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Ecuador News

‘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.

Angel’s trumpet is a source of scopolamine.

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.”

Criminals occasionally blow scopolamine dust into the faces of victims.
Criminals occasionally blow scopolamine dust into the faces of victims.

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.

51 thoughts on “‘Scariest drug in the world’ gives criminals total control of victims, including some tourists and expats

  1. this has also been going on in Indonesia for many years where people have signed over their homes, cars and cash.

  2. this has also been going on in Indonesia for many years where people have signed over their homes, cars and cash.

  3. We have this already in the US- they call it the mainstream media. Its victims are many in number.

    1. Gee… let’s forget NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, MSNBC, CNBC and of course all the internet companies like Google and Yahoo which the Dems own but in your little mind Globetrotter it’s Fox News that has you worried..you have a brain at all?

    1. There’s a big one in the garden in front of my house. From what I know, the flowers and roots are sometimes used to make a tea for recreational purposes. However, the “trip” can be very unpleasant and risky. To make the actual drug that the criminals use, the plant has to be chemically processed.

    1. There’s a big one in the garden in front of my house. From what I know, the flowers and roots are sometimes used to make a tea for recreational purposes. However, the “trip” can be very unpleasant and risky. To make the actual drug that the criminals use, the plant has to be chemically processed.

  4. GT, JG, MRB – lol! lmao!
    Brugmansia is what we used to call Datura in the 70s and 80s. Napolean Chagnon’s film of the Yanomamo shaman (hallucinating) with green slime running out of his nose after taking “Datura” was a fixture of many an intro to cultural anthro classes. Blast from the past!

  5. Cuencahighlife will you stop censoring? I’m going to Cuenca in a few weeks and a couple of my “boys” with me intend to visit your office… how are you going to censure me then? Either way accidents happen.. just remember consequences occur when we make decisions to silence opinion…

  6. Excellent article Chris. I watched the video — pretty scary. Until there is some serious research about the drug it will be hard to separate truth from “urban legend.”

    1. Scariest drug is TV? Is that where you got the idea that there is a highway through the Darien Gap?

  7. Quite a few Ecuadorians grow angel’s trumpets in their front yard because they believe that it safeguards their house from the devil or evil spirits.

    1. Definitely more factual. Lux used to be the food writer (or some other such nonsense) and he never knew up from down. Did you notice how old this article is? Want a hint that it’s an old article? Look at how many views it has had.

      1. Can you explain what the age of the article has to do with it…nothing. Then how do you assess that this other article is more factual e.g. What educational background and training do you have to make that statement. The most accurate understanding of any subject would be a theory ( scientific theory ) that would be based on many scientists study of a subject and testing it to near certainty. Then it is peer reviewed by other scientists in published papers to its accuracy. This would be the standard for knowing the near certainity of any truth. Other than that we just have simple uneducated opionions. A form of gossip that becomes a popular erronrous belief – like a belief in say – God….human beings stumble through their lives not unsimular to this ‘drug’ and in its effect it is just an exageration of our normal conditioning. Cheers!

        1. If you could blow some powder into someone’s face and make them your slave, Bill Cosby wouldn’t have bothered mixing all those cocktails.

          But don’t take my word for it. A PubMed search for scopolamine used during robberies reveals a single case in Asia in which scopolamine was used in combination with several other drugs to rob a tourist and even in that case, the method of delivery was a spiked drink. The victim rapidly went unconscious and ultimately died. They weren’t the predator’s willing slave as is so often claimed in this urban myth.

    1. This is NOT an urban myth!! It happened to my friend in Medellin while I was visiting her in June. She had lunch with some new Colombian friends (she thought they were friends) and afterward went to two ATM machines and gave them hundreds of dollars. She only knew she did this because of video camera tape. I took her to the hospital and the ER doctor said it was scopolamine and that there are hundreds of cases every year in Medellin, many of them happening to foreigners in the El Poblado neighborhood. I don’t want to be alarmist but expats need to know about this to protect themselves. Scopolamine crime is much worse in Colombia but it happens in Ecuador too. This is no joke and it is no myth.

      1. I’m not denying that someone drugged your friend, but pharmacologically speaking scopalamine is not capable of these amazing feats. You’d be fast asleep long before any of the disassociative effects that are often repeated in this myth could ever kick in. Simply blowing a little powder into someone’s face is not nearly enough of a dose to make it happen. You could spike a drink with it, or trick them into snorting it, but even then they’d pass out long before they could take someone to the ATM. The next time someone pulls one of these heists, the police should do some actual toxicology testing instead of just calling it scopalamine and writing it off.

