The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications



Other Names


Clistere, clysma, clyster, clysterium, clystiere, eingießungen, einläufe, klistiere, klystier, lavement


The term enema refers to a liquid that is administered rectally for medicinal/therapeutic, hedonistic, or ritual/psychoactive purposes. Enemas often consist of nothing more than lukewarm water, but for medicinal purposes, a decoction or infusion of certain plants may be used, e.g., as a laxative. The fluids may also take the form of alcoholic beverages (beer,417winechichabalche’, pulque [cf. Agave spp.]). Many medicines that can cause discomfort to the stomach are often administered in enema form (e.g., opium; cf. Papaver somniferum). Cleansing enemas often play a role during ritual preparation for entheogenic rituals.

It has often been asserted that the ancient Egyptians invented enemas after observing the behavior of the ibis. This bird supposedly uses its long, curved, tubelike beak to administer enemas to itself. Because the ibis is the symbolic animal or even the embodiment of the shamanic god Thoth, Thoth became known as the god of enemas (Degenhard 1985, 13). In fact, enema devices have been found in various places around the world (Hallowell 1935; Heizer 1944; Lieberman 1944). Of particular significance are the caoutchouc (rubber) balls that were used to administer enemas that have been found in South America. South American shamans also made enema devices from jaguar bladders and bird bones (Nordenskiöld 1930, 188). Such tools are sometimes also used to ingest dry snuffs through the nose.

In Europe, special enema syringes were once popular. Devices known as blowing tubes and also specially designed machines were used to blow smoke, especially from tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum), into the rectum (Schäffer 1772; Degenhard 1985, 22 ff.). Enemas of tobacco smoke were administered not only to humans but also to horses (Degenhard 1985, 171).


During antiquity and the Middle Ages, people believed that enemas had been discovered by observing nature: “the stork that purges itself.” (Woodcut, late Middle Ages)



Enema scene on a ritual vessel (drinking glass?) of the Classic Mayan period, showing a diviner or shaman administering either a tobacco decoction or balche’.



“The Indians who live in the interior of Brazil, such as the Caripuna, Murás, Maukés, Pouporó, and the Catanixi, had already hit upon the idea of using an enema to affect consciousness, and they used parica enemas for inebriation. ‘Parica’ is the name of the seeds of the angico tree, which are powdered and mixed with the ashes of the imbauwa tree and then, added to water, were administered as an enema in a rubber syringe with a very long tip made from a hollow bird bone.”




In ancient Mexico, sexual rituals included enemas containing pulque, the fermented juice of Agave spp., to which other psychoactive substances (e.g., Lophophora williamsii) were usually added (de Smet 1985, 20). The Mayans appear to have used enemas made from Nicotiana spp. and balche’ in ritual contexts (de Smet 1981; Furst and Coe 1977). There is also evidence suggesting that the pre-Columbian Mochica administered enemas containing aphrodisiacs to men during ritual anal coitus (cf. Dobkin de Rios 1982*). The ritual use of enemas for purification and/or to administer psychoactive preparations was especially important in South American shamanism.

In the modern period, enemas are often used as part of erotic activities (Degenhard 1985). In the Orient, and especially in the world of the harem, opium was given in enemas that were aphrodisiac and also intended to induce forgetfulness. In contemporary anal-erotic circles, a variety of psychoactive substances (PCP, ketamine, cocainescopolamine) are used in aphrodisiac enemas in orgies (Rätsch 1987).

Different preparations were administered as narcotic enemas in ancient times (cf. soporific sponges). In the nineteenth century, narcotic enemas consisting of olive oil and ether were administered for surgical purposes (Degenhard 1985, 333 f.). Enemas have also been abused in the context of Catholic exorcisms and in the persecution and humiliation of women accused of being witches.



Degenhard, Armin von. 1985. Das Klistier. Flensburg: Carl Stephenson Verlag.


de Smet, Peter A. G. M. 1981. Enema scenes on ancient Maya pottery. Pharmacy International 2:217–19.


———. 1983. A multidisciplinary overview to intoxicating enema rituals in the Western Hemisphere. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 9:129–66. (Very good bibliography.)


———. 1985. Ritual enemas and snuffs in the Americas. Latin America Studies 33. Amsterdam: CEDLA.


de Smet, Peter, and Nicholas M. Hellmuth. 1986. A multidisciplinary approach to ritual enema scenes on ancient Maya pottery. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 16 (1–2): 213–62.


Furst, Peter T., and Michael D. Coe. 1977. Ritual enemas. Natural History 86 (3): 88–91.


———. 1989. Ritual enemas. In Magic, witchcraft, and religion, ed. Arthur C. Lehmann and James E. Myers, 127–31. Mountain View, Calif.: Mayfield. (Reprint of 1977.)


Hallowell, A. Irving. 1935. The bulbed enema syringe in North America. American Anthropologist 37:708–10.


Heizer, R. F. 1944. The use of the enema among the aboriginal American Indians. Ciba Symposia 5 (11): 1686–93.


Lieberman, William. 1944. The history of the enema. Ciba Symposia 5 (11): 1694–1708.


Nordenskiöld, Erland. 1930. Modifications in Indian culture through inventions and loans: Appendix 1: The use of enema tubes and enema syringes among Indians. Comparative Ethnographical Studies 8:184–95.


Rätsch, Christian. [1987]. Das Zepter der heroischen Medizin. In Das Scheiß Buch, 80–83. Löhrbach: Werner Pieper’s MedienXperimente.


Schäffer, Johann Gottlieb. 1772. Der Gebrauch und Nutzen des Tabackrauchclystiers. Regensburg: Montag und Gruner.



This early-modern-era apparatus from England was used to administer enemas of concentrated tobacco smoke. (Copperplate engraving from Johann Andreas Stisser, De machini fumiductoriis curiosis, Hamburg, 1686)



In Japan, enema blowing tubes were used to administer different psychoactive substances, especially green tea and opium, for hedonistic and other purposes. (Woodcut, nineteenth century)