Scopolamine: Colombia’s Date Rape Drug

By on May 13, 2011 Print

It is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. It can be surreptitiously sprinkled into a drink or onto food. The victim appears largely normal, unaffected, meaning it can be administered in a restaurant, in a bar, without drawing attention. Yet its effects are devastating, unlike any other drug. The victim completely loses his or her will, becomes completely passive, almost zombie-like. What’s more, the next day the victim will have only hazy recollections of what transpired the night before, to the point of being unable to identify those who victimized him or her.

Scopolamine.  Burundanga.  Devil’s breath.  While a legitimate medication when used in small doses to alleviate motion sickness and nausea, larger doses result in the effects described above.  And for that reason, it can be used for theft, rape, to overcome a person’s natural instincts and common sense.

While it is not common in Colombia, it does exist, and it has been used against tourists.  In researching this article, I asked several Colombian friends about burundanga, if they had heard of it, if they had ever been a victim or knew anyone who had been.  All knew of the narcotic, but none had had even indirect experience with it.  In that, I have them beat.

An American acquaintance of mine who lived in Costa Rica once traveled to Cartagena.  When I saw him again after his trip, he told me would never return to Colombia.  He related that he had been in a ritzy strip club one evening and had struck up a conversation with one of the dancers.  After a few drinks, he said, it all became fuzzy.  He recalled that at one point the girl had said they were out of money, that they should go to an ATM machine to withdraw some more.  Normally, of course, he would have refused, but for some reason that evening it sounded to him like a reasonable suggestion. He said that he woke up the next afternoon in his hotel, his laptop missing.  When he checked his account balance, he saw that he had withdrawn his daily limit the night before, $500.  He could not even remember what the girl looked like.

Yet there had been no force, no violence.  He had simply lost his ability to say, “No.”  Scopolamine.  What happened to him is almost exactly that described in the excellent video addressing the dangers of scopolamine at www.vbs.tv (WARNING: site is NSFW), down to the incident originating in a strip club.

However, merely addressing an article to scopolamine may over-emphasize the risk.  Yes, burundanga exists, but it is rare; as I mentioned, my Colombian friends had heard of the drug but knew little else of it.  Still, it is the wise man who learns from the mistakes of others.  If in an unfamiliar environment, do not leave your drink unattended.  Finish it before going to the bathroom and if you can’t, carry it with you.  This is especially true in “gentleman’s clubs.”  (Sorry, we’re not as handsome as the dancers would have us believe.)  With respect to money, when heading out for a night on the town use the same rule typically applied to casinos — don’t carry credit cards or ATM cards with you but only cash in an amount you’re prepared to lose.  And, finally, don’t let the rare bad experience of one person deter you from visiting one of the most enjoyable places in the world, Colombia.

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