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Devil's Breath: Scopolamine, AKA Burundanga, Hailed As 'World's Scariest Drug'

The World's Scariest Drug

Bank account bone dry?

Have the sneaking suspicion you spent the evening in a zombie-like state shuffling from bank machine to bank machine at the behest of South American crime lords?

Dude on your couch eating Cap'n Crunch in your pajamas, casting devious stares in your direction?

Yup. Sounds like you may have been the unwitting recipient of a blast of 'devil's breath'.

Or, at least, that's the diabolical scenario health experts are warning about amid the apparent surge in popularity of a drug called scopolamine. Also known as burundanga. Best remembered by its infernal street name.

Or, apparently, not remembered at all.

Hailed in a recent Vice documentary as 'the world's scariest drug,' scopolamine is tasteless, odourless and has a reputation for being something of a 'zombie' drug -- meaning victims are still very much active while they're on it, remembering precious little of those activities the next day.

In 2012, there were nearly 1,200 cases of scopolamine and other 'zombie' drugs being used on unsuspecting targets, GlobalPost reports. Among the victims? Well-known politicians, foreign embassy staff and average Colombian citizens.

“They go out to party and then wake up two or three days later on a park bench,” Maria Fernanda Villota, a nurse at San Jose University Hospital in Bogota, told GlobalPost.

The hospital, she says, receives several scopolamine victims every week. “They arrive here without their belongings or their money.”

Last month, El Mundo reported on four women who fell prey to the Devil's Breath in isolated incidents -- each case was marked by the use of paper sheets, apparently, doused with an alkaloid from the plant. Once inhaled, everything goes a little... zombie.

"I felt something in my head, I started feeling dizzy, my legs (grew heavy)..."

At some point, the victim claims she wasn't sure whether she was even married or had children.

Another victim recalls being "out of control."

"My head was spinning, I do not know how I gave them 300 euros ... I cannot remember anything."

Scopolamine does, however, have many legitimate uses -- from NASA using it to combat motion sickness to an aid in staving off depression.

A 2008 incident, which saw more than 20 people hospitalized after being slipped 'Devil's Breath' made the drug the subject of international headlines.

What's even scarier may not be just the drug's infernal applications -- but its sheer abundance.

Any of three plants in the Solanaceae family can produce it -- and all of them grow freely throughout much of South America.

And then there's the simplicity with which it can be administered.

In the Vice documentary, a Bogota drug dealer describes how Scopolamine can be blown in someone's face -- and, just minutes later, 'you can guide them wherever you want. It's like they're a child."

There may be one rather nasty drawback for those bent on amassing a zombie army -- sporadic bouts of unchecked aggression in the target.

“We’ve had cases in the emergency room in which we would have to treat both the victim who was intoxicated with the drug and the criminal whom he had beaten up,” Dr. Camilo Uribe, an expert on the drug based at San Jose University Hospital, told GlobalPost.

A deal with the Devil indeed.

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