BSCI 124 Lecture Notes
Department of Plant Biology, University of Maryland
LECTURE 31 - PSYCHOACTIVE PLANTS
A. Use of hallucinogens extends back into prehistory, and for centuries has
been associated with religion as well as with magic and medicine.
B. Many indigenous peoples attributed the fantastic effects on the body and
mind to a divinity or spirit residing in the plant. And so hallucinogenic
plants came to be regarded as sacred, as objects of worship.
C. Because they were reserved for special magic and/or religious rites, they
came to be used only by shamans, witch doctors and medicine men.
D. More hallucinogenic plants are known and used in the New World than in
the Old World.
III. Sources of Psychoactive Plants
A. Most angiosperms, others fungi.
B. 60-65 species are hallucinogens; about ten are cultivated.
IV. Chemistry of Psychoactive Plants
A. Two main groups of hallucinogenic substances found in plants:
1. Nitrogenous alkaloids: Chemical structure similar to neurohormones
of the human brain.
2. Cannibinols: Lack nitrogen, active ingredient in cannabis or marijuana.
V. Uses of Psychoactive Plants
A. Primitive peoples used them to communicate with the spirit world, so they
have links to religion or magic.
B. Used today by professionals in
VI. Major Psychoactive Plants
(Lophophora williamsii): A small gray-green cactus native to Texas
and northern Mexico.
1. Widely used by early Native Americans. Aztecs considered peyote a sacred
plant, they worshiped it, and their religion centered around this cactus.
2. Ever since Europeans came to the Americas they have tried to outlaw the
use of peyote, both in Mexico and the United States, and a number of states
passed laws aimed at suppressing
the religion centering around peyote. These laws were contested by Native
Court found for the Indians and members of the Native American Church,
which currently has about 250,000 followers among 60-70 tribes in the United
States and Canada, may use peyote.
3. Use of peyote centers on the user's ability to foresee and predict events,
and that peyote brings them into communion with the spirit world. It produces
intense visual hallucinations.
4. Active compounds are
and peyonine; mescaline produces visual hallucinations but intoxication begins
with nausea, tremors and perspiration that last one to two hours before a
dream-like state is reached.
[REQUIRED READING] (Claviceps purpurea): A parasitic fungus that infects
grains such as wheat, and especially rye, nearly cosmopolitan in distribution.
has alternatively been called St. Anthony's Fire or ergotism, and many have
died from eating infested grain. For example in 994 AD in France 40,000 were
killed, and in 1129 AD in northern France 12,000 died.
2. 20th century epidemics in New York, Ohio and Kansas in the early
3. Fungus produces a
number of alkaloids (e.g.,
with many effects:
a. induces abortions,
b. a feeling of being on fire,
c. causes gangrene resulting in loss of hands, arms and legs, and
d. convulsions leading to death.
4. All ergot alkaloids contain lysergic acid as their chemical nucleus.
5. In 1938 Swiss chemist
Hoffmann added diethylamide to the lysergic acid and produced lysergic
acid diethylamide, reporting his findings
1943. This is the most potent hallucinogen ever discovered; it is about
10,000 times more potent than the same amount of mescaline.
a. General use of LSD began in the 1950s; produces vivid and strongly colored
b. Popularized in the 1960s by
and their song "Lucy
in the Sky with Diamonds" and by the late
c. Found in morning glory Ipomoea corymbosa, a flowering plant; this
used by the Aztecs (called "ololiuqui"), reported in the literature in 1615
with its use and effect described in 1629. Rediscovered by Hoffmann in 1960.
Another species, I. violacea, known as "heavenly blue" or "pearly
gate", is commonly cultivated in Mexico for its hallucinogenic effect; it
has half the amount of the total alkaloids as I. corymbosa.
(Amanita muscaria): A fungus (mushroom) of the Northern Hemisphere
in temperate regions.
1. One of the earliest used and most widespread hallucinogens; probably consumed
well before recorded history.
2. Used by rural people as a vegetable flypaper and insecticide, its common
name "fly-agaric" because, if ingested by flies, they died. Siberian tribesmen
used it as an inebriate as they had no other source of an alcoholic drink.
3. About 3,500 years ago Aryan people from the north came into India and
brought with them the cult of soma - the sacred plant or god/plant. There
is now amply evidence that amanita is soma. Now there is evidence associating
amanita to the celebration called the Eleusinian Mysteries in Greek mythology
which, in the past, was attributed to ergot.
