DHATURA and DUTRA (Datura metel) are the common names in India for an important Old World species of Datura.
The narcotic properties of this purple-flowered member of the deadly nightshade family, Solanaceae, have been known and valued in India since prehistory. The plant has a long history in other countries as well. Some writers have credited it with being responsible for the intoxicating smoke associated with the Oracle of Delphi. Early Chinese writings report an hallucinogen that has been identified with this species. And it is undoubtedly the plant that Avicenna, the Arabian physician, mentioned under the name jouzmathel in the 11th century. Its use as an aphrodisiac in the East Indies was recorded in 1578. The plant was held sacred in China, where people believed that when Buddha preached, heaven sprinkled the plant with dew.
Nevertheless, the utilization of Datura preparations in Asia entailed much less ritual than in the New World. In many parts of Asia, even today, seeds of Datura are often mixed with food and tobacco for illicit use, especially by thieves for stupefying victims, who may remain seriously intoxicated for several days.
Datura metel is commonly mixed with cannabis and smoked in Asia to this day. Leaves of a white-flowered form of the plant (considered by some botanists to be a distinct species, D. fastuosa) are smoked with cannabis or tobacco in many parts of Africa and Asia.
The plant contains highly toxic alkaloids, the principal one being scopolamine. This hallucinogen is present in heaviest concentrations in the leaves and seeds. Scopolamine is found also in the New World species of Datura (pp. 142-147). Datura ferox, a related Old World species, not so widespread in Asia, is also valued for its narcotic and medicinal properties.