The Dangers of Ingesting Moonflower

Moonflower, a non-regulated drug, is sometimes consumed recreationally

White moonflower

Orietta Corradi / EyeEm / Getty Images

Many psychoactive substances are sourced from plants. For example, compounds with hallucinogenic effects can be found in mushrooms and ayahuasca, both of which are used for both recreational and spiritually-oriented drug trips.

The usage of plant-based drugs is no less dangerous than that of commercially and/or synthetically produced ones, though, which is very much the case with a poisonous plant called moonflower.

Moonflower has been used in recent years by young people to induce a cheap high, and is particularly dangerous as it is unregulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Let's look at what moonflower is, its effects and what can be done after someone has ingested the flower.

What Is Moonflower?

Named for the fact that its blooms open up after dusk, moonflower is one of several names for a vespertine plant whose flower has a trumpet-like shape.

Moonflower is a member of the datura flower species and goes by a few other names including:

  • Jimsonweed/Jimson Weed
  • Thornapple
  • Devil's trumpet
  • Hell's bells

It has the scientific name of Datura inoxia, and belongs to the Solanaceae flower family. Though the flowers look similar to that of the morning glory plant, they are entirely different plants.

Where and How Moonflower Grows

Moonflowers grow on a vine, and they thrive in warm climates. They are described as having "large, heart-shaped, dark green leaves on robust, slightly prickly stems" and flowers "that are typically an iridescent white and grow around 6 inches long and 3 to 6 inches wide."

Though moonflowers do grow wild in tropical climates, they need to be cultivated in all other climates. However, once they have been intentionally grown in an area, their seeds can spread by the wind and that can lead to them growing wildly in additional places they are not native to.

How Moonflower Is Used as a Drug

To use this poisonous flower as a drug, the seeds, leaves, and/or roots are eaten or boiled into a tea.

This type of usage was first reported in the early 2000s by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention where a group of teens consumed it in Ohio. Another instance occurred in 2009 when one Nebraskan teen landed in the ER after ingesting moonflower, and it again made headlines in 2016 after five adolescents in Denver ate it and fell sick.

Moonflower has also been consumed accidentally, as in the case of a sixty year old man in 2010 who thought that the seeds were flax seeds. Moonflower may have been used historically in spiritual practices by Indigenous societies; this is claimed by modern day users, but it hasn't been validated.

The Risks of Using Non-Regulated Drugs

Because moonflower is not regulated, every moonflower may contain a different amount of its psychoactive substances. That means there is no way to gauge its effects in advance, as there is no standard for how much to consume. There is also no way to know what exactly a lethal dosage of it could be.

Effects of Ingesting Moonflower

This poisonous flower has a variety of effects. According to the CDC, it takes about an hour for the drug to kick in, and once it has it can last between 24-48 hours. The effects of ingesting moonflower include:

Anticholinergic

An anticholinergic effect relates to the control of muscles in the body. While it is also a category of drugs for uses such as asthma and incontinence, the term means that certain muscle functions of the body are altered.

In this case, one anticholinergic effect of moonflower is the retention of urine, meaning a user may experience a lack of ability to urinate. Though this isn't too big a problem if the occurrence is brief, an inability to urinate can quickly become very dangerous.

Tachycardia

A heart experiencing tachycardia is one that is beating too quickly. Rapid heart rate is considered anything above 99 beats per minute. While tachycardia can be benign, it can also be lethal.

Hallucinations

This effect is presumably the one that people taking moonflower are looking for. Hallucinating can involve any or all of your senses, such as seeing something that is imaginary, hearing something that is not actually occurring, or smelling something that has no physical source.

Difficulty Controlling Behavior and Impulsivity

In the case of the Nebraskan teen who ate moonflower, he became violent and assaulted a police officer. It was reported that those under the influence of moonflower might obsessively pick at their clothing, commit acts of violence or even remove their clothes in public.

Other Effects

Other effects of this drug can include dilated pupils, blurred vision, dry mouth, dry skin, and disorientation.

Poison symptoms of moonflower can include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that the ingestion of moonflower can result in central and peripheral toxic anticholinergic effects.

Central toxic effects include:

  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Peripheral toxic effects include:

  • Dry mucous membranes
  • Thirst
  • Flushed face
  • Blurred vision
  • Hyperthermia
  • Urinary retention
  • Decreased gut motility

In large enough dosages, moonflower can be fatal.

Treatment For Moonflower Ingestion

Luckily, none of the people who have consumed moonflower for its hallucinogenic effects are reported to have died, though many have had to go to the emergency room.

A common treatment for someone who has ingested moonflower is benzodiazepine, which is used to calm the agitation that the drug can induce.

Activated Charcoal can be used to facilitate the removal of the drugs from one's system, and in severe cases physostigmine, which is an antidote for anticholinergic poisoning.

A Word From Verywell

Using drugs for recreational purposes can result in dangerous and severe consequences. Since moonflower is not regulated, you will never be certain of what you are consuming and it's best to steer clear of using this drug.

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5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Michaels K. How to Grow Moonflower. The Spruce. Updated February 12, 2021.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suspected Moonflower Intoxication. Published August 22, 2003.

  3. Lostroh T. Moonflower seed ingestion as drug causes scare in state. The Daily Nebraskan. Published September 17, 2009.

  4. The Denver Post. Officials warn against moonflowers. Updated May 7, 2016.

  5. Stellpflug SJ, Cole JB, Harris CR. "I shouldn’t have had dessert... " a moonflower seed ingestionWest J Emerg Med. 2010;11(2):213.