THE POISON GARDEN website      Arum maculatum berries on a Cannabis leaf 


This free script provided by JavaScript Kit

Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Thursday 19th January 2012

On Monday afternoon, I watched the live stream of a lecture being given by Professor David Nutt to The University of Edinburgh Division of Psychiatry. I don’t know if it is going to be available to watch but, if it is, it should be accessible from this page of the university’s site. Because I’m in the Scottish Borders where very little is fast and certainly not the broadband, the stream was frequently disrupted though I think I got the gist.

Actually, I wasn’t too worried by that because, although next week’s talk in Kent has a different title ‘Science and non-science in drug policy: how politics compounds harm’ I’m sure they’ll be some overlap of material and, if I had enjoyed a perfect stream from Edinburgh I might be wishing I hadn't made non-refundable travel bookings.

One thing Prof. Nutt said, that sparked this blog, was that he didn’t know how LSD came to have the reputation for making people think they could fly when he’d never come across an actual case. I’ve found with a number of things about poisonous plants that things that ‘everybody knows’ can arise from a single (misunderstood) incident so I wondered if the 1951 poisoning incident at Pont St Esprit might have started the association between LSD and flying.

You’ll find a lengthy discussion of the conflicting theories about the causes of the outbreak of poisoning that affected around 300 people and was traced to one particular batch of bread produced by a local baker elsewhere on this site. On that page, I give examples of the symptoms experienced by some of the victims and include ‘a desire to fly’.

I went back to John G Fuller’s 1968 book ‘The Day of St. Anthony’s Fire’ to look for specific references to flying and found three. Fuller says that, quite early on in the outbreak, a M. Delacquis was cycling home for lunch and experienced visual hallucinations of various sorts and ‘seemed to float in time and space’. He also ‘felt he was borne in on the wings of a mythical golden chariot'.

Delacquis was one of the first to exhibit mental disturbance with most people suffering physical symptoms of poisoning but, later on, there was a sudden surge of victims exhibiting forms of mania. So great was the number of sufferers and so intense the mania that the authorities were nearly overwhelmed in trying to deal with all the victims who would not respond to reason.

Amongst these victims, Fuller writes in some detail about a former aviator, Joseph Puche, who climbed onto a second floor window ledge and cried ‘I’m an airplane and I can fly’. Unfortunately, M. Puche disproved his own claim by breaking both legs when he landed on the pavement below after launching himself into the air. Although he only gives one other named victim, a Mme Rieu who suddenly left her sick husband’s bedside and threw herself out of the window, Fuller says that one of the doctors trying to deal with the epidemic felt that ‘a dominating symptom seemed to be commonplace: The desire to jump from the windows.’

Fuller gives a number of other examples of the effects of the intoxication, including visions of wild animals or large spiders, compulsions to obsessively repeat the same action and the desperate desire to visit a particular person but it is the desire to fly that lingers in the mind. Perhaps, that is because the wish to be able to fly is almost universal in our species so we latch onto stories that seem to offer that experience.

But, why might references to flying in the Pont St Esprit victims be the cause of LSD’s reputation in this area? Well, at least one of the ergot alkaloids is chemically similar to LSD and Albert Hofmann, widely described as the ‘father of LSD’ largely because his book about the chemical is called ‘LSD – My Problem Child’, made a visit to Pont St Esprit when ergot was suspected as the cause.

In that book, Hofmann does say that casualties have occurred when people under the influence of LSD have jumped out of a window ‘in the belief that they were able to fly’ but he goes on to say that such casualties are not as common as ‘sensationally exaggerated [reports] by the mass media’ would lead you to think.

Of course, the notion that an LSD trip could lead to the user plunging to their death due to a mistaken belief in the ability to fly might be seen as a way to discourage its use and, thus, takes its place alongside many of the other pieces of folklore whose intention is to keep children away from harm.    


