Were I asked what special power I would like to have out of the endless list of options, I would definitely choose this one. From healing mum's depression to healing many other depressed people, and maybe putting a full stop to all forms of violence from domestic violence to warfare across Eurasia,
But does Soothing, or Getting Smilies Painted On Your Soul, exist in real life, as the rhetorical question title of this post asks?
Well, since the nervous system runs on chemical impulses, it can be hijacked with chemicals. Drugs, you may think, from ethanol through Xanax to crystal meth, induce euphoria after crossing the blood-brain barrier. And you are right. But there is a more sinister substance whose existence is now widely known... the drug to end all drugs... scopolamine.
Found in nature in plants of the nightshade family (which includes nightshade, datura, tobacco, potatoes, all kinds of peppers [pimientos], physalis...), scopolamine is on the WHO List of Essential Medicines, being used to treat motion sickness (airsickness, seasickness, etc.); GI, renal, and biliary spasms; as well as colics, and used as a premedication to reduce airway secretions as an injection before surgery.
So where is the sinister edge of this two-edged weapon?
Physostigmine is an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor that readily crosses the blood-brain barrier, and has been used as an antidote to treat the central nervous system depression symptoms of scopolamine overdose. Other than this supportive treatment, gastric lavage and induced emesis (vomiting) are usually recommended as treatments for oral overdoses. The symptoms of overdose include:
- Blurred vision
- Urinary retention
- Drowsiness or paradoxical reaction which can present with hallucinations
- Cheyne-Stokes respiration
- Dry mouth
- Skin reddening
- Inhibition of gastrointestinal motility
Furthermore; nowadays thieves, date rapists, and kidnappers left and right poison their targets by giving the victim a scopolamine-laced beverage, in the hope that the victim would become unconscious or unable to effectively resist the robbery/sexual assault/whatever sinister crime the poisoners have in mind. In June 2008, more than 20 people were hospitalized with psychosis in Norway after ingesting counterfeit Rohypnol tablets containing scopolamine.
While it has been occasionally used recreationally for its hallucinogenic properties, the experiences are often unpleasant, mentally and physically. It is also physically dangerous, so repeated use is rare.
The effects of scopolamine were studied for use as a truth serum in interrogations in the early 20th century, but because of the side effects, investigations were dropped.In 2009, it was proven that Czechoslovak communist state security secret police used scopolamine at least three times to obtain confessions from alleged antistate conspirators.
The drug is known to produce loss of memory of events recently before exposure and sleepiness, similar to the effect of benzodiazepines or alcohol poisoning, which affects the ability of a person to resist criminal aggression:
This drug is employed in robberies, express kidnappings and sexual assault. In the present decade, various Spanish hospitals have introduced a special protocol to help medical workers identify cases.
Podremos hacer una primera aproximación buscando en cualquier manual de toxicología cuales son las características de la intoxicación por escopolamina. Tratándose de una planta venenosa que se conoce desde hace más de quinientos años, parece lógico que la medicina sea capaz de detallar con exactitud qué les sucede a las personas que, de forma voluntaria o no, se intoxican con esta sustancia. Aunque en desuso, la escopolamina tuvo sus indicaciones en medicina antes de la generalización de la anestesia. Así que sus efectos y riesgos están perfectamente documentados. El cuadro clínico de la intoxicación por escopolamina produce disminución de la secreción a través de las glándulas del organismo: sequedad de boca, sed, dificultad para tragar y hablar…se produce una dilatación extrema de las pupilas, que reaccionan muy lentamente a la luz produciendo visión borrosa de los objetos cercanos y, en ocasiones, ceguera transitoria. Puede aparecer fiebre muy alta (hasta 42ºC), convulsiones, arritmias cardiacas, insuficiencia respiratoria… Los síntomas de tipo mental (psicosis, alucinaciones, delirio…) se citan por parte de la mayoría de los autores así como el hecho de que es mortal en sobredosis.
Sinister indeed. This is one of those cases in which real life surpasses fiction.