Psychotropic plants — or plants that affect your mental state — have long been used across many cultures for varying reasons; from self-exploration to healing to leisure. If we were to document all of the psychotropic plants across the world, this Handbook of Psychotropic Herbs would become very long indeed. If you’d like to learn more about psychotropics from the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and elsewhere, you can do so by studying our Psychotropic Plants Diploma Course.
For the purposes of this blog, this Handbook of Psychotropic Herbs will focus on the wonderful world of psychotropic plants native to the Americas.
The Handbook of Psychotropic Herbs: North, Central and South America
Perhaps the most famous — or infamous — plant-based hallucinogenic drug is peyote, derived from the Peyote cactus native to some southern American states and Mexico, particularly the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range. The small, spineless cactus contains psychoactive alkaloids, particularly mescaline, which are generally ingested by eating the plant’s flesh. Various types of peyote ceremonies have been embraced by different communities, from the Navajo to the Carrizo people, including practices such as praying and worshipping in a fire circle and even bloodletting. Peyote isn’t revered just for its psychoactive properties, but also for its anecdotal ability to alleviate pain and fever.
Traditionally, Native American people embraced the fever-inducing properties of the Blue-Green Bullrush, the spikelets and stems of which were utilised to induce a trance-like state by which it was believed you could engage with the dead.
But not all psychotropic plants necessarily cause hallucinations. A member of the Ilex species of plant, Ilex vomitoria (otherwise known as Yaupon), can be used to brew an inky black psychotropic drink boasting caffeine as a stimulant, as well as theobromine, a bitter alkaloid with cardiac stimulus and diuretic properties. The drink was actually used as an alternative to coffee during the American civil war! The Chitimacha tribe also smoked the Yaupon and brewed it into a drink.
Travel further south and you may encounter some plants that contribute to mind-altering drugs you have certainly already heard of: Tobacco, Coca, and Guarana plants, the alkaloids of which are used to make cigarettes, cocaine, and caffeine, respectively.
Finally, we look at another well-known psychotropic plant; the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, which can grow up to 30 metres long and can be ground down to make the Ayahuasca drink used in self-exploration ceremonies. Otherwise known as Yaje, this vine grows from the soil of the rainforests up into the canopy. Traditionally, Ayahuasca has been used for shamanic purposes, consumed socially among friends, to learn more about Mother Nature and the universe, and even to visit faraway friends and family through out-of-body experiences.
The Handbook of Psychotropic Herbs: Before You Begin Your Journey
Before you embark on any journey into psychotropics, you should consult a medical professional and a qualified herbalist. If you have any existing health conditions, you should be aware that psychotropic plants can have a number of dangerous side effects such as cardiac and respiratory stress and psychosis. It can also block the effects of medication. Likewise, you need to ensure any psychotropics you ingest are from reputable suppliers and are not cut with harmful substances. If you want to take sourcing into your own hands, literally, you could try foraging for one of the many psychotropic mushrooms. Just make sure you adhere to the legalities in your part of the world.
As mentioned, the world of psychotropic herbs is extensive and the effects, limitless. We wish you good health as you continue learning and growing within the boundaries of the law and safety.