4. Effects vary greatly from person to person. Fine line between vividly
colored visual hallucinations and death.
5. Active compound in muscarine; muscimole is five times more active than
ibotenic acid, both isolates from amanita.
a. Known in China 8,500 years ago, probably cultivated even earlier. Widely
grown for hemp in
Europe. Introduced in 1611 near Jamestown, Virginia, and from then until
the Civil War it was an important cash crop, its fibers essential for the
manufacture of rope and cordage.
b. During World War I, because our supply of manila hemp was cut off, the
U.S. government encouraged and subsidized the cultivation of cannabis for
hemp fiber especially in the mid-Atlantic area.
c. Used as a drug plant in India and China, largely abandoned in favor of
opium by the Chinese. Assyrians used it for incense in
9th century BC. Known to the ancient Greeks (Herodotus)
for its narcotic smoke and to the Roman (Galen) who describes it being eaten
d. The term "hasheesh" comes from the 13th century
Asia Minor political assassins, the hashishins, who received Cannabis
resin in payment of their services.
e. Introduced into Europe after Napoleon invaded Egypt and became a drug
of choice among artists and writers. Used extensively in the United States
from 1918 until 1939 by the same group.
f. The "poor-man" form of cigarette and hard liquor in U.S. by black musicians
in the Deep South and by Mexican migrants in the West starting around 1900.
g. Laws were passed in the 1920s in Montana (to prohibit use by Indians),
in Colorado (to prohibit Mexicans) and in Utah (to prohibit smoking).
h. Federal prohibitions passed in 1937 when marijuana cigarettes were widely
sold (prohibition supported by tobacco growers among others); ban was
relaxed during World War II
with the support of the Department of Agriculture.
i. Many persons accused of murder attempted to use marijuana intoxication
as a defense, causing "reefer madness".
j. Used by "intellectuals" into the 1960s when it was the drug of choice
for the "beatniks" and then the "hippies" of the 1970s. Now the drug of choice
college and high school students.
2. Active compounds: cannabinols, specially (-1)delta(1)-3,4-trans-
tetrahydrocannabinol or THC.
3. Taxonomy of
a. Hemp: C. sativa subsp. sativa, a cultivar. Tall, erect plant
with long internodes, large seeds and little THC.
b. Marijuana: C. sativa subsp. indica, a wild plant. Short
and bushy plant with short internodes, small and distinctly mottled seeds,
and considerable THC.
c. Some workers maintain C. sativa subsp. indica as a distinct
species and thus not illegal under current federal law (but illegal under
Maryland law!). c. Most U.S. grown marijuana is the subsp. sativa
or a hybrid with subsp. indica; the latter rarely grown here.
4. Forms of Cannabis on the street:
a. Marijuana ("maconha" in Brazil; "dagga" in Africa; "kif" in Morocco) -
dried crushed leaves and flower tops, usually smoked. Common.
b. Hashish ("hasheesh") - resin from recently fertilized flowers, smoked,
eaten or drunk Exceedingly rare in U.S. What is called hashish is usually
small, crushed fragments of female flowers, or the residue of powdered female
flowers after much of the resin (true hashish) has been extracted (see charas
below). Used mainly by Moslems in North Africa and Near East and, of course,
c. Bhang - weakest, from dried plants gathered green, powdered and made in
a drink or made with sugar and spices into candy ("majun"). Used mainly in
India, rarely seen in U.S. in true form. Often sold as a high end and expensive
product to the uninformed.
d. Ganja - 2 or 3 times stronger than bhang, comes from dried female flower
tops with resin mostly removed from cultivated or wild types rich in THC.
Must contain seeds and no twigs. Usually smoked with tobacco but can be eaten
or drunk. Occasionally found as a preparation in the U.S. but rarely made
from potent forms of Cannabis so that most sold without the removal
of resin. Used mainly in India.
e. Charas (often mistakenly called hashish in U.S.) - Ten times stronger
than bhang, pure resin removed from leaves and stems of wild C. sativa
subsp. indica or potent cultivated hybrids with this subspecies and
the cultivar subsp. sativa. Smoked or eaten mixed with spices in India.
Mostly sold as hashish in U.S. but rarely prepared from subsp. indica.
