Scopolamine in Colombia

Posted on 24. Oct, 2009 by in colombia

Leer en español.

UPDATE 2010 – I’ve heard reports of scopolamine robberies in Thailand, sex tourism capital of the world.

Scopolamine, also known as Burundanga, is a powerful sedative extracted from the Brugmansia flower native to Colombia. Scopolamine is used as a central nervous system depressant to treat nausea, motion sickness, and increasingly for Parkinson’s symptoms and in anesthesia. It’s attracting attention for its potential in treating addiction, specifically nicotine.

Scopolamine comes with a slew of side effects including dry mouth, impaired speech, amnesia, excitement and restlessness, hallucinations, and delirium. Years ago it was used to induce Twilight Sleep, which relieves pain during childbirth while keeping the patient awake. Scopolamine was studied by the Nazis and Cold War intelligence agencies as a truth drug. In rare cases scopolamine is used as a recreational drug. The chemical extract is highly toxic, so non-medical use is dangerous. The prescribed uses call for as little as 330 micrograms.

Scopolamine’s most common use is for robbery and assault in Colombia. The extent to its damage is endemic – 1 of 5 emergency room visits are due to scopolamine overdose. Organized thieves prey on unsuspecting victims by drugging them and taking advantage once they’re under the influence. I started hearing horror stories as soon as I arrived. It makes people open to suggestion, and its amnesic effects make it easy to get away with robbery and/or rape.

Some stories are ridiculous. One of those idiot chain emails forwarded around last year told a story of an American woman incapacitated and robbed by accepting a business card brushed with scopolamine. Here’s Snopes debunking that nonsense. The urban legend’s epitomized in the popular VBS documentary, Colombian Devil’s Breath.

After watching that documentary I was curious. My natural skeptic didn’t buy it. It’s true a tiny amount is enough to take effect, but I don’t believe some of the reported methods of drugging victims. The most unbelievable is the taxi driver blowing it in your face, after which you’re immediately in a hypnotic trance at his mercy. I also heard about people getting it into their skin from reading magazines in the back of a taxi and, most ridiculously, via ATM machine buttons.

I asked some Colombians about scopolamine. Most echoed the urban legend fodder. One girl said her cousin was taking a bus from Girardot and somebody offered him a cigarette. The next thing he knew he was in a park with no money. Another told me he was drunk in a taxi. All of a sudden the driver had some thugs around the car and they beat him up and took his money. I told him he didn’t get drugged and robbed. He got beat the fuck up and robbed. That’s not a scopolamine story.

Here are scopolamine stories I believe:

An Irish guy met a girl and they made plans to hang out. He met her and her friends at a bar. He was drinking with them and that’s all he remembered. He woke up in his hotel room with nothing in his pockets. He called to bitch her out and she hung up on him. She called back a few days later, saying how insulted she was and that she would never do that. She said he left her and her friends at the bar and she didn’t know where he went. He seemed to believe her story. I never saw him again, but I hope he didn’t hang out with her again.

I met an AA guy who’s tipping point came in Medellin, after partying in a brothel and waking up the next day in a run-down motel with no money and no clothes. He tried to leave but the motel staff told him he had to pay for the room. They didn’t care about his story. He had no recollection of what happened.

I found a Reuters story about a Colombian woman who was found wandering topless in Bogota, asking about her baby. Police believe an infant-trafficking gang was responsible. The story’s no longer on the Reuters site. I emailed Phillip Stewart on Reuters (the name on the byline) to ask if he wrote the story. His reply:

I met that poor woman years ago and never forgot it. Yes I wrote it.

A Canadian traveler told me a story from Medellin’s Parque Lleras. He and a friend were drinking beer and aguardiente with a couple Colombians they met. Once drunk his friend was put into the back of a cop car while breaking up a fight. The friend confirmed to our Canadian traveler that he saw him get into a Mercedes with the two Colombians they were drinking with. He woke up the next day in Envigado, broke. A Colombian doctor confirmed the symptoms of having taken scopolamine.

Of course there’s feedback from The Mick, who spent 20+ alcoholic years in Bogota. There’s a horrible prostitution and drug zone near 7 de agosto. He says he hates those people because they always gave him scopolamine. He said he’s been drugged at least 30 times. He took some heavy losses but believes scopolamine didn’t affect him as much because he was such an extreme alcoholic and drug user.

The first time The Mick was “scoped” came soon after having a baby with his first ex. He was on a road trip with a friend when they stopped for lunch and a drink. They dropped the baby off at a day-care and started pounding beer and aguardiente. They hopped into a taxi and The Mick clearly remembers his friend saying, “Everything’s gone white! It’s like we’re in heaven!” Then The Mick fell under the spell (the campesinos at the tienda drugged them.)

