The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Psychoaktive produkt


An Amazonian shaman prepares the psychoactive and purgative ayahuasca drink from the leaves of Psychotria viridis and the stems of Banisteriopsis caapi. Drinking ayahuasca enables the astral body, which is composed of colorful lights, to leave the shaman’s body and travel to the stars. (Painting by Pablo Amaringo, detail, ca. 1994)


The psychoactive effects of many plants can be improved, modified, or even simply made possible by preparing or processing the plants using both traditional and pharmaceutical methods or by combining them with other plants and substances. The resulting products typically are culturally significant, whether as agents of pleasure (betel quidschichapalm winesake, wine), shamanic tools (ayahuascacimorasnuff), or sacred drugs (balche’mead). These products bear witness to humanity’s amazing powers of invention and creativity. Some (beerpituriincensehoney) have been produced and used since the Stone Age. However, precise details about many of the recipes for or ingredients in some ancient products (hanshihaomawitches’ ointmentskykeonsoma) are not well known, whether because of a desire for secrecy, because that knowledge was suppressed, or because the ingredients were simply forgotten over time. Other products (ayahuasca analogsenergy drinksherbal ecstasy) are more recent developments. Today, more and more people are searching for new psychoactive substances and products. Countless closet shamans in North America and Europe have been experimenting with new combinations, extracts, and possibilities for preparing such products. Considerable research into ayahuasca analogs and smoking blends is currently under way.

Combination Preparations


Some products (such as alcohol) can be produced only through elaborate techniques, while others are distinguished by a skillful and deliberate combination of various substances. At times, plants or certain parts of plants become psychoactive only when combined with other ingredients. Sometimes various admixtures can be used in combination to produce a synergistic effect, that is, the two effects shape one another, resulting in a new effect that is different from that of the individual substances (as is the case for madzoka medicine and zombie poison). In some cases, a particular substance is more easily tolerated when mixed with another. At other times, combining substances can potentiate a constituent’s primary effects or steer them in a particular direction (as can be seen in Oriental joy pillskinnikinnickenemassoporific sponges, and theriac).


The sugarcane plant (Saccharum officinarum L.) originated in Melanesia but is now found in all the tropical regions of the world as a result of human activity. The fresh juice of the plant is used to brew beerlike beverages and to produce potent alcoholic spirits (firewater). Many plants can be used to produce psychoactive products such as beer and alcohol. (Woodcut from Tabernaemontanus, Neu Vollkommen Kräuter-Buch, 1731)