Love potions and the ointment of witches: historical aspects of the nightshade alkaloids

J Toxicol Clin Toxicol. 1998;36(6):617-27. doi: 10.3109/15563659809028060.


Nightshade plants (Solanaceae) have been utilized as hallucinogenic drugs since antiquity in nearly every culture. The Solanaceae alkaloids, atropine and scopolamine, were the active substances in ointment of witches and medieval anesthetics, and in modern poisons. They are still currently used as hallucinogenic drugs. In poisonings, a dosage- and substance-dependent clinical picture occurs, with central and peripheral symptoms. Hallucinations are predominant in the middle dose range, which explains the drugs' earlier utilization for religious and prophetic purposes. Respiratory depression and arrest at high doses confirm the use of scopolamine as a lethal poison. Despite this, the nightshade alkaloids were utilized in clinical medicine in the 19th century. This is an overview of the cultural history of the nightshade alkaloids.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Anesthetics / history
  • Atropine / history
  • Hallucinogens / history*
  • Hallucinogens / poisoning
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Medieval
  • Humans
  • Parasympatholytics / history*
  • Parasympatholytics / poisoning
  • Scopolamine / history
  • Solanaceae / chemistry
  • Solanaceous Alkaloids / history*
  • Solanaceous Alkaloids / poisoning


  • Anesthetics
  • Hallucinogens
  • Parasympatholytics
  • Solanaceous Alkaloids
  • Atropine
  • Scopolamine