The taxi driver kicked them out of his cab. The Mick was crawling in the street, at one point crawling under a bus. They remembered the baby and made it back to the day-care. They were stumbling while carrying the baby, and eventually made a scene in front of police. The Mick woke up in the British Embassy.

Another time he was drinking hard and heavy in the Bogota streets, bouncing around various street crowds. Then he was kissing some girl. Then he woke up in his apartment wrapped in a blanket. The apartment was cleared out. He went to the police station naked. He learned the next day they rented a van to clear him out.

The open-to-suggestibility aspect is the scariest. You consciously allow thieves to take everything? It seems too crazy to believe. The Mick describes the buzz as an extreme form of the ecstasy high. You’re in love with everything and everybody. Everything’s peace and love. No evil. This all comes with nearly impenetrable amnesia.

From the Crime section on the US State Department’s Colombia page:

Use of disabling drugs: The Embassy continues to receive reports of criminals in Colombia using disabling drugs to temporarily incapacitate tourists and others.  At bars, restaurants, and other public areas, perpetrators may offer tainted drinks, cigarettes, or gum.  Typically, victims become disoriented or unconscious, and are thus vulnerable to robbery, sexual assault, and other crimes.  Avoid leaving food or drinks unattended at a bar or restaurant, and be suspicious if a stranger offers you something to eat or drink.

Scopolamine is a risk but the urban legends are rampant. The amnesia effect adds to the myth. If nobody remembers what happened, it slows our learning how this drug is used. Anybody who’s taken it doesn’t know how they took because they didn’t see it – the obvious intent of the thieves.

Some stories are silly. One says women rub it on their breasts and have guys lick them. That would render the skin-absorption through magazines or ATM buttons bullshit because the whore would get drugged. Similarly, blowing the powder at the mark’s face exposes the thief just as much as the mark. And if you’ve ever snorted coke, you know how far powder has to go to enter the bloodstream. You don’t need as many micro-grains of scopolamine, but you’d still have to snort it through a tube (as if mixed with cocaine). You won’t catch enough molecules out of the air with a casual nasal inhale unless somebody pelts you in the face with a snowball of it.

Scopolamine cases come from spiking drinks or mixing it with cocaine. And most scopolamine bandits operate in brothels, which adds to the urban legend. First, the amnesia effect completely confuses the victim as to what happened. He remembers he was at the brothel, and he knows he can’t tell his wife that. He realizes he was drugged and decides to tell her one of these bullshit stories about the taxi driver blowing magic dust or passing him a tainted copy of El Tiempo. I’m convinced the urban legends are due to (A) the amnesiac effect and (B) guys lying to their wives, girlfriends, and female relatives to cover up their indiscretions.

What happened to the Irish guy is as elaborate as the scams get. A gringo just arrives to Latin America. He’s still living in La Candelaria and doesn’t recognize the difference in women that are easy and too easy. They lure him out to their neighborhood to drink. The bartender might be in on the operation. They slip him a mickey. Whenever they spot the effects, they get everything in his pockets and then put him in a taxi back to La Candelaria. In case he calls back, they play innocent and try to get him again.

I was skeptical about the open-to-suggestibility aspect. But the VBS film showed bank footage of a victim at the ATM fetching cash for his robbers. Plus The Mick’s hazy recollections of a hyper-ecstasy pill high make a strong case for how that can happen.

Most Colombians haven’t been “scoped.” Almost every story I’ve heard involves reckless drinking. Not just drinking, reckless drinking. Colombia can be tough on a drunk. And while stories of victims who were not drinking recklessly are rare, there are a few. (But even most of those are guys lying to females about the night they went to bang whores).

Colombia is a country with abundant beauty, attraction, and romance, but it comes with an equally dangerous and bloody risk. The rose comes with thorns.

The Brugmansia flower, which contains the main ingredient in scopolamine and grows wild throughout Colombia.

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24 Responses to “Scopolamine in Colombia”

  1. mkf

    25. Oct, 2009

    you know this shit needs to become a book at some point.

  2. mike

    26. Oct, 2009

    Agreed. Don’t know if your penning short stories, poems, or novels but you should. Been reading your blog for ~ 6 months now and you have such an incredible eye for wit, observation and prose. Your style reminds me of a hybrid between Hemmingway and Bukowski. Truly bold and refreshing. Keep ‘em coming Colin.
    (Hopefully the Ernie/Buke comment doesn’t offend.)

