Burundanga (Scopolamine): Effects, Symptoms and Mechanism of Action

The Burundanga Or scopolamine is an alkaloid that has a therapeutic use because of its antimuscarinic and anticholinergic effects. Its most popular effect is the annulment of the will. It is extracted from various plants, mainly from the Solanaceae family such as the white henna, the stramonium, the mandrake, the brugmansia or the scopoly.

In particular, it is used to treat postoperative nausea and vomiting, gastrointestinal spasms, irritable bowel syndrome, or Motion sickness (Disorder due to movement).

Molecular Structure Of Scopolamine

On the other hand, it also serves as an analgesic and Parkinson's symptoms . In fact, scopolamine is on the list of essential drugs of the World Health Organization.

However, it is most commonly known to be a dangerous drug that is linked to delinquency. This is because it is often used to stun victims in order to commit robberies (94%) and sexual abuse (6%). This substance is ideal for this purpose because it is difficult to detect: it does not smell, has no taste and is colorless.

The effects of this substance are passivity, submission, loss of will, disorientation, and alterations in the victim's consciousness, memory, language, perception and behavior.

Burundanga is used for criminal purposes mainly in South America, although cases have also occurred in Spain. It is very common in these cases to use scopolamine mixed with other substances, such as Benzodiazepines , To increase the symptoms of submission. This is known as the"new burundanga".

Usually the typical situation is that the thief persuades the victim to surrender all his valuable savings or belongings, and the victim accepts without resistance. Once the effects have passed, the victim may have memory gaps that prevent him from remembering the details of the event.

Burundanga is extremely toxic and should be used in very small doses. An overdose of this drug can lead to delirium, seizures, paralysis and even death.

A bit of history about burundanga

The first person to isolate hyoscine (scopolamine) was the German chemist Albert Ladenburg in 1880. Although Burundanga was already used in different civilizations for its healing properties.

Throughout history it has also been used for spells, witchcraft, or other spiritual purposes. It is also said that recently the CIA used it as"truth serum"to interrogate enemies, although it seems that was not very effective.

During a time it was administered accompanied of morphine to diminish the pains in the childbirth, although it was stopped to use by the great infantile mortality that caused. It is now known that pregnant women can transmit this drug to the fetus, just as in the nursing period.

Currently the main use is for medical treatments, in addition to criminal uses. However, it is important to mention that there are many myths about burundanga. So much about the symptoms that it generates, its severity and the frequency of the crimes. Apparently, some sensationalist media have exaggerated on the subject by facilitating certain false beliefs.

Is Burundanga intoxication frequent?

According to Uribe, Moreno, Zamora and Acosta (2005) in Colombia ranked first in the poisonings treated in clinical services. In fact, in Bucaramanga 80 per cent of the poisonings were scopolamine or"new burundanga"(a combination of scopolamine and central nervous system depressants). It was mainly administered in drinks offered by strangers (75% of cases).

These authors observed that criminal intoxication was more frequent in men (79.1%) between 20 and 50 years (83.8%). In addition, in most cases a single toxicant (65%), two toxicants (14.42%) was detected and in 20.47% none were detected. Probably because these last patients arrived later of the account to the clinic, being impossible to detect the toxic substance.

Ardila et al. They developed a questionnaire with the objective of knowing the frequency of burundanga intoxication with criminal purposes in Bogotá. They examined 373 men and 404 women between the ages of 18 and 55, obtaining that 2.06% of them said that at some point in their life they had been poisoned with this substance.

This intoxication was greater in males of high economic status, and the most common motive was robbery. In the case of women, sexual abuse was more frequent. In addition, only 50% of the cases went to the hospital, and less than 20% reported to the police.

The authors concluded that possibly several hundred people could get intoxicated with scopolamine in Bogota every month.

On the other hand, there have been cases of accidental intoxication in adults and children who have ingested parts of the plant, or contaminated bee honey.

In the United States, 79% of cases of scopolamine poisoning were due to accidental causes (Bernal, Gómez, López and Acosta, 2013).

How does burundanga act in the nervous system?

The exact mechanism of action of burundanga in the nervous system Is not fully known, but there are some hypotheses about its operation described in this section.

Burundanga crosses very easily the blood-brain barrier, causing alterations in the brain .

It has inhibitory effects on muscarinic receptors (especially M1), blocking them so that nerve cells can not receive Acetylcholine . Acetylcholine is a fundamental neurotransmitter in our body, as it participates in muscle contraction, concentration and memory .

