Monday, 7 June 2010


Hallucinogenic plants have been used by man for thousands of years, probably since he began gathering plants for food. The hallucinogens have continued to receive the attention of civilized man through the ages. Recently, we have gone through a period during which sophisticated Western society has "discovered" hallucinogens, and some sectors of that society have taken up, for one reason or another, the use of such plants. This trend may be destined to continue. It is, therefore, important for us to learn as much as we can about hallucinogenic plants. A great body of scientific literature has been published about their uses and their effects, but the information is often locked away in technical journals. The interested layman has a right to sound information on which to base his opinions. This book has been written partly to provide that kind of information. No matter whether we believe that men's intake of hallucinogens in primitive or sophisticated societies constitutes use, misuse, or abuse, hallucinogenic plants have undeniably played an extensive role in human culture and probably shall continue to do so. It follows that a clear understanding of these physically and socially potent agents should be a part of man's general education.


In his search for food, early man tried all kinds of plants. Some nourished him, some, he found, cured his ills, and some killed him. A few, to his surprise, had strange effects on his mind and body, seeming to carry him into other worlds. We call these plants hallucinogens, because they distort the senses and usually produce hallucinations - experiences that depart from reality. Although most hallucinations are visual, they may also involve the senses of hearing, touch, smell, or taste - and occasionally several senses simultaneously are involved. The actual causes of such hallucinations are chemical substances in the plants. These substances are true narcotics. Contrary to popular opinion, not all narcotics are dangerous and addictive. Strictly and etymologicolly speaking, a narcotic is any substance that has a depressive effect, whether slight or great, on the central nervous system. Narcotics that induce hallucinations are variously called hallucinogens (hallucination generators), psychotomimetics (psychosis mimickers), psychotaraxics (mind disturbers), and psychedelics (mind manifesters). No one term fully satisfies scientists, but hallucinogens comes closest. Psychedelic is most widely used in the United States, but it combines two Greek roots incorrectly, is biologically unsound, and has acquired popular meanings beyond the drugs or their effects. In the history of mankind, hallucinogens have probably been the most important of all the narcotics. Their fantastic effects made them sacred to primitive man and may even have been responsible for suggesting to him the idea of deity.


Hallucinogens permeate nearly every aspect of life in primitive societies. They play roles in health and sickness, peace and war, home life and travel, hunting and agriculture; they affect relations among individuals, villages, and tribes. They are believed to influence life before birth and after death.

MEDICAL AND RELIGIOUS USES of hallucinogenic plants are particulaly important in primitive societies. Aboriginal people attribute sickness and health to the working of spirit forces. Consequently, any "medicine" that can transport man to the spirit world is considered by many aborigines to be better than one with purely physical effects. Psychic powers have also been attributed to hallucinogens and have become an integral part of primitive religions. All over the world hallucinogenic plants are used as mediators between man and his gods. The prophecies of the oracle of Delphi, for example, are thought to have been induced through hallucinogens.

(Statue of Xochipilli, the Aztec "Prince of Flowers." unearthed in Tlalmanalco on the slopes of the volcano Popocatepetl and now on display in the Museo Nacional in Mexico City. Labels indicate probable botanical interpretations of stylized glyphs)

OTHER ABORIGINAL USES of hallucinogens vary from one primitive culture to another. Many hallucinogenic plants are basic to the initiation rituals of adolescents. The Algonquin Indians gave an intoxicating medicine, wysoccan, to their young men, who then became violently deranged for 20 days. During this period, they lost all memory, starting manhood by forgetting they had been boys. The iboga root in Gabon and caapi in the Amazon are also used in such rituals. In South America, many tribes take ayahuasca to foresee the future, settle disputes, decipher enemy plans, cast or remove spells, or insure the fidelity of their women. Sensations of death and separation of body and soul are sometimes experienced during a dreamlike trance. The hallucinogenic properties of Datura have been thoroughly exploited, particularly in the New World. In Mexico and in the Southwest, Datura is used in divination, prophecy, and ritualistic curing. Modern Mexican Indians value certain mushrooms as sacraments and use morning glories and the peyote cactus to predict the future, diagnose and cure disease, and placate good and evil spirits. The Mixtecs of Mexico eat puffballs to hear voices from heaven that answer their questions. The Waikás of Brazil and Venezuela snuff the powdered resin of a jungle tree to ritualize death, induce a trance for diagnosing disease, and thank the spirits for victory in war. The Witotos of Colombia eat the same powerful resin to "talk with the little people." Peruvian medicine men drink cimora to make themselves owners of another's identity. Indians of eastern Brazil drink jurema to have glorious visions of the spirit world before going into battle with their enemies.