Full Entries


Tuesday 25th October 2016
Saturday 20th August 2016
Sunday 6th March 2016
Wednesday 3rd February 2016


Saturday 28th November 2015
Friday 27th November 2015
Monday 17th August 2015
Wednesday 15th July 2015
Friday 26th June 2015
Thursday 25th June 2015
Thursday 30th April 2015
Wednesday 29th April 2015
Wednesday 11th March 2015
Tuesday 3rd March 2015
Saturday 28th February 2015
Sunday 22nd February 2015

November 2014

Monday 24th November 2014
Saturday 8th November 2014

October 2014

September 2014

Wednesday 24th September 2014
Monday 1st September 2014

August 2014

Tuesday 26th August 2014
Saturday 16th August 2014
Tuesday 5th August 2014
Friday 1st August 2014

July 2014

Sunday 27th July 2014
Wednesday 23rd July 2014
Sunday 13th July 2014
Sunday 6th July 2014
Tuesday 1st July 2014

June 2014

Wednesday 25th June 2014
Tuesday 24th June 2014
Sunday 22nd June 2014
Monday 9th June 2014
Wednesday 4th June 2014

May 2014

Monday 26th May 2014
Sunday 18th May 2014
Wednesday 14th May 2014

April 2014

Sunday 13th April 2014
Saturday 5th April 2014
Thursday 3rd April 2014
Tuesday 1st April 2014

March 2014

Monday 31st March 2014
Tuesday 25th March 2014
Friday 21st March 2014
Monday 17th March 2014
Sunday 16th March 2014
Tuesday 11th March 2014
Tuesday 11th March 2014
Thursday 6th March 2014
Wednesday 5th March 2014
Saturday 1st March 2014

February 2014

Thursday 27th February 2014
Monday 24th February 2014
Wednesday 19th February 2014
Monday 17th February 2014
Thursday 13th February 2014
Monday 4th February 2014
Monday 3rd February 2014
Saturday 1st February 2014

January 2014

Thursday 28th January 2014
Thursday 23rd January 2014
Friday 17th January 2014
Wednesday 15th January 2014
Monday 13th January 2014
Thursday 9th January 2014
Tuesday 7th January 2014
Wednesday 1st January 2014

December 2013

Monday 23rd December 2013
Friday 20th December 2013
Tuesday 17th December 2013
Friday 14th December 2013
Thursday 12th December 2013
Sunday 8th December 2013
Wednesday 4th December 2013
Sunday 1st December 2013

November 2013

Friday 29th November 2013
Wednesday 27th November 2013
Tuesday 26th November 2013
Friday 22nd November 2013
Monday 18th November 2013
Friday 15th November 2013
Thursday 14th November 2013
Sunday 10th November 2013
Thursday 7th November 2013
Wednesday 6th November 2013
Friday 1st November 2013

October 2013

Thursday 31st October 2013
Sunday 27th October 2013
Wednesday 23rd October 2013
Monday 21st October 2013
Friday 18th October 2013
Friday 11th October 2013
Wednesday 9th October 2013
Tuesday 8th October 2013
Monday 7th October 2013
Tuesday 1st October 2013

September 2013

Monday 30th September 2013
Saturday 28th September 2013
Friday 27th September 2013
Monday 23rd September 2013
Sunday 15th September 2013
Monday 9th September 2013
Tuesday 3rd September 2013
Sunday 1st September 2013

August 2013

Sunday 8th September 2013
Tuesday 3rd September 2013
Sunday 1st September 2013

Tuesday 27th August 2013
Sunday 25th August 2013
Monday 19th August 2013
Friday 16th August 2013
Tuesday 13th August 2013
Friday 9th August 2013
Friday 2nd August 2013
Thursday 1st August 2013

July 2013

Saturday 27th July 2013
Sunday 21st July 2013
Wednesday 17th July 2013
Monday 15th July 2013
Saturday 13th July 2013
Friday 12th July 2013
Thursday 11th July 2013
Wednesday 10th July 2013
Tuesday 9th July 2013
Saturday 6th July 2013

June 2013

Friday 28th June 2013
Tuesday 25th June 2013
Friday 21st June 2013
Thursday 20th June 2013
Wednesday 19th June 2013
Saturday 15th June 2013
Sunday 9th June 2013
Saturday 8th June 2013
Saturday 1st June 2013

May 2013

April 2013

March 2013

February 2013

January 2013

December 2012

November 2012

October 2012

September 2012

August 2012

July 2012 blog

June 2012 blog

May 2012 blog

April 2012 blog

March 2012 blog

February 2012 blog

January 2012 blog

December 2011 blog

November 2011 blog

October 2011 blog

September 2011 blog

August 2011 blog

July 2011 blog

June 2011 blog


The POISON GARDEN website is not connected with Alnwick Garden Enterprises Ltd and/or The Alnwick Garden Trust.