Imported hashish is often true hashish with most of the resin removed ("rocks"
or "oil") or charas that is powdered (varying shades of green).
f. Thia Sticks - A potent form of the cultivar subsp. sativa found
mainly in subtropical regions of Southeast Asia, especially in the Mekong
River area of Thailand and Viet Nam. Made from tall plants (up to 18 ft tall)
that grow 12-18 months producing large, dense female inflorescences densely
covered with resin. The roughly crushed flowers are often wrapped with resin-rich
leaves into a long, narrow blackish-brown stick.
5. Cannabis in the United States:
a. Weedy plant widely scattered with concentrations in mid-Atlantic, South
and Middle West. Most escaped forms of hemp with low potency.
b. Major agricultural cash crop (albeit illegal) in certain areas (especially
in California and Hawaii).
c. Many attempts to improve potency via selection; numerous fanciful names
applied to these selections. The amount of THC has increased over the last
d. Most marijuana smuggled into the United States comes from Latin America
(mainly Mexico) and the Caribbean (often Jamaica) where hybrid strains involving
subsp. indica are more commonly cultivated.
e. Heavily used and all too
by young people.
6. Dangers of marijuana and its
a. In spite of thousands of years of its use by millions of people, there
are few conclusive answers to the question of its physical and psychological
effects on humans. And in spite of popular perception, it has no effect against
pain from cancer but it reported to
reduce nausea in cancer and
b. Use of marijuana does not appear to result in addiction (but
Anonymous); use of hashish may lead to addiction, the evidence of organic
or physiological dependence not firmly established.
c. Heavy, long-term use can cause deformed male sperm.
d. Moderate use does reduce pain associated with interocular pressure associated
READING -- in two parts]
(Papaver somniferum): ----> Southeastern Europe and western Asia;
widely cultivated and escaped.
1. Source of two addicting narcotic compounds: morphine and heroin.
2. Opium refers to the dried, powdered latex extracted from the unripe fruits
of the opium poppy.
a. Capsules are deeply cut to allow thick, milky latex to ooze to the
b. Single capsule can be scored 3-10 times
c. Tacky mass is scraped from the capsule and dried.
d. Processing varies but general labor intensive.
e. Much locally grown opium poppy is
4. Used by pre-historic people in southern Europe and as a narcotic, a calming
agent and to reduce the effects of dysentery by the Egyptians, Greeks and
5. For 5,000 years used directly as a treatment for intense pain, originally
dissolved in wine, or more recently smoked (opium dens in China). Use spread
in the United States in the late 1800s but the cause of wars between China
and Britain when
opium into China cause serious addiction; see
for a review of numerous articles.
6. 26 alkaloids know from Papaver somniferum, three are used: morphine,
codeine and papaverine.
a. Laudanum is a mixture of opium and alcohol; a
and common drug until the early decades of this century.
b. Morphine isolated in 1806; ten times stronger than opium; used for pain
and administered by hypodermic syringe after 1853; resulted in addiction.
c. Morphine addiction was common among upper class women in the United States
into 1920 when suddenly banned by federal law. Most given morphine during
child birth and continued to use laudanum to prevent withdrawal symptoms.
Many women (some 30% of those women who bore children) subsequently became
addicted to opiate drugs (including
- an excellent summary, see all links:
and a brief statement about the
d. morphine, mixed with scopolamine, used in the 1930s and 1940s as an anesthetic
for child birth, resulting in severe withdrawal symptoms for many women but
used in "over-the-counter" medicines; milder but can, in rare instances,
f. Papaverine found in paregoric, a rarely used treatment (today) for diarrhea
Developed as a non-addicting painkiller, two acetyl groups added to morphine
to produce heroin. More powerful analgesic than morphine; for a short time
the virtues of this heroic drug (hence the name) were extolled by the medical
community. We quickly found out differently!
a. By 1905 found to be tenaciously addictive because of its rapid
b. Opiates prohibited for non-medical use in 1914; manufacturing ended in
U.S. in 1924.
c. Turkey (until the mid 1970s) and Southeast Asia (currently) major source
of raw opium; made into heroin mainly in Europe; sold widely around the world.
What is worth $250 to the grower in Cambodia can have a street value in the
United States of $200,000.
