Witches' ointments and love-potions: a contribution
to the cultural history of nightshades
Universitat Bern, Switzerland.
ABSTRACTThe nightshades (solanaceae) were used as intoxicants since the ancient civilizations and are still in use today. Their alkaloids, atropine and scopolamine, were the major active substances of the ointments of witches, of medieval "anaesthetics", and of modern poisons for murder. In a medium dose-range the predominant symptoms are hallucinations and illusions. This explains the use of nightshades in fortune-telling and religious rituals. In higher doses the alkaloids produce coma and apnea. Scopolamine enjoyed a particular popularity as a poison for murder. In the 19th century the nightshade alkaloids were also in clinical use. This article focusses on the medical history of the psychosis due to intoxication with solanaceae.People
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