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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Saturday 28th November 2015

I’ve received a remarkable first person account of an accidental poisoning. The person concerned was on a visit to Germany and thought he recognised a bush with berries on it as being one he knew to be edible in his native USA. It was not. Instead it was Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade.

As I stress repeatedly, serious accidental plant poisoning is a rare event meaning there are not that many personal accounts of what the effects can be. For that reason, I asked for his permission to publish his story here. I have edited out anything that might damage his anonymity but have left the actual progress of the poisoning as it was sent to me.

Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade

‘I mistook deadly nightshade for elder berries & ate between 20-30 berries.  They were like you said semisweet. Any bitterness from the berries seemed to be from the seeds. I only stopped eating them because my stomach just didn't feel right. I was in the country not doing anything so I decided to take a nap. I kept getting up because I felt like I needed to pee really bad. Over the next hour I would spend several minutes trying to squeeze out whatever I could. My urine seemed to be clear with a blue tint (not sure if it actually had blue tint or that was the start of seeing things). Next my mouth got very dry and I had a sore throat.

‘Once my vision went blurry I went to get medical help. My pupils were completely dilated and did not respond to anything. They quickly decided to take me to hospital an hour away.  On the way I started hallucinating. Where there was one hedgehog I saw thousands. Deer were kangaroos. I was also delirious. I didn't really know what was going on - someone would tell me to do something so I thought I did it, but didn’t.

Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade

‘By the time I got to the hospital 4-5 hours after ingestion they said there was nothing they could do but observe me. The first night was by far the worst. I would get undressed lay down for 5 to 10 minutes get up get dressed real quick and think I was at work. Every hallucination seemed as real to me as real life. I saw people I worked with and would have full conversations with them. Then, they would be gone. I would snap out of it but I would ask where they went. This included seeing my daughter who was in the USA.

‘I would rummage through the room thinking I was in a work space. At one point I got up to put on my clothes and there was a man I'd never seen sleeping on top of them in the chair. I told him to get up - I could feel my hand on his shoulder and his weight in my hand, turns out I was just shaking the chair. It was so real I can still see his face.

‘The worst hallucination that night was I thought I was in a field hospital during war. In one room across the hall a doctor had blue gloves on and was squeezing a man's head trying to put it back together. In the next room across the hall a man in uniform had been shot in the face from the bottom of the chin to almost his eye socket. It was split open. I watched the doctor sew his face together. I told the man keeping an eye on me how amazing it was to see what the doctors were doing. None of that scared me bit it seemed so real when I saw them wheel the guy with the face wound out of the room next to me I heard a scream. Not a normal scream, it was a scream of intense pain.

Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade

'I told the man watching me how sad it was that he was shot through the lung and that he was going to die. As soon as I said that I felt something, it wasn't pain but it was a feeling...like I was dying, a complete sadness that I cannot even begin to explain. It was an emptiness and I felt something draining it like everything else was as real life itself when I had that feeling. I felt now that it was an out of body experience that the one screaming was me but in the future or something that I couldn't explain. I was later told an old lady screamed once but I heard at least three.

‘The next morning they said I was passed the point where I was in danger of dying and was moved to a psychiatric ward for observation.  I continued to hallucinate over the next 3 days (4 in total). They were all real and I would have to ask if the people I saw and talked to were real when they disappeared. However it tailed off - each day was less and less. My vision didn't come back until the hallucinations stopped.

‘It is now a few weeks later and I still seem to have a problem with short term memory and things I should know off the top of my head can take time for me to think of like I have to search my brain and something is not connecting.
‘The doctors said I would have died if I wasn't so big – six feet three and 220 pounds. My question is what are the long term effects if any will my brain return to normal and is there any documentation on this?’

I wasn’t able to give a complete answer to his question. I’ve never read anything to suggest that there are long-term effects of a single incident of deadly nightshade ingestion but I’m not sure there have been many cases of such a large dose being survived.

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