October 26, 2007
Teens Ending Up in ER After Ingesting Jimson Weed
WICHITA, Kan. _ Over the years, jimson weed has drawn attention. Georgia O'Keeffe painted it. Gene Autry sang about it. And recently, some Derby, Kan., teens have become seriously ill after ingesting the plant.
What many people might not realize about the common weed with the trumpet-shaped, white or purple flower is that consuming it can trigger a powerful hallucinogenic effect and that the plant's chemical effects can be fatal.
Every summer or fall, when the plant matures, some teens eat it, smoke it or drink a tea from it to get high. When they don't get high fast enough, they take more. Some of them end up in emergency rooms, police and health officials in Wichita, Kan., say.
Derby parents and a poison-control official say they know of at least two such hospitalizations that occurred recently.
They said other parents _ and their children _ need to be warned of the dangers.
Possession of the weed is legal in Kansas. But if someone sells or gives it to minors, it could result in an endangerment charge, said Kansas Bureau of Investigation spokesman Kyle Smith.
The potentially deadly symptoms include abnormal heart rhythm, respiratory arrest, high fever, hallucination, seizures and coma.
A Derby teen and his parents talked about his experience after eating seeds from a jimson weed pod, also called moon pod. They asked that their names not be used to protect the son's privacy.
The teen had heard of the dangers, but doubted them. The first time, he ate a small amount, but it didn't get him high like he wanted.
The second time, he ate more _ and would regret it.
When he got out of bed, his legs gave out. He felt dizzy and couldn't eat, sleep or see anything up close. His eyes became dilated.
The most unsettling part _ the hallucinations.
He saw friends who weren't there. He had phone conversations with people who weren't talking.
He asked for his mother as she sat next to him, monitoring him and worrying about him until the symptoms wore off. It took about 48 hours.
He says he would never touch the plant again.
They agreed to talk about his experience to help make parents aware.
"The worst part is I don't think any adults know about it," his father said.
The teen isn't the only one to suffer.
Derby police learned of an incident a few weeks ago when a teenager became seriously ill after consuming the plant, said police Lt. Jimmy Queen. The teen went to a hospital and was released the same day, Queen said.
Police found the patch of plants that the teenager used, and the property owner pulled them up.
The weed is enough of a concern that Derby police have been telling parents about it during drug-awareness meetings this school year.
A little over a week ago, emergency room physician Kent Potter dealt with a jimson weed poisoning case at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita.
What distinguishes jimson weed from other hallucinogens, Potter said, is that it causes the person to become very agitated.
The uncomfortable symptoms include hot, dry skin. That could explain why some patients come in nude to emergency rooms, said Lisa Oller, senior poison specialist with the University of Kansas Hospital Poison Control Center in Kansas City, Kan.
"They're hallucinating, and they're delusional and they're hot," she said. "So they take their clothes off."
The center hears about cases when hospitals or individuals call for treatment advice.
In the past two months, the center has recorded four jimson weed poisonings, involving patients ages 15 to 20. At least two of the four reports came from Wichita hospitalizations, she said.
In the past four years, the number of cases reported to the center have ranged from four to 10 a year.
Oller guesses that many poisonings go unreported.
Despite its dangers, part of the allure of the plant as a recreational drug is that it is so prevalent, "and it doesn't cost anything," she said.
It can be found in ditches and gardens.
Hospital treatment sometimes involves medication to calm agitated, disoriented patients.
"Some of these people are really scared," Oller said.
Across the state, most patients recover well, Oller said. She knew of no Kansas deaths from jimson weed poisoning in recent years.
But there are reports of near-deaths elsewhere. Earlier this month, the Toronto Star's online publication reported that two teens were in critical condition after eating jimson weed seeds.
In the United States in 2005, poison centers recorded 975 incidents involving the same class of plants as jimson weed, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
The weed goes by many names, including gypsum weed, stink weed, loco weed and thorn apple.
Some people call it moonflower. But Queen, the Derby police lieutenant, said moonflower is a different plant _ a cousin of jimson weed _ that gets used for the same hallucinogenic effect.
(c) 2007, The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.).
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