggested we eat two leaves without boiling them. As if that would be a milder trip. Pfff.

Even though we sure had ingested more than two leaves each when we drank it, but the boiling kills lots of toxins. Eating is simply pure intoxication. Little did we know, our thinking abilities must have still been bamboozled. So, like good foolish boys, three of us ate two leaves by 7 or 8 pm and that was that. We “came out of it” about 36 hours later in Cairo, which is 450 Km away. Yep

Surviving the Madness of Sakarana — Hyoscyamus muticus (aka Deadly Nightshade) by Omar Cherif, One Lucky Soul
During one of our trips to the camp — circa 2002

What exactly transpired during those many hours remains a shady mystery to this very day. The three of us blacked out in the last part, while the other two were trying to help out but to no avail. Our fourth friend just took a small part of a leaf but she was relatively OK compared to us; while my younger cousin was on low-battery and had slept a day earlier so he didn’t eat any of the plant. This was great since he was the one who ended up driving us back.

The few things I personally remember are the blurred vision, the urine retention, feeling of total drunkenness, the loss of balance and the wacky confusion. Also, extreme dehydration like I have never experienced before — in my mouth, eyes, skin, even my soul. My mouth was so dry, I could not speak. And for a few hours I was peeing in the sand every five minutes, though only a few drops would come out.

As I mentioned, we had all already ingested all kinds of known substances and even more by that time. But with eating the Sakarana leaves you really feel physically incapacitated as well as mentally poisoned.

Part one of the trip was insane to say the least. It was night time but the rooms had electricity, so there was some kind of light reaching us as we sat outside on the sand. I would find myself doing the same things over and over again. Then everything would vanish and I find myself somewhere else.

The water coming out of the sink in the bathroom is salty and I know that, but I find myself so thirsty that I go drink from it, which makes me more thirsty. My soberish friend would try to stop me but five minutes later I would do it again. And then again and again and again.

I remember sitting on the shore and seeing the South of Egypt train right in front of me in the sea. I could even see the soldiers riding inside the train going home to their families. The maddening part is that your brain convinces itself with whatever explanation it is in order to match the hallucination. So I say to myself:

Ah, these are the holidays (they were) and the soldiers are going back to their families (they were not, because there was no train inside the sea).”

One major fuck-up for me involved those bins you see under the palm trees in the above picture. At night after eating the Sakarana, I really saw them as old people sitting down. Even though I knew that we were the only guests in the camp, but because I’m really not there, I seriously believed those bins were people. I would perceive them in details. Then every time my reasoning would be to go closer and touch them; if they were people I’ll just say sorry. So I go closer and slowly put my hands on the bins just to finally realise they are a solid body and not human beings. Only then do I see the real picture while realising what they truly are. And I would say to myself: Waow dude, you’re beyond fucked up.

And THEN, five or ten minutes later my eyes and mind would deceive me again as I get into the same ritualistic madness.

Those phantoms people seemed so real.

“Who is this? Should I go say hello?” was what I repeatedly had in mind. So I go and touch and realise the bins are mere solid. This kept happening so many times. Again, the kind of hallucinations were not like those induced by LSD or Mushrooms. For they were full hallucinations which looked utterly real in the mind. There was nothing transcendental or psychedelic or even colourful about them either, you see. The delirium was the main event.

Also in terms of balance, the ‘high’ is coupled with the feeling of having consumed 17 tequila shots plus 3 mg of Leponex (Clozapine). The woman had to help me out on those trips between the different old bins around the beach.

I remember for a while it was all one loop which kept repeating itself like a cyclic pattern. These visions of non-existent people who were always old, the insane thirst, the peeing, and that feeling of inhabiting a different world and sensing odd presences.

As we later found out, all of this was equally happening to my two buddies.

At some point, I walked into our room to see one of them thoroughly cleaning the wall with a towel. “What are you doing, man?” Ants, ants, ants everywhere, was his reply. So I went to investigate but I couldn’t see anything. There was nothing — for me at least. We later came to know what that was about, as you will.

The second one kept having conversations with the neighbours of the next room, even though we were alone in the whole camp.

