Burundanga Drug Warning: The Facts

Netlore Archive

Handing a business card to someone else
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Viral alerts warn of criminals using business cards or slips of paper soaked in a potent street drug called burundanga (also known as scopolamine) to incapacitate victims before attacking them.

Description: Online rumor
Circulating since: May 2008
Status: Mixed (details below)


Example #1:


Email contributed by a reader, May 12, 2008:

Warning... Be Careful!!

This incident has been confirmed. Ladies please be careful and share w/everyone you know!

This can happen anywhere!

Last Wednesday, Jaime Rodriguez's neighbor was at a gas station in Katy. A man came and offered his neighbor his services as a painter and gave her a card. She took the card and got in her car.

The man got into a car driven by another person. She left the station and noticed that the men were leaving the gas station at the same time. Almost immediately, she started to feel dizzy and could not catch her breath.

She tried to open the windows and in that moment she realized that there was a strong odor from the card. She also realized that the men were following her. The neighbor went to another neighbor's house and honked on her horn to ask for help. The men left, but the victim felt bad for several minutes.

Apparently there was a substance on the card, the substance was very strong and may have seriously injured her.

Jaime checked the Internet and there is a drug called "Burundanga" that is used by some people to incapacitate a victim in order to steal or take advantage of them. Please be careful and do not accept anything from unknown people on the street.


Example #2:


Email contributed by a reader, Dec. 1, 2008:

Subject: Warning from the Louisville Metro Police Department

A man came over and offered his services as a painter to a female putting gas in her car and left his card. She said no, but accepted his card out of kindness and got in the car. The man then got into a car driven by another gentleman.

As the lady left the service station, she saw the men following her out of the station at the same time.

Almost immediately, she started to feel dizzy and could not catch her breath. She tried to open the window and realized that the odor was on her hand; the same hand which accepted the card from the gentleman at the gas station. She then noticed the men were immediately behind her and she felt she needed to do something at that moment.

She drove into the first driveway and began to honk her horn repeatedly to ask for help. The men drove away but the lady still felt pretty bad for several minutes after she could finally catch her breath.

Apparently, there was a substance on the card that could  have seriously injured her. The drug is called 'BURUNDANGA' and it is used by people who wish to incapacitate a victim in order to steal from or take advantage of them.

This drug is four times dangerous than the date rape drug and is transferable on simple cards.

So take heed and make sure you don't accept cards at any given time and alone or from someone on the streets. This applies to those making house calls and slipping you a card when they offer their services.

PLEASE SEND THIS E-MAIL ALERT TO EVERY FEMALE YOU KNOW!!!

Sgt. Gregory L. Joyner
Internal Affairs Unit
Louisville Metro Department of Corrections


Analysis

Is there a drug called burundanga that has used by criminals in Latin America to incapacitate their victims?

Yes.

Have news and law enforcement sources confirmed that burundanga is regularly used to commit crimes in the U.S., Canada, and other countries outside Latin America?

No, they have not.

The story reproduced above, circulating in various forms since 2008, is almost certainly a fabrication. Two details, in particular, betray it as such:

  1. The victim allegedly received a dose of the drug by simply touching a business card. All sources agree that burundanga (aka scopolamine hydrobromide) must be inhaled,  ingested or injected, or the subject must have prolonged topical contact with it (e.g., via a transdermal patch), in order for it to have an effect.
  2. The victim allegedly detected a "strong odor" coming from the drug-laced card. All sources agree that burundanga is odorless and tasteless.

Update: March 26, 2010, incident in Houston, Texas

In March 2010, Houston resident Mary Anne Capo reported to police that a man approached her at a local gas station and handed her a church pamphlet, after which her throat and tongue began to swell "like someone was strangling me." In an interview with KIAH-TV News, Capo said she believes there was "something inside the pamphlet" that caused her to become ill and compared what happened to her to the alleged incident described above.

Could it have been a burundanga attack? It seems doubtful, given that the symptoms Capo reported (swelling of the tongue and throat, feeling of suffocation) aren't consistent with those usually attributed to burundanga (dizziness, nausea, light-headedness).

Also, as discussed above, it's unlikely anyone could receive a strong enough dose of burundanga through brief contact with a piece of paper to feel any ill effects.

