A 50-year-old woman in the United Kingdom – who was a ‘trained herbalist’ – experienced acute poisoning symptoms after she overdosed on a herbal remedy made from Atropa belladonna, also known as deadly nightshade.
In 2014, the woman visited the emergency room (ER) at a hospital in Oxford, England. She was confused, had red skin and her heart was beating faster than normal. The doctors had to sedate the woman because she was very agitated. She stayed in the intensive care unit overnight.
The woman received treatment from the doctors and made a full recovery by the following morning, according to the case report.
Andrew Chadwick, a physician at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, wrote in the report of the woman’s case that:
“In terms of my advice for people, I would say that there is an assumption that everything natural is therefore safe; however, this is not a certainty.”
The woman suffered from insomnia, and to treat her condition she turned to herb-based treatments. Her husband told the doctors that – on the night the 50-year-old woman was admitted to the ER – after he had heard a lot of noise he went downstairs. According to the man, his wife was there and she was acting as if she were intoxicated.
He helped the woman get to bed and then he went to sleep only to wake to the sight of his wife lying on the floor. The man immediately called the ambulance.
The woman told the doctors that on the night of the incident, she drank a herbal substance made from the poisonous plant Atropa belladonna, directly from the bottle. The product called Atropa belladonna Belladonna Leaf is legal and can be purchased online.
Doctors said that the woman consumed about 1.7 ounces (30 millilitres) of the product that night. The herbal substance had approximately 15 milligrams of the chemical atropine. According to the doctors, that amount was extremely large even for an adult and it generated the woman’s symptoms.
High levels of atropine tend to block signals in the nervous system, leading to agitation, fast heart rates, confusion, and red skin, Dr. Chadwick said. In children, doses of atropine smaller than 10 milligrams proved to be fatal.
The report was published November 5 in the journal BMJ Case Reports.