Botanical Description & Habitat
Found in fields, waste places and the edges of woods throughout North and South America and many other parts of the world.
A round, glabrous, yellow-green stem is produced from the large, white root. The stem grows from 1 to 5 feet high and has numerous branches. The leaves are alternate, ovate, irregularly incised, and toothed along the edges with a dark green upper surface and a lighter underside. Large, solitary, white flowers grow in the leaf axils from July to September. The fruit is an ovate, spiny capsule which contains numerous small, black seeds.
Leaves, dried, when the plant is in flower
flowering tops, dried
Historical Properties & Uses
Thorn apple is used primarily as an antispasmodic
The herb has been used in tinctures for coughs and laryngitis, and as a dried leaf in cigarettes for asthma and other respiratory problems. Thorn apple also has medicinal applications for ulcers, gastroenteritis, and spastic colitis.
The popular cold remedy Contac and some of its clones contain small amounts of the thorn apple alkaloids, atropine and scopolamine, which help dry up the mucous membranes. Users of these drugs find they have a dry mouth, are very thirsty, and their eyes may be more sensitive to light than normal; these are signs of mild intoxication, but sufferers of hay fever and colds usually consider such small discomforts worth the price for relief of runny nose and watery eyes. Scopolamine is also used in sleeping aids and anti-motion sickness drugs because of its depressant action on selective parts of the central nervous system.
The most potent concentration of alkaloids is in the thorn apple seed. Most cases of clinical intoxication are caused by ingestion of the seed, and as few as 50-100 seeds can be fatal. While folklore use of the plant as an hallucinogen or intoxicant goes back thousands of years, thorn apple's most likely effect in the hands of the novice will be severe poisoning, or even death.
Method of Action
Thorn apple Is Anticholinergic
The alkaloids of thorn apple (atropine, scopolamine and hyoscyamine) are anticholinergic. That is, they actively compete with acetylcholine at receptor sites in smooth muscles, cardiac muscle and various glandular cells. This is most marked against the muscarinic effects of injected cholinergic drugs. Thus, they are highly antispasmodic and therefore very effective in treating ulcers, respiratory problems, spastic problems of the G.I. tract, and secretory problems of the nasal and sinus variety.
Scopolamine Has A CNS Depressant Property
Several motion sickness drugs take advantage of the ability of scopolamine to deaden those parts of the central nervous system responsible for processing and relaying sensory information about motion. In combination with antihistamines, scopolamine is also found in drugs used as sleeping aids.
Drug Interactions & Precautions
Thorn apple, when given with quinidine, may produce additive vagolytic effects due to the presence of anticholinergics in the herb.
Anticholinergic effects from the herb may be prolonged and intensified by monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI's). The antihistaminic effect of thorn apple may increase the depressant effects of ethyl alcohol and other CNS-depressants, such as hypnotics, sedatives, tranquilizers, and antianxiety agents.
The psychotropic constituents of thorn apple also interact with almost all psychoactive drugs, including antianxiety, antidepressant, antipsychotic, sedative, hypnotic, anesthetic, anticonvulsant and muscle relaxant agents.
Thorn apple should be used with caution in conjunction with CNS depressants or stimulants. In addition, if atropine-like effects appear when using the herb with the antiviral agent amantadine HCl, the dose of either one, or both, should be lowered.
Thorn apple may increase the bioavailability of nitrofurantoin, a urinary anti-infective, by delaying gastric emptying and increasing absorption. Furthermore, tricyclic antidepressants may display additive anticholinergic effects with thorn apple.
Thorn apple's analgesic effects may be additive with other analgesics and anesthetics. Conversely, it may be inhibited by barbiturates, despite any CNS depressant effects which may occur. The analgesic property of the herb may also be reversed or even eliminated by P-chlorophenylalanine, cyproheptadine HCl, and phenobarbital.
The CNS depressant tendency of this analgesic may be potentiated by chlorpoxthixene HCl, haloperidol, and tranquilizers.
To minimize central nervous system depression and possible synergism, thorn apple should not be taken by persons on procarbazine antineoplastic drugs.
Safety Factors & Toxicity
Thorn apple is highly toxic. Its content of the psychoactive alkaloids scopolamine, atropine, and hyoscyamine is concentrated enough to produce intense adverse gastrointestinal problems, and morbid hallucinations. Fresh thorn apple and its seeds should be avoided completely.
Symptoms of toxicity include intense thirst, dilated pupils perhaps unresponsive to light (lack of accommodation), vomiting, vertigo, dryness of the mouth, hot and red skin, rapid and weak pulse, delirium, incoherence, high temperatures (up to 108 degrees), and cardiac irregularities. Most terminal cases are the result of complications of prolonged (2-3 hours) hyperthermia.
Preparation & Administration
Three times a day
Thorn apple is very toxic, and must be used carefully
Dried leaf and flowering top
made from 1/16 tsp of dried herb
1:1 in 25% alcohol, 0.06-0.2 ml
1:10 in 45% alcohol, 0.5-2 ml
Note: This Herbal Preparation information is a summary of data from books and articles by various authors. It is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals.
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Committee on Pharmocopaeia of the Am Institute of Homeopathy, The Homeopathic Pharmacopaeia of the United States. 8th ed., Vol 1. Otis Clapp and Son, Agents. Boston. l981.
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Jaffe, J.M. 1975. Effect of propantheline on nitrofurantoin absorbtion. Journal of Pharmaceutical Science, 64. p. 1729.
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Morrelli, H.F. & K.L. Melmon. 1968. The clinician's approach to drug interactions. California Medicine. 109(11). pp. 380-389.
Mowrey, Daniel B., Ph.D. Exper. Psych., Brigham Young University. Director of Nebo Institute of Herbal Sciences. Director of Behavior Change Agent Training Institute. Director of Research, Nova Corp.
Ngai, S.H., L.C. Mark & E.M. Papper. 1970. Pharmacologic and physiologic aspects of anesthesiology. N Eng J of Med, 282 pp. 479-491.
Parkes, J.D., et.al. 1970. Controlled trial of amantadine hydrochloride in Parkinson's disease. Lancet, 1. pp. 259-262.
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? Southwest School of Botanical Medicine