Journal Mobile

MR Lee
Journal Issue: 
Volume 37: Issue 1: 2007




The  Deadly  Nightshade, Atropa  belladonna, is  a  plant  surrounded  by myth,  fear  and  awe.   In  antiquity,  the  Greeks  and  the  Romans  knew  that  it contained  a  deadly  poison. In  medieval  times, it  was  widely  used  by  witches, sorcerors  and  professional  poisoners.   Linnaeus  later  codified  its  remarkable properties as the genus Atropa, the Fate that slits the thin spun life and the species belladonna  because  of  its  power  to  dilate  the  pupils.   In  the  1830s, the  pure alkaloid l-atropine was isolated from the plant. This proved to be a significant tool in  the  study  of  the  autonomic  nervous  system  leading  to  the  identification  of acetylcholine as an important neurotransmitter in mammals. When pure atropine became available, it caused a large number of deaths, whether by accident, suicide or homicide.