Surviving the Madness of Sakarana — Hyoscyamus muticus (aka Deadly Nightshade) by Omar Cherif, One Lucky Soul
Myself sitting outside of our room at the infamous Aqua Sun Camp during a different trip

The electricity in the rooms shuts off by 3 or 4 am. By that time, the five of us were already inside. We had candles but for some reason never lit them up, so it got completely dark.

The friend who was talking to the imaginary neighbours has found his way to the bathroom and closed the door. Then suddenly we heard a big BANG#@* coming from inside, but we were too out of it to grasp what could have happened. We were also too incoherent to talk to the guy who was literally a few feet away in that bathroom. I remember we were all laughing at the time.

A few minutes passed and I thought I’d check on him. I left the safety of the bed, trying to stand up, but it was almost impossible. I first hit my head in the wall then I hit a vodka bottle with my leg, and it broke all over the floor. Damn, all the broken glass and I couldn’t see anything. I felt so lost in this pitch black that I totally forgot about the friend in the bathroom and went back to sit on the bed like a lost child. 

At the time, it has been some hours since we ate the leaves. The trip kept gradually getting stronger and crazier.

Apparently, having no balance, the poor guy fell in that tiny bathroom and hurt his head badly while blood was all over. He actually fell a few times and he’s quite big. He told us later that he couldn’t find the door or come out as he couldn’t see anything. His only reasoning after failing repeatedly was that he will wait for the light of the day to come out and then he will be able to see it from underneath the door or through the keyhole. So he decided to wait...tripping, on the floor, in the dark, covered in blood. Though one must say, given the mental situation he was in that was not bad reasoning.
I guess calling us or talking in general was not an option for him as well.

Part two is like a missing puzzle as the three of us lost track of time and space. The injured friend must have come out from the bathroom at some point, but all I personally remember is sitting outside the room while the sun was coming up, probably by 6 or 6:30 am.

Then I remember a flash of seeing him sitting on the sand with his back to the wall seen in the above photograph, and his head was bleeding from the middle. I think the woman was then trying to clean the wound. He was smoking a cigarette and I looked at him and smiled — not really fathoming what is happening. He smiled back, probably also not fathoming. 

Another flash was that I was lying on my back in the sand and four of the dogs who belong to the camp were surrounding me and licking my hands and feet.

At the time my younger cousin was still asleep, but our soberish lady friend woke him up because she couldn’t deal with us by herself.

One has his head smashed open and is bleeding but doesn’t even know it

Between rolling sand joints and being licked by the dogs, I could not even recognise her at the time, and that’s after spending four days together.

And our third tripper, took off his T-shirt and was walking towards the highway outside. When she went to get him, he looked at her and said: “Ah, now I remember why did I come here.” Then he left her and went back to the camp.

What a madhouse! The poor girl could not deal with us loonies.

Once my cousin was up, apparently he also came to me but I could also not communicate or recognise him. So being the only one capable of help, he took our injured buddy and drove him to the closest emergency station on the highway, located a few miles away from the camp to find an ambulance.

Of course, seeing that the guy is bloody and trippy, they suspected that something weird must have happened and decided to keep them there for a while. In a rare heroic moment, my cousin then left our bud, jumped from the window of the station, got into his car, and came back rushing to the camp.

He told us that the police are probably on their way and that its better that we leave back to Cairo. Then he started to pack our bags and put them in the car since we were still out of order. The soberish woman, on the other hand, went to see the injured one. After all, the three of us came together while they came together

On the five-hour way back, I remember nodding then waking up to see a veiled woman carrying a baby crossing the highway right in front of our car. So I would shout to my cousin: “Watch it!” Of course there was no one in this empty desert. This kept happening repeatedly for the first hour of the drive. My other friend was in the backseat muttering to himself, having some kind of mysterious conversation with the luggage.

Then we stopped by the checkpoint of the Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel, about an hour from Cairo. This is a major one of five checkpoints from Cairo to Nuweiba, and it is where the military then the police check your papers and car. I had already instructed my buddy sitting in the back to shut the heck up, but as soon as we stopped he decided to open the door and go down from the car. His step has actually faltered and this is when I too went down, trying to minimise any damage. Fortunately, the officer didn’t notice and we made it on our way. 