Could the pamphlet have contained another type of drug or chemical? Possibly, though Capo says she didn't see or smell anything unusual while handling it. We'll probably never know precisely what did happen to Mary Anne Capo that day because she didn't undergo a medical examination and says she promptly tossed the one piece of hard evidence — the pamphlet — into the nearest trash can.

What is Burundanga?

Burundanga is the street version of the pharmaceutical drug scopolamine hydrobromide. It's made from the extracts of plants in the nightshade family such as henbane and jimson weed. It's a deliriant, meaning it can induce symptoms of delirium such as disorientation, loss of memory, hallucinations, and stupor.

You can see why it would be popular with criminals.

In powdered form scopolamine can be easily mixed into food or drink, or blown directly into victims' faces, forcing them to inhale it.

The drug achieves its "zombifying" effects by inhibiting the transmission of nerve impulses in the brain and muscles. It has several legitimate medicinal uses, including the treatment of nausea, motion sickness, and gastrointestinal cramps. Historically, it has also been used as a "truth serum" by law enforcement agencies. And, like its street cousin burundanga, scopolamine has frequently been implicated as a stupefying agent or "knockout drug" in the commission of crimes such as robbery, kidnapping, and date rape.

History

In South America burundanga is associated in popular lore with potions long used to induce a trance-like state in shamanic rituals. Reports of the drug's use in criminal activities first surfaced in Colombia during the 1980s. According to a lurid Wall Street Journal article published in 1995, the number of reported burundanga-assisted crimes in the country approached "epidemic" proportions in the 1990s.

"In one common scenario, a person will be offered a soda or drink laced with the substance," the article stated. "The next the person remembers is waking up miles away, extremely groggy and with no memory of what happened. People soon discover that they have handed over jewelry, money, car keys, and sometimes have even made multiple bank withdrawals for the benefit of their assailants."

Though the frequency of such assaults has presumably declined along with the country's overall crime rate in more recent years, the U.S. State Department still warns travelers to beware of "criminals in Colombia using disabling drugs to temporarily incapacitate tourists and others."

Urban Legends

Confirmed reports of burundanga assaults appear to be less common outside Colombia, but that doesn't mean other Central and South American countries have been immune to rumors of rape and robbery committed by criminals wielding the much-dreaded "zombie drug" or "voodoo powder." Some may even be true, though most of the tales circulating on the Internet smack of urban legendry.

A Spanish-language email circulating in 2004 related the details of an incident very similar to the one already described at the top of this article, except it happened in Peru. The victim claimed she was approached by a one-legged man who asked her to help him dial a call on a public telephone. When he handed her a phone number written on a slip of paper, she immediately began to feel dizzy and disoriented, and nearly fainted. Luckily, she had the presence of mind to run to her car and escaped. According to the email, a blood test administered later at a hospital confirmed the victim's own suspicions: she had been slipped a dose of burundanga.

There's more than one reason to doubt the story. First, it's unlikely that someone could absorb enough of the drug by simply handling a piece of paper to suffer any ill effects. Second, the text goes on to claim that the author was told there had been several other local cases of burundanga poisoning in which the victims were found dead, and -- lo and behold -- some of their organs were missing (a reference to the classic "kidney thefturban legend).

Like the stories circulating in North America about criminals using ether-tainted perfume samples to knock out their victims, the burundanga emails trade on fear, not facts. They tell of alleged close calls with would-be attackers, not actual crimes. They are dysfunctional cautionary tales.

Make no mistake, burundanga is real. It is used in the commission of crimes. If you're traveling in a region where its use has been confirmed, exercise due caution. But don't rely on forwarded emails for your facts.

Sources and further reading:

Latin America: Victims of Drugging and Mugging
Telegraph, 5 February 2001

Dupes, Not Dopes
Guardian, 18 September 1999

Colombia: Crime Advisories
U.S. State Dept., 13 August 2008

Burundanga
Singing to the Plants, 17 December 2007

Burundanga Assault Is False
VSAntivirus.com, 25 April 2006 (in Spanish)

Urban Myth Becomes a Reality for a Houston Woman
KIAH-TV News, 29 March 2010