Our modern society has recently taken up the use, sometimes illegally, of hallucinogens on a grand scale. Many people believe they can achieve "mystic" or "religious" experience by altering the chemistry of the body with hallucinogens, seldom realizing that they are merely reverting to the age - old practices of primitive societies. Whether drug-induced adventures can be identical with the metaphysical insight claimed by some mystics, or are merely a counterfeit of it, is still controversial. The widespread and expanding use of hallucinogens in our society may have little or no value and may sometimes even be harmful or dangerous. In any event, it is a newly imported and superimposed cultural trait without natural roots in Western tradition.


Hallucinogens are limited to a small number of types of chemical compounds. All hallucinogens found in plants are organic compounds—that is, they contain carbon as an essential part of their structure and were formed in the life processes of vegetable organisms. No inorganic plant constituents, such as minerals, are known to have hallucinogenic effects. Hallucinogenic compounds may be divided conveniently into two broad groups: those that contain nitrogen in their structure and those that do not. Those with nitrogen are far more common. The most important of those lacking nitrogen are the active principles of marihuana, terpenophenolic compounds classed as dibenzopyrans and called cannabinols—in particular, tetrahydrocannabinols. The hallucinogenic compounds with nitrogen in their structure are alkaloids or related bases.

ALKALOIDS are a diverse group of some 5,000 compounds with complex molecular structures. They contain nitrogen as well as carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. All alkaloids are of plant origin, though some protoalkaloids occur in animals. All are slightly alkaline, hence their name. They are classified into series based on their structures. Many hallucinogenic alkaloids are indoles (see below) or are related to indoles, and the majority have or may have originated in the plant from the amino acid known as tryptophan. Most medicinal and toxic plants, as well as hallucinogenic plants, owe their biological activity to alkaloids. Examples of widely valued alkaloids are morphine, quinine, nicotine, strychnine, and caffeine.

INDOLES are hallucinogenic alkaloids or related bases, all of them nitrogen-containing compounds. It is most surprising that of the many thousands of organic compounds that act on various parts of the body so few are hallucinogenic. The indole nucleus of the hallucinogens frequently appears in the form of tryptamine derivatives. It is composed of phenyl and pyrrol segments (see diagram following). Tryptamines may be "simple"—that is, without substitutions—or they may have various "side chains" known as hydroxy (OH), methoxy (CH3), or phosphogloxy (OPO3H) groups in the phenyl ring. The indole ring (shown in red in the diagram) is evident not only in the numerous tryptamines (dimethyltryptamine, etc.) but also in the various ergoline alkaloids (ergine and others), in the ibogaine alkoloids, and in the ß-carboline alkaloids (harmine, harmaline, etc.). Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) has an indole nucleus. One reason for the significance of the indolic hallucinogens may be their structural similarity to the neurohumoral tryptamine serotonin (5-hydroxydimethyltryptamine), present in the nervous tissue of warm-blooded animals. Serotonin plays a major role in the biochemistry of the central nervous system. A study of the functioning of hallucinogenic tryptamine may experimentally help to explain the function of serotonin in the body. A chemical relationship similar to that between indolic hallucinogens and serotonin exists between mescaline, an hallucinogenic phenylethylamine base in peyote, and the neurohormone norepinephrine. These chemical similarities between hallucinogenic compounds and neurohormones with roles in neurophysiology may help to explain hallucinogenic activity and even certain processes of the central nervous system. Other alkaloids—the isoquinolines, tropanes, quinolizidines, and isoxazoles—are more mildly hallucinogenic and may operate differently in the body.


These are poisonous plant compounds that cause what might be called secondary hallucinations or pseudohallucinations. Though not true hallucinogenic agents, they so upset normal body functions thot they induce a kind of delirium accompanied by what to all practical purposes are hallucinations. Some components of the essential oils—the aromatic elements responsible for the characteristic odors of plants—appear to act in this way. Components of nutmeg oil are an example. Many plants having such components are extremely dangerous to take internally, especially if ingested in doses high enough to induce hallucinations. Research has not yet shed much light on the kind of psychoactivity produced by such chemicals.