Finally in Cairo, we went home where my friend spent the night. We woke up late next morning trying to figure out what the heck had happened. We still had blurry vision and we couldn’t read properly. 

When we called the woman who drove to the hospital, we found out that our injured buddy was fine. Apparently he entertained the whole floor there by insisting to roll imaginary joints in the air. When the nurse came closer to see what he was doing, he gave her his back and said ‘sorry’ [that he’s rolling in bed]. Then when the Head Physician came to check on him, he thought he was one of his dad’s friends and called him ‘Uncle’. Hilarity ensues.

Much later, we found out that the cops did go to the camp after we left. The bloody bathroom and the plastic bag of Sakarana made them assume there was some kind of fight, possibly a crime of passion since there was a woman with us. Since that day, unmarried couples are not allowed to share rooms at the camp. And you’re welcome, folks! 

This became one of our popular stories we would tell people. The fact that we had survived such an extreme experience left us in awe and gratitude. I never, however, recommended it to anyone. And I still don’t. I mean, we were mid the desert, away from anything yet the guy hurt his head and bled like Rocky 4 while none of us even understood what was happening. And, again, we were quite experienced. So you can imagine how much worse it could have been.

A few younger guys heard the almost mythical story from us and, despite telling them it’s not a good idea
which coming from us was considered something weird since we were pro-drugs they travelled to Sinai, took Sakarana, and while driving their jeep rolled on its side and they were badly injured. One cannot even begin to imagine how driving would be even be a possibility. Well, experimenting with any drug should always be done responsibly, especially those extremely toxic ones we don’t know much about.

Early Info

I remember that when a doctor friend of ours heard about our adventure, he talked about extracting the active ingredient of a Parkinson’s Disease drug called Parkinol (Trihexyphenidyl HCl), an antiparkinsonian agent of the antimuscarinic class, from this plant.

In Egypt, Parkinol is a cheap synthetic atropine-like anticholinergic drug that has a street name of ‘Sarasir’ in Arabic, meaning ‘Roaches’. That is because users usually see black moving spots which look like insects.

We had also experimented with Parkinol a few times when younger, and similarities were remarkable; Talking to people who aren’t there, the antimuscarinic effects — blurred vision (diplopia), insane dehydration, urinary retention, and gastro-intestinal disturbances — seeing ants or black dots (which my buddy was cleaning) and imaginary smoke, not being able to light cigarettes, rolling imaginary joints, the confounding confusion.

Surviving the Madness of Sakarana — Hyoscyamus muticus (aka Deadly Nightshade) by Omar Cherif, One Lucky Soul
The first time a dealer gave me a full box (2 mg). So when I told him
it’s too much he left me 7 strips, that’s 70 pills!

At higher doses (over 7.5- 10 mg), Parkinol causes intense hallucinations and leads to a dangerous distortion between reality and non-reality. However, even though we sometimes took six or seven pills, this was still a pharmaceutical drug. The natural Sakarana plant was way more out of control, especially when eating it. It was Mother Nature in all its scary glory.

Still, I remember being told a story of a group of friends pranking their buddy by adding a few pills of Parkinol to his tea. The poor guy wanted to go buy cigarettes so he went out of the window and fell four stories, ending up becoming handicap! Terrifying, really. 

Outside of Egypt, the street names for Trihexyphenidyl include its trade name Artane and courage, octane, Sexy Trihexy, T Rex, and Tri-Sexual.

Interestingly, many years later I came across some hash in Egypt that makes you really sleepy. It also caused this kind of gloomy congestion throughout the chest area. It happened to my friends too, so I told the guy. He later confessed that the Bedouin dealers in the North Coast of Egypt ask him for a few strips of Parkinol whenever they know he’s coming from Cairo. He first thought they consume it themselves, but being so cheep, they apparently mix it with their lousy hash to make it more potent.

Mixing pills, or any substance, with hash had always been a hot topic between my friends and I. Because many pills are pricey, so to mix them, first, the pills have to be relatively cheap. Second, the procedure must cover cost and also bring money. This is abc drug dealing. Parkinol, however, is so cheap, that apparently some vile folks thought of mixing it with hash.