Narcotics Control Strategy Report of March 1996 [REQUIRED READING] for
a review of the current state of heroin and other opiates in the United.
e. Heroin overdose still a major cause of death; collapses blood veins and
promotes infections such as hepatitis.
recommended as a review] (Erythroxylon coca or E.
novogranatense): Native of the Andes of South America from Colombia to
a. Coca use
at least 3000 years old.
gathered from shrub and allowed to dry and lightly ferment. Leaves dipped
in ash or lime ("oca") and then chewed, the lime aiding in the extraction
and ultimate adsorption of the alkaloids.
c. Used by the Incas to reduce feelings of hunger, pain and
d. Today, in markets of Bolivia and Peru, leaves are sold and it is estimated
that 90% of the native population depends on coca to mitigate the harsh
environment of the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes.
a. Cocaine: One of 14 alkaloids in coca.
b. Isolated in 1860 and quickly incorporated into wine. Coca cola was first
marketed in 1886 and promoted as a headache remedy as it contained caffeine
extracts. Coca Cola company removed coca, it was sued for misleading
advertising because the name implied that the beverage contained coca products.
As a result coca leaves, with the cocaine removed, are now used to flavor
the syrup from which the soda is made.
c. Popularized medically by Sigmund Freud in his book Uber Coca published
in 1884. Used cocaine to treat morphine addiction, alcoholism and
d. Use of cocaine outlawed by the Harrison Narcotic Act of 1914; resulted
in higher cost of drug and increased use in U.S.
e. Cocaine hydrochloride ground into fine powder and
"free basing" is the use of a base form (rather than salt form) of cocaine
for greater solubility and potency;
cocaine the harden form. Crack is now regarded as the most addictive
drug on the market.
f. Cocaine continues to be a major international problem as well as a
a. Prolonged but modest use of coca as practiced by Andean Indians is probably
not addictive as little of the alkaloids are adsorbed by the body, taking
in about 0.7 grains of cocaine a day.
b. Injected or snorted cocaine results in the consumption of 6-8 grains daily;
this results in
often addiction. Several studies are now ongoing to identify compounds
useful to treat cocaine addiction.
c. Overdose resulting in death can be caused by as little as 1.2 grams.
d. Results in depression, mood changes, anxiety, insomnia and impotence.
Long-term use frequently results in paranoid psychosis.
e. DO NOT USE COCAINE
as evidence clearly indicates cocaine causes problems with fetal development.
Crack is not kind to babies: see these twosites on
exposure, and on
crack in general.
4. Other alkaloids: Lidocaine and procaine, better known by the trade name,
are used a local pain relievers.
(Nepeta cataria): Native of Eurasia.
1. Hallucinogen that can be bought everywhere, and many of us have at home.
2. Sends our cats on
VII. Other Hallucinogens
(Psilocybe spp.): Sacred Mexican hallucinogenic fungus known as
"teonanactl" ("flesh of the gods") by the Aztecs. Dates back at least to
300 AD. Several other fungi were also used by the Indians of the New World.
Active compounds are psilocybin and psilocin.
B. New World tropical snuffs (Virola spp.): Amazon Indians use the
bark of several species of these tropical trees (see ---->) to produce
exceedingly vivid hallucinations; not discovered until 1938. Taken as a snuff;
resin from the plant now known to be taken orally by some Indians in Colombia.
Contains several alkaloids including the
or DMT. Several other unrelated plants used as hallucinogenic snuffs.
Virola and Banisteriopsis (see below), along with numerous
other hallucinogenic plants, were studied by
Evans Schultes of Harvard University.
(Myristica spp.): Old World tropical hallucinogenic flowering plant,
the source of nutmeg and mace. Probably pre-historical use. Taken orally
or as a narcotic snuff. Extremely variable in effect, usually causes distortion
of time and space perception.
D. Caapi (Banisteriopsis spp.): A potent narcotic drink,
ayahuasca, made from the bark of
two species by Amazonian Indians. First reported in the 1850s. Active compound
is harmine. Also contains
whose use in
the New World tropics is very old.
Other Sites of Interest:
of Abuse from the Drug Enforcement Agency: An excellent resource
Erowid- sites describing
a British site
National Clearinghouse for Alcohol
and Drug Information
Justice Information Center
International Narcotics Control
and Federal Sentencing Policy: See Chapter 1-4
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Last revised Straney: March 30, 1999