“In their quest for visions and for supernatural power, the Chumash of the Santa Barbara region were one of many tribes throughout North and South America that resorted to the use of hallucinogenic plants. Datura was one of the most widely known of these hallucinogens.”
—Richard B. Applegate, The Datura Cult Among the Chumash, Journal of California Anthropology (1975)
The Chumash believed Datura provided a pathway to the spirit realm and a means to interact with the supernatural world and they used it for a wide variety of ceremonial and religious purposes. The broad-leaved, large-flowered plant was also used medicinally in many ways.
According to anthropologist and ethnobiologist, Jan Timbrook, Curator of Ethnography at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Datura was “probably the single most important medicinal plant of the Chumash.” It is featured prominently in Chumash myths, and whereas numerous animals are attributed human characteristics in their oral narratives, Datura is the only plant to be described in an anthropomorphic manner.
“In general, toloache (Datura) was taken for three principal purposes: to establish contact with a supernatural guardian who would provide protection, special skill, and a personal talisman; for clairvoyance, such as contacting the dead, finding lost objects, seeing the future, or seeing the true nature of people; and to cure the effects of injury, evil omens, or breaches of taboo, and to obtain immunity from danger.”
—Jan Timbrook, Chumash Ethnobotany: Plant Knowledge Among the Chumash People of Southern California (2007)
A friend once told me a story about a guy he knew who ate Datura. The guy’s quest for a good time ended abruptly one afternoon when his neighbors called the police after seeing him in his front yard acting erratically and repetitively stacking something for a prolonged period of time. When the authorities arrived they found a naked man traipsing around his front yard jabbering loudly to himself, while stacking cardboard boxes that nobody else could see.
(Datura is a poisonous, coma inducing, deadly plant. If you’re looking for a cheap thrill you’d be well advised to avoid experimenting with it. The serving size needed to cause hallucinations and intensified sensory affects is not much less than the amount that can induce a coma or kill a person. Death was not unknown among the Native Americans that used it. If you successfully guess the correct dose and avoid fading into a subconscious state for several days or sending yourself to the morgue, you may still experience continual hallucinations for several weeks afterward. The mention of Datura on this blog is done out of historical and anthropological interest only.)