Eventually I wrote about the topic of mixed hashish in Egypt and the region to warn unwary smokers in (
احذروا التقليد عند الشراء — ظاهرة الحشيش المخلوط في مصر )

The Research

Eight years following our Sakarana trip I moved to Canada where I rediscovered myself and took writing as a vocation. It was then when the story came back to me. I had joined a harm reduction forum called Bluelight, on which I thought to share the novelty with all those thousands of people.

At the time, the only thing I knew about the plant was that it’s called Sakarana and that it grew naturally in Sinai and Upper Egypt.

At the beginning I thought it may be some kind of edible Salvia divinorum. However, with the help of members of Bluelight and after a few days of heated discussions and research, at the end of the Thread we came to the conclusion that Sakarana is most probably Deadly Nightshade, a type of Atropa belladona. This is not a psychedelic but a deliriant, considered one of the Top Five Toxic Plants in the World. It also has a long history of use as a medicine, cosmetic, and poison.

Recreationally, Belladonna, as well as other related plants such as Jimson Weed (Datura stramonium), are seldom used. Such plants are considered extremely dangerous as there is a high risk of unintentional fatal overdose. Their anticholinergic properties cause the disruption of the cognitive capacities of the central nervous system, such as memory and learning.

This is why I couldn’t learn that the water I had been drinking is salty or that the bins were not old people.

Belladonna is so toxic that few as two ingested berries can kill a child, 10 to 20 berries would kill an adult.

In some animals, it causes narcosis and paralysis. So the stories about the camels of Egypt changing routes to avoid Sakarana must be true.

The genus name Atropa comes from Atropos, one of the three Fates in Greek mythology; and the name “Bella Donna” is derived from Italian, meaning “Beautiful Lady”; because the herb was used in eye-drops by women to dilate the pupils of the eyes to make them appear seductive.

Interestingly, until today doctors rarely perform any type of eye surgery without using atropine, one of the poisons in deadly nightshade, to dilate the patient’s pupils.

Further research included reading trip reports on Erowid. There are about 37 Atropa belladonna (Deadly Nightshade) reports; also a couple on Artane (Trihexyphenidyl HCl). More or less, most of the effects are similar to the delirium and hallucinations we experienced on Sakarana, with rarely anyone reporting a pleasant or joyful or mind-expanding experience.

Of course back then we were pretty much in the dark regarding most of the above.

Surviving the Madness of Sakarana — Hyoscyamus muticus (aka Deadly Nightshade) by Omar Cherif, One Lucky Soul
As written, these tampons had Opium, Belladonna, and Hyoscyamus

The Vice Scopolamine Documentary

A couple of years after the Bluelight thread, I stumbled upon a documentary titled “The World’s Scariest Drug.” After surviving Sakarana, and all the other stuff, I was intrigued to know what that magical substance might be. As I watched, I found the symptoms to be familiar. So I began researching to find that Scopolamine, like Hyoscyamine, are the toxins found in the Nightshade family of plants, which cause the delirium and hallucinations. The alkaloid is used legally in medicines across the world to treat everything from motion sickness to the tremors of Parkinson’s disease. 

As if “Deadly Nightshade” wasn’t notorious enough, the nickname used in Colombia is Devil’s Breath — “Because it steals your soul”.

Scopolamine is shown to be derived from a particular type of wild tree common in Bogota, Colombia called Borrachero. Amusingly, the word
borrachero roughly translates to “get-you-drunk,” the same as half way around the world in Egypt, the word ‘Sakarana’ comes from ‘Sakran,’ meaning drunk in Arabic.

In other parts of Central America, the same tree is called Brugmansia, commonly known as Angel Trumpet. Even though
they are different plants and Datura is a bush and not a tree, but for some reason Angel Trumpet is sometimes refer to as Datura.

It is known that along Sodium Amytal, Desoxyn, Mescaline and LSD-25, Scopolamine was one of the substances used during the wicked CIA’s MK-Ultra program in the 1950s and 60s.

The one thing my friends and I could not swallow in the story of the documentary is how the effects of Scopolamine makes you look completely normal to others as some of the interviewees have noted. The lack of balance and disorientation, the stupor, and the amnesia the victim suffers from make remembering credit card passwords and looking for stashed money really hard to do.

