The time we bought fruit trees to plant in the garden, Speedy bought a talumpunay (sometimes spelled talampunay) tree. He planted it in a far corner of the garden near the gazebo that we converted into an outdoor kitchen. It’s grown big, it’s thriving and it’s flowering. The scientific name is Datura metel, there are several cultivars but the most common in the Philippines has light peach flowers that grow upside down.
The flowers are beautiful. The plant itself, as used in herbal medicine, is steeped in controversy. In traditional Chinese medicine, the dried flowers are rolled as a cigarette and smoked to relieve symptoms of asthma. I know, how ironic — smoking to cure asthma — but herbal medicine is older than Western medicine so I’m not so dismissive. I like herbal medicine. In fact, we take nothing but lagundi to treat coughs.
In the Philippines, it is the dried leaves and the fruits of the talumpunay that are made into cigarettes. Speedy told me a long time ago that, purportedly, talumpunay cigarettes can cause hallucinations and can be addictive. Still, talumpunay smoking is being promoted as a cure for asthma. So, what’s the deal, really — is talumpunay smoking good or bad?
I suppose it depends on the HOW. I came across High On Talampunay, a blog post that mentions a 2008 episode of the TV program Emergency.
This plant causes hallucination, and in the video taken by GMA 7, the young boys who inhaled the aroma of the burnt leaves and flowers all acted out of control, lying down on the ground, and hurting each other.
One of them had sadly become permantly incapacitated, as he is not experiencing prolonged psychosis. He can no longer be talked to, and he kept muttering to himself at all times.
Scary, isn’t it? The thing is, to get its beneficial effects, that’s not really the way to smoke talumpunay.
A page from Department of Agriculture Southern Tagalog Region’s website says it is the flowers that should be rolled into a cigarette and smoking the talumpunay flowers should be limited every six hours.
There is also a warning that it can be addictive. But then taking any drug can be either habit forming or downright addictive — whether the drug is in the form of a flower, a leaf, a seed or a tablet or syrup manufactured in a pharmaceutical laboratory. Tranquilizers, sedatives, stimulants… they can all be addictive. From the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse:
Nearly all drugs, directly or indirectly, target the brain’s reward system by flooding the circuit with dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter present in regions of the brain that control movement, emotion, motivation, and feelings of pleasure. The overstimulation of this system, which normally responds to natural behaviors that are linked to survival (eating, spending time with loved ones, etc.), produces euphoric effects in response to the drugs. This reaction sets in motion a pattern that “teaches” people to repeat the behavior of abusing drugs.
So, there. I don’t think it can get any clearer than that.
And my point is…?? If we’re going to get scared shitless about the addictive properties of plants that are used in herbal medicine, we ought to arm ourselves too with the knowledge that just because a medicine comes in tablet or syrup form and bears the name of a multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical firm, it doesn’t mean that they are not addictive or that they are less addictive.