‘Scariest drug in the world’ gives criminals total control of victims, including some tourists and expats
By Christopher Lux
It’s the perfect crime. The victims are awake, articulate, and appear normal. But they have no control over their decisions and actions and do anything the criminal asks.
Victims have regained consciousness to find they’ve been robbed or raped. Reports range from stolen cash, jewelry to cut-out organs. And the victim has no memory of any of it happening.
The victims are under the influence of scopolamine.
Scopolamine is a drug that comes from the large droopy flower of the Brugmansia plant, also known as “angel’s flower.” If you live in Ecuador, you’re probably familiar with it. The flower is beautiful—like a white upside down trumpet—and has a very pleasant smell, but when a correct amount of the toxic alkaloid is given, the drug incapacitates a person’s reasoning abilities and allows criminals to control the victim. It can render a victim unconscious for 24 hours or more, but the initial effect is to render a person complacent and unaware of their surroundings. If the dose is too large, as in a recent case in Guayaquil, it can cause respiratory failure and death.
Scopolamine has some medical uses including the treating of motion sickness and postoperative nausea. Some indigenous Ecuadorians use the plant to help young children and babies sleep well, and you can find it the medicinal plant aisles of some Cuenca mercados. Though it’s not common, scopolamine is also sometimes used recreationally for its hallucinogenic properties.
But it’s becoming more common in the Andean nations of Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru as a tool of crime.
Approximately half of emergency room admissions for poisoning in Bogota, Colombia have been attributed to the drug. By far the most cases of both recreational and criminal use of the drug are in Colombia, particularly Medellin, Bogota, and Cali.
The drug has no color, taste, or odor, so the most popular delivery method is to slip it into the victim’s drink. Though some claim that its use in crime is an urban legend that lacks evidence, victims have also claimed to have had small amounts blown into their face, only to become “mindless zombies.”
A drug dealer in Colombia said in an interview for a documentary, “Scopolamine is a drug like no other. Nothing can compare.”
Speaking about blowing the drug into victims’ faces, he said, “For example, with this you could be walking right here and suddenly [he blows in his hand]. You have your back turned, watching a girl go by, and I walk up and go [he blows in his hand again]. Just like that. In a flash, the person is drugged.”
The perpetrator, he said, only has to “wait a minute and when you see the drug kick in, then you know that you totally own that person. You can guide them wherever you want. It’s like they’re a child,” he said.
One Ecuadorian says he was waiting for a bus to go to work, and the last thing he remembers was someone blowing dust in his face. He was later found unconscious and helped to safety. But he’d been robbed of everything he had.
Often, criminals take victims to banks and ATM machines to withdraw cash. According to police, the drug is also used to take tourists back to their hotel rooms where criminals take cash, computers, cameras, documents, and anything else of value. In most cases, the victims appear to be functioning normally.
In Colombia, one man was taken back to his apartment by his assailants. He woke up the next morning in an empty apartment, confused. He asked the doorman why his place was empty. The doorman told him he had brought everything out of his apartment with three of his friends and loaded it into a van. When he asked the doorman why he allowed it to happen, the doorman explained that he told him the three men were friends and not to bother them.
Two years ago in Cuenca, an expat lost $9,000 under the influence of scopolamine. She wasn’t sure how she was drugged, but she accompanied the thieves to her bank and told the teller she was helping out friends. While she was drugged, she saw a couple of her real friends on the street and introduced the thieves as new friends she had just met. When she talked to her real friends the next day, after the drug had worn off, they told her that she appeared perfectly normal. She remembers none of it.
Although some question the mind-control quality of the the drug, Ecuadorian police insist that it is no urban legend. They say that the thieves are very skilled at knowing the correct dosage to give a victim. “There are usually a few minutes as the drug takes affect when the victim knows something is wrong,” says police captain Jorge Avila. “It is during this time the victim should get away, go into a nearby store or office, or approach someone on the street, and ask for help.”
According to police, men are more often victims than women. In Guayaquil, men frequently report meeting women in hotel bars who apparently put scopolamine in their drinks. They wake up the next day with all their belongings gone.
Sometimes, men who are perceived to be wealthy are targeted in crimes of opportunity. In one incident, an Ecuadorian man says he was lured into a dalliance with a pretty young local woman, took her home, and woke up with all his valuables missing, including the wedding ring of his deceased wife.
In another case, a woman picked up a man at a nightclub, and after he was allegedly drugged, took him to her home while her gang cleaned out his house. She also led him to various ATM machines to withdraw cash. Since he was in a trance state, he readily complied.
In Ecuador, crimes involving scopolamine are most common in Guayaquil, with the number of cases in Quito running a distant second. But there have also been a handful of cases reported in Cuenca, Salinas, Baños de Ambato, Montañita, and Manta.
According to some, including the U.S. Department of State, scopolamine can also be absorbed through the skin from residue on handouts from supposed street vendors. Others argue that it is impossible for enough of the drug to be absorbed through the skin to produce the zombie effect.
Reposted from February 2015.