Like the case with all deliriants and
anticholinergics, there is an extreme sense of disorientation while almost all motor functions are deeply impaired. I mean, you really don’t look or act normal... simply because you can’t. One may be able to act somewhat normal on moderate doses of Acid or on Mushroom, but with Sakarana it’s not that doable. This is based on our own experimentation as well as our friends’. Remember that we tried the lighter version when drinking the boiled plant as well as the super heavy version when eating the leaves, which contain three dangerous drugs within them: Atropine, Hyoscyamine, AND Scopolamine. 

Even ten years before us, when my cousin’s friends took Sakarana some people went on the roof of the building and got naked — a common symptom apparently. Others maundered around the streets of Cairo like total maniacs. It was such a mess, it was written in the Egyptian newspapers.

That said, it may seem that Scopolamine by itself would not do as they recount, unless it’s mixed with some other chemical(s) as some researchers believe.

I also found that one of the top YouTube comments on the Vice video agrees with what I’m noting herein. To avoid this, one of the presenters of the documentary should have just tried to ingest some of the substance they had scored, a tiny amount would have been convincing.

Besides, who knows what it really was anyway. They paid for some white powder which they flushed in the toilet at the end of the documentary. If it were me, I would have probably gave it a go with proper set and setting, for the sake of research as well for the sake of adding a dose of credibility to the documentary. Certainly not to get high.

e already know that the Scopolamine by itself is not a natural substance. As such, the supposed tiny doses given to the victims in Colombia have most probably been altered with other chemicals to produce this effect of
suppressing the voluntary” and of the automation.

In actual fact, criminals and dealers in Colombia do not waste time or effort on extracting the drug from the Borachero trees since pure Scopolamine is brought across the border from neighbouring Ecuador.

So following some thorough reflections, it remains hard to believe that said passive automation could take place on Sakarana. Even though we were so out of it and somewhat incapacitated, but we couldn’t even recognise our own friends. How on Earth would we cooperate so passively and peacefully with strangers without causing much trouble... in a busy city.

It may seem that this weird mix of losing all willpower yet still cooperating are unlikely to occur with such a substance by itself. But who knows. 

Indeed, plants do have different variations in alkaloid content according to their growth stages and native habitats. So probably the only way to truly find out if the effects of Scopolamine and the ones of Sakarana match is for someone to try both. 

The Final Clue

What made me reluctant to share this piece earlier is that I was still not one hundred percent sure of the exact botanical name of Sakarana. Based on my own research, I was almost certain of the family name, the Nightshade, which grows in North Africa along the Mediterranean among many other places around the world. But again, because the plant is quite rare and its recreational use is almost non-existent, researching the topic wasn’t the easiest of things.

I remembered once speaking to a relative I met later in life about our experience with Sakarana and he knew of it. Not just that, but he had even tried it twice, which is something extremely rare to come across. He told me his friends had to stop him from biting the neck of a camel in the deserts of Egypt. Yep, that’s probably it. 

With that in mind, I finally decided to reach out to him and ask if he knew the scientific name of that devilish plant. After confirming with a pharmacist friend of his, we can now confidently declare that Sakarana is Hyoscyamus muticus L.. Also known as Jusquiame d’Egypt in French, the plant [as expected] does belong to the Nightshade family, Solanaceae — the same crazy family of Mandrake (Mandragora officinarum), Belladonna, and the Daturas. 

Queerly, the family also include more peaceful plants like potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, aubergines, chili peppers and bell peppers. A reason why another common name of the Solanaceae family is the “Potato Family”.

Sakarana is widely known as Egyptian Henbane. Other than Hyoscyamus muticus, the genus comprises 10 more species, all of which are toxic. The plant is mentioned in James A. Duke’s Duke’s Handbook of Medicinal Plants of the Bible. In another book, Jerry Fogarty’s Nick West Adventures: The Quest for Atlantis, the following is written:

The poison is made from the roots and seeds of the Egyptian Sakaran plant mixed with the venoms of the asp and the scorpion. When they are separate, they can be deadly, but when mixed together, they are extremely deadly.

