Thursday, July 3, 2014

Drugs, Not Demons

Last week I covered the story of three young women who were allegedly "possessed by demons" after playing with a Ouija board. A video widely circulated with the story shows one of the women growling just like Linda Blair in The Exorcist and then cracking up, as if she were trying to emulate a possessed character in a movie but having trouble doing so with a straight face.

The real story turns out to be more sinister than mere play-acting, but it also has nothing to do with possession, demons, or the Ouija board itself. It turns out that the three were given a tea prior to their session with the board made from Brugmansia or "Angel's Trumpet" flowers. Brugmansia is a toxic indigenous plant that contains scopolamine, hyoscyamine, and several other tropane alkaloids, powerful drugs that can induce auditory and visual hallucinations.

New details on the story reveal that Alexandra Huerta, the girl in the video, is 16 years old, not 22 as first reported. What’s worse, the drug was knowingly referred to her, her brother and their cousin by Maria Camaño, the girl’s legal guardian, who admits she was “helping” the orphaned girl and boy contact their dead parents. They boiled the flowers in a tea that they drank an hour before the session and its subsequent problems. Mrs. Camaño is the same woman who went to a priest first to perform an exorcism rather than getting medical help for the hallucinating teens.

Brugsmansia, also called Angel’s Trumpet for its poisonous flowers, has long been used in South American cultures as a topical remedy for pain relief, arthritis, infections and as an anti-inflammatory. All parts of the plant are poisonous and can cause death when ingested in large quantities, but it has also been used internally for spasms, pain and asthma. It is known to cause visual and auditory hallucinations and was traditionally given to misbehaving children who were told the visions they had were dead ancestors coming to scold them.

So rather than simply acting out, Huerta was actually under the influence of drugs, and for some reason her guardian decided that what she needed was an exorcism rather than medical attention - even though she knew about the Brugmansia and in fact supplied it. Why she expected an exorcism to resolve the situation is something of a mystery, though perhaps the real reason the priest refused to perform one was that he figured out something was up.

So no, Ouija boards aren't dangerous, some hallucinogenic drugs are - but we knew that already. Huerta and her relatives did recover once the drugs were out of their systems, but as the substances also induce amnesia she has no recollection of what she experienced under their influence or whether any of her behavior at the time was stereotypical acting-out.

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