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Physicians warn of Jimson Weed

However, unlike dandelions and chickweed, Jimson Weed has the potential to cause more problems than just an unsightly lawn.

Thursday, November 04, 1999

However, unlike dandelions and chickweed, Jimson Weed has the potential to cause more problems than just an unsightly lawn.

Teenagers have found that the seeds in the weed’s small, burr-shaped pod creates a drug-like "high" when chewed or brewed in a tea, said Robert Hess, M.D., of River Valley Health System’s emergency services staff.

"Jimson Weed can be found in almost any backyard," he explained. "No processing is needed."

Among the potentially fatal side effects are an elevated heart rate, dilated pupils, seizures and hallucinations.

"It is in the same family as belladonna, which is a poison," Hess said. "Although it usually is not fatal, there have been no long-term studies to show what problems using this will cause in the future."

Use of the Jimson Weed began to gain popularity several years ago when a number of cases occurred near Charleston, W.Va., Hess said. However, that now is spreading.

"We suspect one case here in the past few weeks," he said. "The patient did recover, but many of the classic symptoms were present."

One of the problems in diagnosing Jimson Weed use is the lack of nearby testing facilities. The closest facility is at Ohio State University, which could mean several days between the initial blood test and receiving the results, Hess said.

Because of the problems associated with diagnosis, only the symptoms are treated instead of the cause. For example, if the patient is brought to the emergency room with a rapid heart rate, medical personnel will work to stabilize the heart rate without having the benefit of being able to counsel the patient about the dangers of using Jimson Weed.

"We are sending flyers to local schools to explain the potential problems of Jimson Weed," he explained. "The flyers will alert teachers and school officials about what to look for."

The impending winter and colder temperatures will help lessen the problem, but the solution is only temporary because the weed will come back next spring.

"There is only limited research on Jimson Weed," Hess said. "Several years ago, there were a few articles written in the West Virginia medical journals after the Charleston incidents; however, the long-term effects and ramifications are just not known."

The bottom line, he stressed, is not to experiment with it.

"Definitely, don’t try it," Hess said. "There is a remote possibility of death, so Jimson Weed is just not something to fool about with."