It is worth noting that in many of those rare citations, the word is spelled
‘Sakaran’ without the final ‘a’. According to other sources, it appears that this how the plant had been referred to in certain areas. Linguistically speaking, mayhap the ‘a’ was simply added by my cousin’s friends or some Egyptians because in the Arabic language nouns are male and female; and since ‘plant’ is female it just came out naturally.

The word, however, is not found on the average Google search unless you sincerely dig through medical publications and scholarly articles, and in different languages, too. Personally, I choose to keep referring to the plant as Sakarana. 

According to said scriptures, uses of Hyoscyamus muticus range from applying the fresh leaves as a poultice to relieve pain, to smoking the dried leaves in cigarettes to treat asthma, to their intoxicating effect. As my friends and I have directly experienced in Nuweiba, the plant is indeed highly poisonous. Fatalities on record involve eating dates poisoned with the plant and eating locusts that had eaten the plant.

The nomadic Tuareg people living across the Sahara Desert use Hyoscyamus muticus as a fish poison. In northern Nigeria, it is sometimes cultivated for medicinal use.

As for animals, records of value for grazing vary and range from resulting in fat animals on the one hand to demented sheep on the other. The variation in alkaloid content by growth stage and among populations may be reasons for variations in its toxicity and its value as fodder.

In Encyclopedia Britannica, Henbane, as it is commercially known, consists of the dried leaves of Hyoscyamus niger and sometimes of H. muticus, of Egypt — the hero of our saga here. The plant yields three dangerous drugs: Atropine, Hyoscyamine, and Scopolamine.

Surviving the Madness of Sakarana — Hyoscyamus muticus (aka Deadly Nightshade) by Omar Cherif, One Lucky Soul
The Maddening Plant

Among the major suppliers of the leaves are Hungary, Egypt, and the United States — where it is commercially grown. In France, another species of Henbane, H. albus, is used. 

In this article titled Henbane - The Insane Seed that Breedeth Madness, the following is written:

All parts of the plant are highly toxic, the leaves being the most poisonous part of the plant - so much so that there mere smell of the fresh leaves has been found to cause giddiness and stupor in some people.”

I further found the following information to be worth knowing:

Henbane is considered to be one of the legendary witch plants, renowned in myths and folklore for its claimed magical qualities. It is featured in many of the recipes for witches’ flying ointments.

Henbane is one of the legendary "witch" plants, renowned in folklore for its claimed magickal qualities and it features in many of the recipes for witches’ flying ointments - See more at: http://oldcorpseroad.co.uk/folklore/folklore1/329-henbane#sthash.FNeFW6Oa.dpuf
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the plant makes its appearance in the English language as henne-belle, a form which is recorded as early as 1000 CE in the writings both of Æfric and subsequently in a number of early English medical manuscripts of the 11th century. The more familiar (and modern) form ‘Henbane’ was first recorded in the mid 13th century. The ‘bane’ part refers to an archaic Old English word for death, so the name as a whole refers to a belief that poultry, most notably hens, were particularly vulnerable to the effects of eating its seeds.

So you can imagine how one feels if the names associated to the plant you have willingly ingested are Deadly,
Devil, and Death.

At the end, many years after that wild near-death experience I still hold that Sakarana — Hyoscyamus muticus — is not a recreational drug. Generally speaking, there is nothing particularly pleasant about tripping on any deliriants. Sakarana and some other genus of the Nightshade family are highly toxic plants that should be handled with care and respect.

Eating those two leaves was one of the most cauchemardesque trips I have ever experienced with any kind of drug. I have no regrets, however, that I’ve tried it on three different occasions. Because they added me with a new perspective while teaching him a hell of a wicked lesson. Along climbing to the top of the Great Pyramid, the Don Jail experience, and the Ego Death on Heroic Dose of Mushrooms, Sakarana sure remains one of my top five wacky rides... for now. 

EDIT (April 2023):

Eight more years after publishing this exposé, researchers came to find 3600-year-old strands of human hair in Es Càrritx cave in Menorca, Spain containing Atropine and Scopolamine. Those two
psychoactive alkaloids are naturally found in the Nightshade plant family and are known to induce delirium, hallucinations, and altered sensory perception. Ephedrine, a stimulant derived from certain species of shrubs and pines, was also found in the hair.

