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Picture the scenario. You meet a stranger on the street, have a brief, perhaps cordial exchange, and moments later you’re handing over practically everything you have in your possession. If you’ve your bank cards on you, you might even go to the nearest ATM, withdraw your limit and give it to your recently met acquaintance.

Nice, if you’re on the receiving end of such ‘generosity’ that is. If only, eh? Yet, here in Bogotá, these kinds of things do happen. No, it’s not a case of there being more giving types here compared to other places – it’s more likely the opposite on that score.

Scopolamine: Responsible for bringing people on a 'trip' they don't want to go on in Bogotá, Colombia?

Scopolamine: Is it responsible for bringing people in Bogotá on a ‘trip’ they don’t want to go on?

It’s all to do with what you could describe as a type of hypnotising drug, sourced from plants found in these parts. For those unaware of scopolamine/hyoscine, or Devil’s Breath as it’s also called, how it allegedly affects individuals under its influence reads like some sort of horror/science fiction movie.

Basically, if you’re unlucky enough to be exposed to it, so it goes, you’ll become completely subservient to whoever happens to be around you; you’ll pretty much do whatever they ask you to do. You can still function, superficially and physically in any case, more or less as normal. The problem is that you lose your will power. Pretty much whatever is asked of you, you’ll do, no questions asked.

Brugmansia plant

The Brugmansia plant, the natural source of scopolamine. (Photo from web.)

Now some pharmacological experts are unwilling to give scopolamine, or whatever similar version of it is used, such lofty ‘credit’ as a drug that takes away your will power with just the slightest sniff of it. They dispute the commonly held belief that inhaling a small dose in powder form – one of the ways Devil’s Breath dispensers drug their victims is by blowing it in their faces – would instantly send somebody into a puppet-like stupor.

Nonetheless, you’ll find plenty of people who were robbed or taken advantage of in Bogotá who swear that they were maliciously administered something that dramatically altered their behaviour, something other than the usual alcohol and whatever else they might be having.

So for those who have had nights where they’ve found themselves acting completely out of character in the company of strangers – and normally robbed to boot – they’re convinced that if it’s not exactly scopolamine that’s to blame, some sort of nasty concoction is.

Despite all the anecdotes of such freaky episodes, in a lot of the cases there’s a lack of hard evidence available to say whether it was actually Devil’s Breath at play or not – that is to say, no toxicology tests were taken.

For this reason, it continues to remain in some sort of limbo: an urban myth or a dangerous criminal reality? Whatever the case, for some victims of crime in Bogotá, something sinister has been, and continues to be, lurking in the air. More reasons to always have the guard up around here.
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La vida en Colombia desde la perspectiva de un periodista y locutor irlandés, quien ha vivido en el país desde 2011. El blog explora temas sociales y culturales, interacción con los nativos, viajes, actualidades y mucho más. Escucha su podcast acá: https://anchor.fm/brendan-corrigan.

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  1. juanitatoroo0525

    It is a pity living without the opportunity to met new/good people, just living our lives in a hurry. Each big city has its own features, stereotypes, and fears. I do not know your experience in Bogota but to me has been hard to deal with racial profiling in almost every aspect of my life. I have realized that I am not the desired stereotype, at the transport (bus/subway/whatever) they look at me with a distrustful attitude just because what I am (Latino face) and also because they do not have the need to be open with a person who looks like me. I honestly do not care about it, but it is a shame being short of opportunities to meet new friends. Anyway, have a good weekend and see you, until your next blog.

  2. juanitatoroo0525

    Unfortunately is a very bad and common strategy of thieves (criminals) in Bogota and Colombia. The sad part is that potential victims (population) have not learned that socializing whit strangers is the first step to be hurt. Dear people there are not friends at the streets not in Bogota neither in any big city at the world. Out of home there is lot of bad guys with (horrible) intentions to obtain your belongings not your friendship.

    • Yes, unfortunately there are a few bad eggs out there, the result being that they keep us on edge whenever we do meet new people. Living in Bogotá, like most big cities, tends to make you sceptical about meeting and engaging with strangers. It is a pity, as generally speaking the majority don’t have bad intentions …

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