  3. Colin

    27. Oct, 2009

    Thanks a lot guys, I’m humbled. Actually, I’ve just started writing The Mick’s story. We’ll see how it works out.

    Soon after publishing this post, I got this email from the Canadian Traveler:

    Colin,

    Just read the story on your webpage. Well written.

    “The Mick describes the buzz in a way that makes me want to characterize it as an extreme form of the ecstasy high, which you’re in love with everything and everybody. Everything is peace and love. No evil anywhere. You want everything to be pleasant and feel nice and it does. This all comes with an impenetrable amnesia effect from everybody I’ve talked to – except fuzzy memories from The Mick.”

    I`ve never tried ecstasy so can’t compare the two but this description pretty much sums it up for me. Friends called me while I was on it (I have no memory of this) and they said I sounded like I was having a really good time. The owner of the hostel where I was staying called me and apparently I just kept saying “I love you” over and over to her. Anyways thanks for writing the article and hope you have a good trip there. It`s a cool city when this kindof shit doesn´t happen.

    Take care,

  4. Jan

    11. Nov, 2009

    You need to read this book — http://www.amazon.com/One-River-Wade-Davis/dp/0684834960. Its about the travels of this ethnobotanist that researches the usage of plants and halucogenics among Colombian tribes.

  5. David

    29. Sep, 2010

    This is good, real good. I’ve been thinking of going to Colombia but heard these stories and was almost scared off. I’ve been to Chile, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, and even Bolivia when the government fell in 2005 with no problems. Colombia scared me to death because of the stupid legends. I don’t know why it would be different than those other countries, meaning keep your wits and you’ll get through.

    I’d love to email and ask you some more tips on traveling in Bogota and Colombia as a whole.

  6. Aurelien Amacker

    01. Nov, 2010

    Man you write great stuff what a good blog article ! I am coming to Bogota in two days and as I am reading this I feel like adventure is coming up, watch out the frenchie is coming !

  7. Chris Mewhort

    19. Jan, 2011

    Just like in your article I think most of the stories of pixie-dusting and being handed a tampered brochure come from wandering men with significant others.

    When I started reading about Scopolamine for my blog post, I was really eager to find out about it, but it’s true there’s really not that much information online about it. Just a bunch of scare stories, lack of information on dosing/usage, and uncertain ‘facts’.

    Every person I’ve met that’s been scoped wasn’t playin’ by the rules, so to speak. If it’s not a whore house, and not a BIG rail of coke, then it’s wreckless drinking.

  8. Morton Pavelski

    28. Mar, 2011

    We’re a group of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community. Your website offered us with valuable info to work on. You’ve done a formidable job and our entire community will be thankful to you.

  9. someoneelse

    23. Jun, 2011

    Interesting.. but I think this is mostly urban legends, white lies, and a vivid imagination. As you begin to say, if it really worked every spy agency and organized crime group in the world would be using it. There would be a huge and profitable export business. As a criminal you would never need a gun again. Imagine the bank robberies, jail breaks, state secrets, gangs using it to kill each other. No. If it worked it would be obvious to all and not somekind of well kept secret. I cant imagine this being any worse than any other date rape drug.

  10. andres

    27. Jul, 2011

    For those that think this is all urban legend, unfortunately it is very real.

    I just got off the phone with my uncle who lives in Bogota and he told me that my aunt was walking with a friend in a nice part of Bogota and someone came up to them and blew scopolamine in her face in a robbery (and who knows what else) attempt. They were unsuccessful as she was with her friend but he went on to tell me she stayed in the hospital for 3 days. He said she didn’t recognize him, her daughters or grand kids and it was well basically terrifying. He went on to say that things in Bogota seem to be getting worse and worse due to the super high rate of unemployment.

  11. Matt L

    28. Oct, 2011

    I’ve been around the world, been to many different countries. I think people here these stories and some just get propelled into wild stories rather than cautionary tales. I’m not that tall, but taller than most people in the 3rd world, and I’m pasty white, so I stand out. Haven’t been robbed ever. The police in Tijuana once tried to stop me for jaywalking…but the joke was on them. I already blew all my money at the whore house.
    Not to say I haven’t drank recklessly over seas before, but I agree with you. You can get shit faced sloppy drunk in NYC, LA, San Diego, Seattle and wake up with your money and wallet gone. Doesn’t take much for someone to snatch your shit. I’ve been lucky thus far, and have had some awesome friends when I decided to hit that rum bottle too many times. I’ve never heard of this substance before, but if what you say is true about the Nazis and what have you, then I’m inclined to believe it isn’t much of a threat. How ever getting drunk with a pretty girl, buying drinks, and bar hopping with said broad only to realize you’ve spent all your money is a real threat.