Hallucinogenic plants are used in a variety of ways, depending on the kind of plant material, on the active chemicals involved, on cultural practices, and on other considerations. Man, in primitive societies everywhere, has shown great ingenuity and perspicacity in bending hallucinogenic plants to his uses.
PLANTS MAY BE EATEN, either fresh or dried, as are peyote and teononacatl, or juice from the crushed leaves may be drunk, as with Salvia divinorum (in Mexico). Occasionally a plant derivative may be eaten, as with hasheesh. More frequently, a beverage may be drunk: ayahuasca, caapi, or yajé from the bark of a vine; the San Pedro cactus; jurema wine; iboga; leaves of toloache; or crushed seeds from the Mexican morning glories. Originally peculiar to New World cultures, where it was one way of using tobacco, smoking is now a widespread method of taking cannabis. Narcotics other than tobacco, such as tupa, may also be srnoked.
SNUFFING is a preferred method for using several hallucinogens - yopo, epena, sébil, rapé dos indios. Like smoking, snuffing is a New World custom. A few New World Indians have taken hallucinogens rectally - as in the case of Anadenanthera. One curious method of inducing narcotic effects is the African custom of incising the scalp and rubbing the juice from the onionlike bulb of a species of Pancratium across the incisions. This method is a kind of primitive counterpart of the modern hypodermic method. Several methods may be used in the case of some hallucinogenic plants. Virola resin, for example, is licked unchanged, is usually prepared in snuff form, is occasionally made into pellets to be eaten, and may sometimes be smoked.PLANT ADDITIVES or admixtures to major hallucinogenic species are becoming increasingly important in research. Subsidiary plants are sometimes added to the preparation to alter, increase, or lengthen the narcotic effects of the main ingredients. Thus, in making the ayahuasca, caapi, or yajé drinks, prepared basically from Banisteriopsis caapi or B. inebrians, several additives are often thrown in: leaves of Psychotria viridis or Banisteriopsis rusbyana, which themselves contain hallucinogenic tryptamines; or Brunfelsia or Datura, both of which are hallucinogenic in their own right.


Existing evidence indicates that man in the Old World —Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia—has made less use of native plants and shrubs for their hallucinogenic properties than has man in the New World. There is little reason to believe that the vegetation of one half of the globe is poorer or richer in species with hallucinogenic properties than the other half. Why, then, should there be such disparity? Has man in the Old World simply not discovered many of the native hallucinogenic plants? Are some of them too toxic in other ways to be utilized? Or has man in the Old World been culturally less interested in narcotics? We have no real answer. But we do know that the Old World has fewer known species employed hallucinogenically than does the New World: compared with only 15 or 20 species used in the Eastern Hemisphere, the species used hallucinogenically in the Western Hemisphere number more than 100! Yet some of the Old World hallucinogens today hold places of primacy throughout the world. Cannabis, undoubtedly the most widespread of all the hallucinogens, is perhaps the best example. The several solanaceous ingredients of medieval witches' brews—henbane, nightshade, belladonna, and mandrake—greatly influenced European philosophy, medicine, and even history for many years. Some played an extraordinarily vital religious role in the early Aryan cultures of northern India. The role of hallucinogens in the cultural and social development of many areas of the Old World is only now being investigated. At every turn, its extent and depth are becoming more evident. But much more needs to be done in the study of hallucinogens and their uses in the Eastern Hemisphere.

FLY AGARIC MUSHROOM, Amanita muscaria may be one of man's oldest hallucinogens. It has been suggested that perhaps its strange effects contributed to man's early ideas of deity. Fly agaric mushrooms grow in the north temperate regions of both hemispheres. The Eurasian type has a beautiful deep orange to blood-red cap flecked with white scales. The cap of the usual North American type varies from cream to an orange-yellow. There are also chemical differences between the two, for the New World type is devoid of the strongly hallucinogenic effects of its Old World counterpart.

The use of this mushroom as an orgiastic and shamanistic inebriant was discovered in Siberia in 1730. Subsequently, its utilization has been noted among several isolated groups of Finno-Ugrian peoples (Ostyak and Vogul) in western Siberia and three primitive tribes (Chuckchee, Koryak, and Kamchadal) in northeastern Siberia. These tribes had no other intoxicant until they learned recently of alcohol. These Siberians ingest the mushroom alone, either sun-dried or toasted slowly over a fire, or they may take it in reindeer milk or with the juice of wild plants, such as a species of Vaccinium and a species of Epilobium. When eaten alone, the dried mushrooms are moistened in the mouth and swallowed, or the women may moisten and roll them into pellets for the men to swallow. A very old and curious practice of these tribesmen is the ritualistic drinking of urine from men who have become intoxicated with the mushroom. The active principles pass through the body and are excreted unchanged or as still active derivatives. Consequently, a few mushrooms may inebriate many people.

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