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. 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.

What are hallucinogenic plants?

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.

Medical and religious uses

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.

How hallucinogens are taken

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.

The 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.


…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.

Hundreds of hallucinogenic substances are found in many species of plants. For example, a variety of mushrooms contain indole-type HALLUCINOGENS, the most publicized being the Mexican or “magic” mushroom, Psilocybe mexicana, which contains both the hallucinogenic compounds PSILOCYBIN and psilocin, as do some of the other Psilocybe and Conocybe species. The PEYOTE cactus (Lophophra williamsii or Anhalonium lewinii), which is found in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, contains MESCALINE. The seeds of the MORNING GLORY, Ipomoea, contain hallucinogenic LYSERGIC ACID derivatives, particularly lysergic acid amide. Many of these plants and plant by-products were and are used during religious ceremonies by Native Americans and other ethnic groups.
The fact that hallucinogenic substances are found in nature does not mean that they are safer or purer than compounds that have been synthesized in the laboratory. Some common edible mushrooms that can be purchased in any supermarket may be sprinkled with LSD or other hallucinogens to be misrepresented as magic mushrooms. In addition, serious problems—even death—may occur when species of hallucinogenic plants are misidentified and people mistakenly ingest highly toxic plants, such as poisonous mushrooms.

Use of salvia divinorum:

Salvia divinorum is a legal psychoactive plant that produces hallucinogen-like effects through a putative kappa opiate mechanism.
Salvia divinorum is a psychoactive mint, used in traditional spiritual practices by the Mazatec people of Mexico and is legal in both Mexico and the United States.

What are its short and long-term effects?

This drug is a psychoactive hallucinogen that can cause dramatic and sometimes frightening mind-states. Depending on dosage, a user’s reaction can vary from a subtle, just-off-baseline state to a full-blown psychedelic experience. It has been reported to induce an intense hallucinatory experience in humans (particularly when smoked) which typically persists from several minutes to an hour. It has been described as a “20-minute acid trip.”

Since not much is known, it can only be said that harm from Salvia divinorum most likely occurs from inadequate preparation or from using the drug in a setting in which it is dangerous to be intoxicated from any drug at all (i.e. driving).

Hallucinogenic Mushrooms

Hallucinogenic fungi have been used in divinatory or religious contexts for at least 3000 years. However, not until the 1950s were the involved species of fungi identified and the chemical nature of active substances determined.
In general, 2 groups of mushrooms with significant psychoactive effects exist.
• Mushrooms containing ibotenic acid and muscimol (isoxazoles), including Amanita gemmata, Amanita muscaria (fly agaric), and Amanita pantherina (the panther), comprise the first group. These are not to be confused with deadly Amanita phalloides, Amanita verna, and Amanita virosa. For centuries, A muscaria has been consumed in central Asia as a hallucinogen. Some Siberian tribes report that 3 fresh A muscaria mushrooms can be lethal, while others claim that eating as many as 21 of these mushrooms is safe.
• Psilocybin-containing mushrooms, including Psilocybe caerulipes, Psilocybe cubensis, Gymnopilus spectabilis, Panaeolus species (eg, Panaeolus foenisecii), and Psathyrella foenisecii, comprise the second group of mushrooms with psychoactive effects.
Mushrooms containing ibotenic acid and muscimol and those containing psilocybin are New World fungal hallucinogens. Reports of toxicity associated with this group of mushrooms have increased because of their growing popularity as hallucinogensbotenic acid is an agonist at central glutamic acid receptors; its decarboxylated derivative is an agonist at gamma-amino butyric acid receptors. Central effects of these hallucinogenic mushrooms are thought to be caused by these actions. Although muscarinic acid originally was isolated from A muscaria, the clinical syndrome does not suggest marked significance; in fact, anticholinergic findings may be observed.
The psilocybin group contains the indoles psilocybin and psilocin. Psilocin and its phosphate ester, psilocybin, are similar in structure to lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). They are structural analogues of serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine); thus, hallucinogenic effects probably are mediated through effects on serotonergic receptors.
Sources: Sagewisdom, Drug Free, E Medicine

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