Jimson Weed for Asthma? Don't Do it : Shots - Health News Jimson weed smoke was once a treatment for asthma — an interesting idea, but with a sometimes fatal downside
NPR logo Jimson Weed for Asthma? Don't Do it

Jimson Weed for Asthma? Don't Do it

Have you ever heard that cigarettes are good for asthma? I know. It's a ridiculous notion -- particularly to people like me who grew up wheezing -- but that's what the Victorians believed. When I was kid, even campfire smoke could be a terrible trigger, and in those days before asthmatics carried inhalers around, my parents and I had to make lots of visits to the ER. My mom still reminds me about those late night ordeals.

How times change. Today I can control my son's asthma attacks with medicines that I give at home -- such as Xopenex and Pulmicort, an inhaled corticosteroid.

In this week's Your Health podcast, check out my interview with Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman. She gives us a tour of the botanical garden at Georgetown University, and explains to us how, a century ago, a common plant that grows there -- Jimson Weed -- was rolled into cigarettes and used to treat asthma.

(Read past the jump to hear why smoking this weed is a particularly bad idea)

There was one small study (of 11 patients) suggesting the jimson weed cigarettes might actually have been effective at decreasing inflammation of the airways. But there's a big problem: The weed is from the belladonna family and way too risky. It can cause blurred vision, bowel problems, and even sometimes death when smoked or swallowed. As Fugh-Berman explains, smoking jimson weed can also cause hallucinations. The concentrations of the chemicals responsible for all those effects vary widely from plant to plant, season to season, and even leaf to leaf.

I hope to make these look-backs at remedies from days gone by a regular feature in the podcast.

We'd love to get some more ideas from you about treatments or other health advice your great-grandma gave you (or her grandma gave her) that seems old-fashioned now, but might contain a kernel of truth. I'll follow-up with scientists to explore the science beneath the notion and let you know why some of these old remedies were abandoned for good reason, and also why the evidence suggests some others might be worth reviving.

So, got any favorite remedies you've been wondering about?