  12. blythe

    23. Aug, 2012

    Apparently they bleach it so they can cut it with coke and make it harder to tell!

  13. John

    03. Dec, 2012

    Colin or anybody any idea how I can acquire this stuff?

  14. Dogitalpimp

    22. Jan, 2013

    How much powder of this is required for total control of the subjects mind . Without killing him ?

  15. Digitalpimp

    26. Jan, 2013

    First of all ,your article is full of bullshit coy paste .

    Second of all HOW can all of you be commenting on a drug that hasent been studied yet . Stop saying bullshiet

    Order the drug via internet (if you didnt know theres a market for every drug on the world shipped to your house via mail) .

    Im getting some monday . Ill post real fucking information about it . Suckers scared money dont make no money

  16. tiluwead8pro

    13. Feb, 2013

    The drug works in a way that a victims lose their short term memory so you can persuade them into doing things by saying the request over and again,
    it is actually very hard to do this
    as you need to know how big of a dose
    on the weight of the person
    and if the dose is off you can either kill a person
    or have no effect at all
    It is well known that in Bogota,Columbia every few emergency cases in hospitals are scopolamine related
    Scopolamine is known to some of the doctors who are treating trauma patients with this substance to relieve them of memories that trigger the post traumatic stress,it is very unpredictable with endless side effects

  17. John

    27. Feb, 2013

    Hey man are you going to make a ….
    I was just Reading some articles about Scopolamine in web,and i have to say that some of these guys who leave some infos here,guese just are dreamer or even wanna be kind of(hey read my article cause i know very well about the subject:-)
    In fact i have to say these guys just know a shit about,as tiluwead8pro,mentioned above,first you have to know if you have the right doses,for the same important reasons as was told here (no need to repeat) secoundly just tell me please if some one was blowing in the face of some one(you littel grain of shit how does it come that the actor here was not effected by himself are you gooing to fool People or you SOAB are fool by yourself???You MF!!!!
    as i said i do know nothing about it except what i read here and the documentary film which i am not sure any more if is really based on fact,also in this film was mentioned as far as i remember that the freaky guy said that after you have the seed it shall be handle chemicaly in Laboratory,which means to me if you want to have scopolamine in 95-99% pure form maybe is just to use as a fertilizer nothing more and for this usage i can tell you where you can buy it from min 5 mg to seriosly 5 tones monthly delivery,this is no joak,so it means to me what we may hear or read & wish to have might be fully different subjects and i ask these kind of adventurer here make first sure which is which then Write Your infos and not only describe Your dreams.

  18. Michael Fumento

    01. Mar, 2013

    I thought it was pretty much an urban legend. Guys getting drunk and blaming it on a drug. Found out differently when I was drugged not in a bar but my own Medellin apartment and I KNOW I had less than a glass of wine. They pretty much cleared me out. That said I’m sure a lot of the stories are as imagined. Guys getting drunk.

    The flip side is all the BS about it being the most dangerous drug in the world, people doing incredible things under the influence. There’s a Youtube video on this that’s nonsense from start to finish.

    Fact is it leaves you pretty much immobile for maybe 14 hours. You have an idea of what’s going on but can’t do anything about it. Some lapses of consciousness. And It IS common in Colombia. The bad is bad enough without exaggeration.

  19. Keith

    05. Mar, 2013

    Not urban myth. I was alone in Cartagena on Feb 15, 2013 at Studio 54, a discotheque, talking to someone I had met there. They put something in my drink to drug me. The next thing I remember was waking up in my apartment at noon the next day.

    The person had taken me to my apartment, convinced me to open the safe, took the $500 that was there and my ATM and credit card. He then took me to the ATM machine where he got me to tell him my PIN and he removed $700 from my checking account. He also took my cell phone.

    I was lucky because he must have been a professional thief as the amount of scopolamine that he gave me left me conscious–because he needed me awake to go to the ATM machine.

    He left me after getting the cash from the ATM and I managed to get home and passed out in my clothes on the bed. Luckily my apartment was not far from the ATM machine.

    I had total amnesia-and didn’t know how I got from the discotheque to the apartment or if I had come alone or with someone. Thanks to the security cameras at the building I could tell that he came in with me and left with me and then I came back alone. The rest I had to piece together. I found the safe locked, but the cash and ATM card inside were gone. My bank account online reflected the withdrawals and he kept my ATM and credit card. I was able to cancel both the ATM and credit card so no further withdrawals could be made, but he did use the card as a debit card in Barranquilla before I woke up at noon and canceled the card for 3 small purchases.

