The story you are about to read is true. It might sound familiar to you because either you have heard a different version of it or you know a victim. It is a story about scopolamine, hypnotism, criminality and the scary world of losing one’s mind. It is a story about what some people refer to as the ‘world’s deadliest drug.’
Dan (short form of his real name) was born, raised and grew up in the north-central city of Jos, in Plateau State.
One day, he boarded a bus to make the short journey to the neighboring town of Bukuru. He was on a job hunt.
He boarded a random bus at the bus stop and waited for it to fill up before the trip could commence. There were a few people; both men and women already seated. He figured he wouldn’t have long to wait.
The next thing he knew was waking up on the swampy floor of a forest. He had no idea where he was and how he got there.
No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t recollect anything from the moment he took his seat on that bus in Jos.
He stood up groggily and started walking to get a sense of where he was and to seek for help if possible. He walked for a long time without meeting anybody.
The first night, he slept inside a ditch. It was the only place that provided enough cover.
The next morning, he continued his walk. By now he was tired and very hungry. He could barely stay on his feet.
Luckily, he came out of the forest and hit a major road. A short distance later, he reached a small settlement by the roadside where Hausa men had pitched makeshift zinc shacks.
He approached a group around a ‘mai shayi’ (tea merchant) and told them what happened to him. It was then he learned he was on the outskirts of Lagos! That is over 800Km away.
To say he was shocked was putting it mildly. A further shock awaited him when he was told the date. Apparently, he had lost his senses for almost a week!
What happened was now clear to him. Somehow, he had been drugged in the bus in Jos. He couldn’t figure how that was done because he didn’t accept snack or drink from anybody in the bus.
Encounters like this are very common in Nigeria. Most people claim the kidnappers employ powerful charms made by herbalists. A few say it is hypnotism at work.
The only reason I believed Dan’s story was because he is my cousin. His parents had been looking for him for a week after he disappeared.
When he called his dad from Lagos, the family was in a meeting about his disappearance. The emotion in the room shifted quickly from visceral joy to complete amazement when they heard his story.
I have always wondered how the kidnappers took him all the way to Lagos. I didn’t subscribe to the charms or hypnosis story fully. But in the absence of anything that made sense, I had no choice. Until now.
A drug like scopolamine would make a lot of sense in Dan’s abduction story.
Scopolamine, also known as the ‘Devil’s Breath’, is very common in Colombia. The plant from which it is made, the borrachero tree, is not hard to find if you know where to look for it.
It has several uses in the medical field including as an anesthesia before surgery. In the criminal world though, one of its uses is to kidnap people just like it happened to my cousin Dan.
In the right dose, it is the perfect drug for such criminal enterprise. This is why.
Once the drug has taken hold of the victim, they lose control of their free will. They become susceptible to any suggestion like victims of hypnotism.
To onlookers, the victim still acts and behaves normally. But they are only functional ‘zombies’. Whatever they do from that point is at the instance of the perpetrator or temporary master.
Victims of scopolamine attack can be made to willingly empty their bank accounts and hand the money over to the criminals without a fuss.
They can be ordered to go and kill somebody and they would do it as long as nobody stops them.
In Colombia, victims have been known to lead the perps to their homes and assist them in completely emptying their apartment.
The point is, when you are under the influence, you can be made to do absolutely anything.
Here is the best part; at least from the criminal’s point of view: when the drug wears off, the victim won’t remember a single thing they did while under the influence of scopolamine. The drug wipes the memory clean.
Does that sound familiar to some of the stories you have heard?
One of the things that had always puzzled me about Dan’s experience is how the kidnappers administered the drug on him since he neither ate nor drank anything offered to him.
Processed scopolamine is a white powder. Inhaling floating airborne particles is sometimes enough.
Again, inhaling just a few particles of the powder floating in the air is enough for it to have an effect on somebody.
Another means is drugging your drink or sprinkling it on food. But the most common is the airborne technique.
A stranger could walk up to you to ask for direction and without your knowledge, blow the dangerous powder towards your face.
One popular method is to have you read a paper with small prints. As you bring your face close to make out the words, you’d inhale a bit of scopolamine already sprinkled on the piece of paper.
A few minutes later, you are completely lost to the world while outwardly looking normal to people around.
There are a couple of snags with using scopolamine for these sorts of crimes. It is about the right dose to administer to the victim and the intended victim’s tolerance level.
The tolerance level varies with individuals.
Think about it this way: some people get crazily drunk after a single bottle of beer while others require several bottles of the same alcohol to get drunk.
Sometimes, the criminals get unlucky when the victim isn’t affected by the administered dose. In that case, they’d have to wait for another opportunity to try a higher dose or try different victims until they get lucky.
It gets trickier still. Dead can occur in the process.
People with existing health conditions incompatible with scopolamine usually keel over and pass out. Without medical attention, they could die.
This scenario too is very common in this despicable business. Victims who die are ditched anywhere the criminals fancy. The lucky ones are left in busy streets where they can be found and their relatives notified if possible.
But for some, like my cousin Dan, the bodies would be dumped in some lonely forest for wild animals to scavenge on the lifeless body. The families of such victims would forever keep wondering if their kin is alive or dead.