What Is Devil's Breath (Scopolamine)?

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on October 18, 2022
4 min read

Devil's Breath, also known as scopolamine or hyoscine, is a tropane alkaloid that's used to treat various medical issues like nausea, vomiting, motion sickness, and even muscle spasms. All alkaloids are organic and naturally occurring compounds with at least one nitrogen atom, and tropane alkaloids (TAs) are specific a class of alkaloids that contain over 200 known compounds and form a tropane ring system.

There are three major groups of TAs, and each one has this tropane ring structure: 

  • Cocaine
  • Hyoscyamine and scopolamine
  • Calystegines

Cocaine, as well as hyoscyamine/scopolamine, can pass through the blood-brain barrier and cause dose-dependent hallucination and psychoactive effects. Conversely, calystegines are newly discovered TAs that have not been shown to have the same effect, though not enough research has been done to confirm this.

“Devil’s Breath” is scopolamine in powdered form. While scopolamine is sometimes used in the medical community to treat postoperative nausea and vomiting (PONV) and motion sickness, it also has dangerous potential side effects and a history of criminal uses. In various parts of the world, criminals use scopolamine-rich seeds to incapacitate their victims.

Devil's Breath is made from several plant species. One of these is called Brugmansia, also known as "Angel's Trumpet" for its large, trumpet-shaped flowers. While they're native to South America, they're also ornamental plants that are popular across the United States and other parts of the world since they're both elegant and fairly easy to care for.

Angel's Trumpet, however, contains various belladonna alkaloids, which include atropine, hyoscyamine, and scopolamine (Devil's Breath). The roots and seeds of Angel's Trumpet have the highest concentrations of alkaloids, though ingesting the raw flowers, smoking the dried leaves, or drinking tea brewed using any part of the plant can cause serious side effects. Because it's so widely available, young adults often use Angel's Trumpet for recreational purposes as a hallucinogen. 

Scopolamine is also found in Datura stramonium (Jimsonweed), Scopolia carniolica, and Hyoscyamus niger (henbane), all of which produce toxic belladonna alkaloid compounds as a form of self-defense.

Scopolamine is listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an "essential medicine" due to being both effective and low-cost.

While high doses of scopolamine can lead to harmful side effects, this anticholinergic drug can also be used to treat various conditions. With professional medical supervision and proper dosing, scopolamine can help treat:

  • Gastrointestinal spasms 
  • Chemotherapy nausea
  • Asthma attacks 
  • Depression
  • Excessive sweating
  • Smoking cessation therapy
  • Nausea and vomiting after surgery under general anesthesia

Transdermal scopolamine is the most common method of administering the drug. Transdermal medications are given in the form of a patch directly on the skin. Scopolamine is usually applied behind your ear, and it will take a few hours to start working.

If you're scheduled for surgery, your doctor may have you put the patch on the evening before. Keep in mind that you should only wear one patch at a time. Be sure to also keep the patch on for 24 hours after your surgery. If you don't experience any nausea within this timeframe, you can remove the patch. If you do experience nausea, you can keep the patch on for up to 3 days. Make sure to talk to your doctor if your nausea lasts for more than 3 days after your surgery.

People who use scopolamine have reported some side effects from using the drug. Symptoms of scopolamine poisoning include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Blurred vision
  • Dilated pupils
  • Headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Sweating 
  • Sore throat

These side effects should go away once you remove the patch, but if they don't, be sure to tell your doctor. In some cases, they may be able to reverse persistent symptoms with a drug called physostigmine.

Also, look out for more serious symptoms. Call your doctor right away if you experience:

  • Bradycardia (slow heart rate)
  • Hallucinations
  • Trouble speaking
  • Seizures
  • Agitation
  • A rash or red skin
  • Pain or difficulty urinating

Belladonna alkaloids like Devil's Breath can cause serious damage if used outside of a medical setting. Because scopolamine is able to pass the blood-brain barrier, it can cause hallucinations and psychoactive effects, depending on how much you take. Those who use Devil's Breath recreationally have reported various symptoms, including: 

  • Restlessness
  • Hallucinations
  • Agitation
  • Delirium
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Some severe cases of self-harm have also occurred as a result of consuming Angel’s Trumpet and experiencing hallucinations, including the case of one patient who drowned in shallow water.

According to medical experts, even just a gram of Devil's Breath powder is enough to kill someone who takes it. Even lower quantities can cause hallucinations, and people who take them can experience a hypnotized state that leaves them vulnerable to sexual assault, rape, and other violations, resulting in long-term emotional damage that can be incredibly harmful to the victim.