  8. I used to use Scopolamine patches for motion sickness…never had any of these reactions…must be an extremely high dose…..I had dry mouth and blurry vision, but I didn’t throw up….now I use acupressure wrist bands and they are much better!!

    1. The dose in a transdermal patch or injected for vomiting is minuscule (a few miligrams; a thousandth of a gram) but it is very effective for motion sickness, nausea and vomiting. The dosage referred to in this urban myth are thousands of times greater than the therapeutic dosage and is highly and immediately toxic. Such a dose would ratchet the dry mouth and blurry vision off the scale, not to mention the massive increase in heart rate and body temperature, a very noticeable redness of the skin, incoherent speech and a level of disorientation making it impossible to remember one’s PIN or fill out a bank withdrawal slip. In the ER, we use a saying to remember the signs of someone who has received a toxic dose of an anticholinergic substance such as scopalamine: “Hot as a hare, blind as a bat, dry as a bone, red as a beet, mad as a hatter.” They wouldn’t look “normal” to people who know them as is often cited in these stories.

      Of course, that only happens for a few minutes before the person completely loses consciousness. A victim wouldn’t be a zombie, they’d very quickly be on the ground. I used to see people who had been drugged and robbed in the emergency room all the time, but it’s not as simple as blowing a little powder in their face and they become your slave. People are drugged all the time, the most common way is through a spiked drink, though “hot shot” street drugs are often the method of delivery. Someone thinks they’re getting a free bump of coke and instead wake up on the other side of town with their money gone. The point is you have to get a pretty serious dose of any drug to get these kinds of effects. If inhaling a little powder could deliver a drug as effectively as claimed in this long-time myth, we wouldn’t need anesthesia machines. You could get these kinds of effects with ketamine and a host of other substances, but making them your willing slave taking you around town emptying their bank accounts would require careful monitoring of response and a delivery method far more complex than blowing powder into their face. There’s a thin line between disassociative effects and complete unconsciousness. That’s the line the anesthesiologist is walking while a surgeon is operating and even with all the monitors, ventilators and drug pumps, patients often fall out of that narrow therapeutic range and wake up in the middle of a procedure.

      The most a criminal could hope to do with this method is knock you out with something other than scopalamine. Don’t believe the hype.

  9. Reposted from February 2015: I think it would be a good thing to post this info at the head of the article, and not the foot. Not that it’s not dangerous, but people should know this article is a reprint from 2.5 years ago.

    1. I’m not sure what the date of the article has to do with it. Scopolamine and the crime problem have not changed. At least in Colombia, there are more cases than ever. As I said in another reply, this is a serious problem and it’s real –no myth, no joke–and the more information about it people have to protect themselves, the better.

  10. The police could use this drug to get a suspect to lead them to his fellow criminals and show them where the drugs are coming from.

    1. Brilliant idea! They could give it to politicians suspected of theft or bribery in office and have the perps show them where the money is stashed too.

    2. If the story were true, it would be used by every police department in the world.

      And that’s why you don’t see it used by the police.

  11. Thank you for posting this article. What it says is true. In 2014, a friend and I were victims of a scopolamine crime in a bar in Guayaquil and looking back I wish had known what I know now. The event involved two pretty ladies and was a textbook case of what is described here. Fortunately, we fully recovered and our only loses were the contents of our wallets and our dignity. Since then, I have done a great deal of research about scopolamine. For those who say the information here is an exaggeration or urban legend, I suggest you talk to expats in Medellin and Bogota where scopolamine crime is an epidemic. For those who complain that this is an old story, I ask, so what? This is a fact and it is happening every day. I urge this website to post the article more frequently. It might save some folks a lot of grief.

    1. The myth isn’t that someone can easily drug you and knock you out. The myth is that they can blow a little powder in your face and you become their willing slave for hours with the effect being completely unrecognizable by those around you. That simply isn’t the case. Someone drugged on scopalamine is very visibly drugged and incapable of speaking ineligibly or filling out bank withdrawal slips. Up the dose a little more and they are completely unconscious. It’s physiology, not magic.

      1. You mean “speaking intelligibly” not “speaking ineligibly”

        Knowing a bit about physiology, I’d say you are spinning your wheels trying to explain much of it to laymen.

  12. Article is great very Informative.

    As a matter a fact I’m sending it to relatives considering traveling to certain places mentioned.

    Who cares If it’s an old Article, it can help save lives and people from despair and ignorance.

    Thank You !

  13. I know of at least 15 incidents here in Cuenca, many do not report it. Some were drugged multiple times. It is dangerous because some people are permanently damaged and even die from it.

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