The controversial talumpunay (angel’s trumpet) and some thoughts on drug addiction

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.

casaveneracion.com

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.

20 Comments

  • i agree with you regarding those medicines in tablet or syrup form. i have a migraine but i’m allergic to mefenamic acid, so i have this medication which is a combination of tramadol and paracetamol. it does work wonders for my migraine, but apparently, it’s quite addicting. just 30 mins after taking the meds, i get this very “high” adrenaline pumping feeling and just a day after that, i get so depressed for no reason at all. good thing, i didn’t allow myself to get addicted to it and i only take it when my migraine is already intolerable.

    • anna says:

      Have you tried eliminating gluten and msg from your diet? I have been suffering from migraine for about 3 years.. 1 week after eliminating gluten and eating more healthy fats i was migraine free. That was 2 years ago :) still migraine free :)

  • Jhay says:

    We taught how to smoke the dried flowers back in my Boy Scout days in 5th grade.

    Our Scout master was wise when he scared us that smoking the leaves would worsen the asthma, of course he lied in order for us not to even try it.

    Things would’ve been different had he told us straight away that the leaves were addictive.

  • d0d0ng says:

    With the information age, kids can stumble with addictive stuff right in our kitchen. Ground nutmeg (McCormick) which is a common baking spice is now the hot topic in twitter and internet as the spice to induce hallucinations. It is more potent than alcohol with just 2 teaspoons to reach the narcotics effect.

  • Mila says:

    I’m sharing a link to a good podcast episode on HowStuffWorks.com, an interesting discussion on the use of LSD and Ecstasy, how they were both developed for medical purposes, and how they became the poster drugs for the anti-drug politics of the 80s and 90’s in the US.
    http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/drugs-alcohol/lsd.htm

  • Peter says:

    The flowers in the image belong to Brugmansia, a close relative of Datura. The plant mentioned, Datura metel, has white to violet flowers that grow upright. Images of D. metel can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datura_metel .
    While the plant is certainly helpful against Asthma when smoked, it is also highly toxic when ingested – like all medications it belongs into the hands of trained physicians and nobody should try to experiment with it on his/her own. Some additional information can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datura and here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brugmansia

    • I never thought it was addicting or a toxic plant, is it the flower or the leaves that causes addiction? we have it in my mom’s garden cause the flowers are beautiful she planted it and now its tall..

  • Calla Lily says:

    Sabi ng kasamahan ko sa work, ito rin daw ay magandang pamalit sa Viagra. Marami daw nito sa isa sa mga crowded places sa Manila and nung magpunta kami sa Rice Terraces, kung saan saan lang ito tumutubo at doon ko natuklasan ang halamang ito. Maganda syang tingnan pero dangerous din pala sya.

  • Annapet says:

    As Peter commented above, the picture posted is NOT A DATURA, but a brugmansia. All parts of brugmansia are poisonous if ingested.

    • And I suppose repeating what had already been said has a purpose other than to promote your blog, right? Your URL was deleted. Please post a relevant comment next time, something that really contributes to the discussion, if you want your URL retained.

  • troy says:

    you should be aware that plant is not the angel’s trumpet but rather what is so called “devil’s breath”, i just surfing for interesting facts when I discovered that such plant which is very normal to see on our backyards is very dangerous, here’s the link for the full info. http://www.interestingfacts.org/fact/scopolamine-facts …i just want to share some knowledge

    • The flower is called angel’s trumpet or trumpet lily.

      The drug in the plant is called Scopolamine a.k.a. “devil’s breath”.

      You would have understood that from the very webpage you cite had you bothered to read the entire text instead of simply reading the first sentence and looking at the photo.

      I’d appreciate you not sharing bad information on my blog.

  • Liezl Telen says:

    Dear Ms. Connie,

    I studied herbal medicine and found out that datura metel or talumpunay can cure cataract but my problem is I dont know where to find the plant. I would like to cultivate it for my mom who has cataract. I hope you can help me to find this plant.

    Thank you so much.

    respectfully,
    Liezl Telen

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