In the afternoon they came unto a land
In which it seemed always afternoon. â€¦.
Dark faces pale against that rosy flame,
The mild-eyed melancholy Lotus-eaters came.
Branches they bore of that enchanted stem,
Laden with flower and fruitâ€¦
Falling asleep in a half-dream!
By Lord Tennyson: The Lotus-Eaters
THE vigilance of Fiji Consumer Council and the Fiji Commerce Commission should extend beyond the flagrant exploitation of hire purchase system, poor workmanship of tradesmen to include adulterated yaqona, milk and other consumables. In this article the focus will be the adulteration of yaqona with exotic substances, the most common one being datura.
Datura belongs to the family of plants with a botanical name of solanaceae. Other names include Indian apple, Angel's trumpets, moon flowers, witches' weeds. It has toxic hallucinogen substances that cause a delirium, violent outbursts and occasionally death. The plant is native to India; growing in the Himalayas and hilly portions of Central and Southern India. The plant grows up to one metre; has egg-shaped leaves; big white flowers; egg-shaped fruits covered with spines
In traditional Indian literature, datura or Indian herb is referred to Shivashehera with a belief that it is related to Lord Shiva. Indian physicians used dried datura leaves and fruits to cure illnesses. For example, there are purported claims that inhaling combusting leaves alleviates asthma. It is also used to treat malaria, cardiac pains, earaches, baldness and impotency.
Aside from the good effects, datura has also been used for its bad effects. Plant leaves contain poisonous alkaloids. In countries like India, today, datura leaves are ranked as the third commonest poison. There, it has been reported that crushed seeds of datura are administered in food and drink by criminals with intent to rob rather than kill. The effects of the poison comes rapidly after intake — dryness of throat, flushing face with dry skin, dilated pupils, difficulty in swallowing with restlessness, purposeless movement with muttering, delirium, coma and heart failure.
Datura plant (and possibly marijuana) were introduced in Fiji by Girmityas. While the effects of marijuana have been well documented and much publicised, the yaqona (kava) adulterated with datura has not been systematically observed and investigated.
Datura may be classified as synthetic drug but not classified as an illegal substance. Its effect seem to be similar to 2C-1 or "smiles" that have been reported in US and Australia.
From anecdotal evidence, the effects of yaqona mixed with datura could last for 24-30 hours (depending on the concentration of datura) after ingestion. Experiences of people who purportedly drank yaqona mixed with datura (the author has labelled this concoction datura or Shiva kava are described below.
Experience 1: Ram
A Fijian of Indian descent at a party in Nausori where the guest brought two dollars of yaqona. The host began to have hallucenic dreamlike ecstasy behaviours with feelings of great sexual prowess. After seven bowls over a period of 110 minutes Ram drove his car turning in the wrong direction. While driving he felt that he was driving in an unreal world where time seemed to have lost its meaning. Next morning, Ram was still complaining of experiencing intense visual and aural hallucinations.
Experience 2: Kumar
In rural settings with an abundance of time with nothing to do, many rustic folk just mix yaqona and indulge in cigarette smoking. On one such occasion, this turned out to be a little disturbing. With 10 bowls of yaqona, the behaviour of the indulgent became a little berserk. The crowd became squeamish and the groggiest complained of hallucinations and the inability to walk straight. The next day Kumar complained of headaches and sat squinty-eyed talking about the unusual yaqona. He thought it was Vanuatu kava while some of his friends felt the yaqona they drank the other afternoon was adulterated with powdered form of datura. On further inquiry, it was found that the kava had been mixed with datura all right.
There are many other stories with identical experiences. It is quite possible that widespread use of datura kava is associated with unnatural behaviours reported (in The Fiji Times) in the places like Labasa.
Datura mixed with yaqona (datura or Shiva kava) could result in hallucinations as per reports of people who unknowingly had yaqona mixed with powdered datura. While under the influence of datura, walking and or driving can be hazardous. Unfortunately, substances like datura are difficult to monitor and continue to remain outside the scrutiny of law (unlike marijuana) because the substance is frequently used for medicinal purposes. While this article is based on case studies, future research could be experimental in nature, focusing on the differential effects of using varying composition of datura and yaqona on experimental and control groups.
Additionally, beverages including locally-produced alcohol should be checked for non-compliance of product contents as per the label by the Consumer Council of Fiji and possibly the Fiji Commerce Commission with a view to making the public aware of the dangers of selling and buying adulterated food and drinks.
* Jagjit Singh is a frequent writer for The Fiji Times. These views are solely his and not of any organisation he is affiliated with.