The remains of hair analysed were dyed red and kept in sealed decorative containers found in a separate sealed chamber at the back of the cave, seemingly to preserve them.

As quoted from Archaeology: Evidence of drug use during Bronze Age ceremonies:

The authors suggest that the presence of these alkaloids may have been due to consumption of some nightshade plants, such as mandrake (Mandragora autumnalis), henbane (Hyoscyamus albus) or thorn apple (Datura stramonium), and joint pine (Ephedra fragilis). Also that these drug plants may have been used as part of ritual ceremonies performed by a shaman. The concentric circles on the wooden containers may have depicted eyes and could have been a metaphor for inner vision related to a drug-induced altered state of consciousness. Due to cultural changes around 2,800 years ago, the authors speculate that the wooden containers were sealed in the cave chamber in order to preserve these ancient traditions.

These recent findings show that our psychonaut ancestors have existed as far back as the Bronze Age... at least. Perhaps few hundred years in the future archaeologists would dig up our long lost video tape and analyse the footage as some kind of historical relic worthy of research. 

Surviving the Madness of Sakarana — Hyoscyamus muticus (aka Deadly Nightshade) by Omar Cherif, One Lucky Soul
“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”


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  1. Well, this sure was insightful stuff. Thank you, Omar Cherif. The research you have done (mainly) on Sakaran(a) led me to mind travel to exotic Egypt (which I have been to) amidst a camping trip with Bedouins in the background. As for the drug itself, I found interesting, despite the somewhat 'bad trip', the descriptions of distortion and of believing hallucinations. The 'bins' story brought me a combination of a knowing smile and a 'no-no' shake of the head. I think the best part of your research was about 'things looking like things' versus 'things looking real'. I encourage others to read this tale where blood and darkness play a big role too.

    1. Merci for your thorough review. As Maya Angelou once said: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

  2. Regarding Parkinol, I was speaking with a fellow lay person (read: not a doctor), and they were saying that Parkinsons has an opposite effect of Schizophrenia when it comes to dopmamine levels (I think lower levels of dopamine in Parkinsons patients and elevated levels of dopamine in Schizophrenia patients). Parkinol is meant to help cure this deficiency. Thus, it kind of makes sense that the "hallucinations" that one encounters when taking Parkinol are more better described as delusions. Literally a person on Parkinol seems like he/she is schizophrenic, while from first hand experience the conversations and encounters with people that are clearly not there seem all too real. Weird and scary stuff.

    1. That is correct regarding the dopamine levels. It is wacky, yet perhaps also useful, to get a taste from others' realities.

  3. Finally someone is talking about it!
    I had the eerie creepy experience in the comfort of my little studio in Dahab. Though I was totally alone with my cat, I responded to a knock on my door, which rarely happens, with me wearing a man’s shirt . Only. Completely naked from waist down. Oh yeah! ( I am a 46 year old woman)

    Luckily, it was my Bedouin Friend , who brought it to me , came to check as he was worried. He warned me about it but I thought he is not into psychedelics and does not get it
    The guy is a lovely polite decent man who closed the door on his way out and locked me in and left me in peace. Hoping I’ll sleep and get out of it safely.

    It’s bad! Don’t go there.No no and No
    It’s not MDMA, not LSD, not DMT not mushrooms or Ayahuasca.

    Amazing what Mother Earth Is harboring 😇

    1. Glad you came out of it safe and sound. The Bedouins are usually perplexed when asked to bring some. You can actually see it in their eyes: That caring look while still wondering WHY would anyone do this to themselves. I have been flirting with the idea of making a documentary about Sakarana. After all, it will be a first, or so I believe. Since you are one of us minority who ingested it, would you be interested in being in the documentary? We can show your face, or just your voice, or just your words, as the trip-report or testimony, or all of them. Whatever you wish.

      As mentioned, the idea had been in mind ever since I wrote this piece 5 years ago while in L.A. Now that I am currently in Egypt, shooting the documentary and going back to Sinai makes more sense. But also people who have been through the experience like yourself, other than my few friends and acquaintances, offer some needed motivation.

      Let me know please. Cheers,