The basal nucleus of Meynert is a part of our brain full of cholinergic cells (releasing and receiving acetylcholine), very important for memory. Burundanga seems to have a special effect in this area.

Specifically, it prevents the data to be remembered from being transmitted to memory storage locations such as the hippocampus. That is, it prevents the information from being set in memory. Although this blockage may not be complete, the person may remember some isolated details of what happened to him when he was under the effects of this substance.

In the aforementioned study by Ardila et al. Observed that the Retrograde amnesia (Not being able to remember the facts that occurred before the drug) was minimal, but the Anterograde amnesia (Problems to fix memories after consuming the drug) ranged from 1 to 72 hours.

In addition, those who had suffered long-term amnesia also indicated personality changes and neuropsychological disorders. Mainly problems for keep attention And difficulties in memory.

Concerning the blockade of muscarinic receptors in the Frontal lobe , This causes the apathy , Decreased anxiety And the aggressive behavior observed in the victims.

It is also possible that scopolamine blocks the activity of other neurotransmitters such as Serotonin , Mostly in the limbic system . This would produce psychosis and other documented psychiatric symptoms in some patients who are predisposed to suffer them.

Studies have shown that burundanga or scopolamine produces temporary changes in the electrical activity of the brain.

The most disturbed cognitive functions under the effects of this drug are: working memory, Semantic memory , Word learning, autobiographical memory, information retrieval, lexical retrieval, free recall, and speed of information processing (Martínez and Mejía, 2001).

According to Alvarez (2008), scopolamine in some people can cause disorientation, psychomotor excitation, Hallucinations , Delirium, aggressiveness , Convulsions , Eat and even death.

As for the"new burundanga", which is the one that combines with central nervous system depressants like benzodiazepines and phenothiazines, it causes GABAergic effects.

GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter of the nervous system, which causes sedative effects, and drowsiness. In addition, the new Burundanga reassures the victim, enhances his amnesia, and inhibits aggression.

What other symptoms causes burundanga?

In addition to affecting the central nervous system, burundanga also causes peripheral symptoms. In fact, we can find muscarinic receptors in other parts of the body such as the heart and intestine, in addition to other tissues. The following are the most typical symptoms due to anticholinergic effects:

- Reduction of the activity of the secretory glands, reducing the release of saliva, sweat and those produced by the digestive system and bronchi.

- As a result of the first point, the person feels with dry mouth, thirsty, with difficulty speaking and swallowing. Other consequences are urinary retention and Bronchodilation.

- Mydriasis or dilated pupils, in addition to blurred vision.

- Constriction of blood vessels, causing blushing of the skin.

- Tachycardia, with hypertension in some cases.

- Hyperthermia Or fever.

Administration and duration of the effects of burundanga

Burundanga appears as a fine powder, crystalline and white. It is generally absorbed quickly through the intestine, since its most habitual administration is by oral route. However, you can also inject, inhale or smoke. In this way, it can be added very easily in foods, beverages, cigarettes and aerosols.

Its maximum effect is reached within the first 3 hours after consumption and then gradually decreasing. It is eliminated by urine, sweat and reaches the breast milk. It also affects the fetus in pregnant women.

Most of the drug is expelled through the urine during the first 12 hours. By eliminating in such a short time, the difficulty of obtaining positive toxicological analyzes is understandable. It is complicated to show that someone has received scopolamine since patients usually go to the doctor after 12 hours from the administration of the substance. However, it can be detected through a hair analysis.

According to Bernal, Gómez, López and Acosta (2013) the effects disappear in 48 hours, and if the treatment is fast, it is rare that long term sequelae appear. Although this depends on the dose received, whether the substance is presented alone or with other drugs, and the medical and psychological history of the victim

Treatment for burundanga intoxication

If substance poisoning is suspected, medical attention should be sought as soon as possible.

Health professionals will try to keep the affected person with adequate levels of oxygen, hydration, and body temperature. If the ingestion has been oral, a gastric lavage may be desirable.

On the other hand, serious poisoning can lead to delirium or coma. In these cases, it is usually administered Physostigmine , A very useful drug to combat the typical anticholinergic effects of scopolamine.

It has also been found that administration of Donepezil Improves in part the symptoms produced by Burundanga, mainly those associated with working memory, short-term memory and visomotor functions.


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