    I was not drunk and even if I were drunk you can’t convince me to tell you my ATM PIN. I also have never experienced amnesia from drinking. No doubt in my mind that this was scopolamine.

    I was lucky because an overdose can kill you and most people end up in the hospital for a couple days. Most people are given the drug to make them unconscious so that they can be robbed. My thief wanted my ATM account, too.

    I talked to some Colombians who said the blowing smoke is not an urban myth. It happened to his girlfriend in a taxi in Medellin. She was able to get out of the taxi and call friends who came to get her. She ended up in the hospital.

    Colombians don’t go out to bars and discotheques alone–nor should you. Go with a friend or don’t go. Be aware of the drug, but it is so easy to administer that if they want to give it to you they probably can. That’s why going with friends is the best option.

    I wouldn’t have believed I could be convinced to provide my bank PIN if it hadn’t happened to me personally.

  20. Robert Jorge

    06. Mar, 2013

    I am not dismissing that escopalamine is used by crooks, but I would wager the majority of the incidents blamed on scope are actually Rivotril given to an already drunk victim. At least in Medellin, Rivotril, called ‘pepas’, is as common as cigarettes. I would wager 75% of hookers take them regularly, and thus know what they can do to an already drunk ‘John”. The affects/symptoms of Rivotril on a drunk are virtually identical to what people describe being scoped is like.

  21. Brando

    08. Nov, 2013

    I have been hit with this drug 2 times for sure and for me it affects me very bad. The first time I was with 2 women working girls in Medellin was a having a very very very nice time drinking hot water, beer, and sniffing until something did not feel right. I ran out of the hotel totally freaked out with no shoes or bags. It took 12 hours to wear off and i was sick for 2 days after I must have drank 50 bottles of water in 3 days. The second time just happened again in Cartagena 11-3-2013 was sniffing again and my friend ran off with this girl so i was looking for a girl as well unfortunately I meet some thugs and sniffed with them like a fool and the third sniff they hit me………..

    If this happens to you just get back to your hotel asap and drink lots of water and get out of the street as soon as possible. It will wear off you just have to ride it out. Yes I felt like going to the hospital but I managed.

    I was asking for trouble each time it happened so I dont blame it on no one. But if you run around Colombia drunk and alone at night looking for something you might very well find this.

  22. Fernando

    17. Dec, 2013

    Why use a rare and dangerous drug (psychoactive and lethal doses are really near) like scopolamine, when they can use more popular and available Rohypnol AKA Roofies, the well known “rape drug”?

    BTW, powder or spray insufflation is a bad, bad, route of administration, as the author explains.

  23. Petra

    18. May, 2014

    Happened to me in Popayan, Colombia, 1989. Crook in a small hotel offered to bring the boy I was travelling with to the bus station early morning the next day (go to see indigenas). I would be staying in Popayan that day. I did not know that the crook would take my companion traveller to the bus station. I myself had a vague appointment with the crook that he would show me Popayan that next day…
    So, very early that next morning my companion went to the bus station. And the crook knocked the door of our hotel room. A bit early to my taste, 7:30, to go and have a tourist round in Popayan. Nevertheless, I let him in, and I sat on my bed, took a warm bunuelo and a yoghurt (from him). I lied down, just read a few lines in a newspaper, waiting for him to leave…
    Lines blurred and that was it…
    Next thing I know is 18:00 in the evening when my companion returned. Room scattered with clothes, etc. We both knew immediately we had been robbed. I dragged myself out of bed and found my 2 hidden bank notes (2x 5000 pesos, at that time enough to get both of us back to Bogota by bus), and went back to bed.
    Next thing I remember is being dragged into a hospital, I remember feeling like: hey this is just like being very very stoned. Next I remember is something in my nose and a little tray down on the floor, oh, they are trying to empty my stomach.
    Stayed in the hospital the following day. Doctor told me, ah escopalamine.
    On hindside I think it was in the yoghurt.
    I am not sure anymore whether I stayed 1 or 2 nights in the hospital. We managed to get back to Bogota where we could recover the traveller cheques, paid a visit to the embassy to apply for new passports, visited the DAS for new ID cards, etc. Cameras via insurance later back home in NL.
    Just lucky to survive. And no panic, just completely laid back.
    And I heard lots of stories of robberies (later), mostly threats with knives etc. The one I experienced was at least without any fear (or blood or worse).

  24. Keen

    04. Aug, 2014

    Go back to Ireland, you human waste.

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