The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Coryphantha spp.


Coryphantha Species




Cactaceae (Cactus Family); Cereeae Tribe, Coryphanthanae Subtribe



The following species have been found to contain β-phenethylamines (often hordenine) with (presumably) psychoactive effects (Howe et al. 1977; Kelley H. et al. 1972):


Coryphantha cornifera (DC.) Lem.

Coryphantha durangensis (Rünge) Br. et R.

Coryphantha echinus (Engelm.) Br. et R. [syn. Coryphantha cornifera var. echinus]

Coryphantha elephantidens (Lem.) Lem.

Coryphantha greenwoodii H. Bravo

Coryphantha ottonis (Pfeif.) Lem.

Coryphantha pectinata (Engelm.) Br. et R.

Coryphantha vivipara var. arizonica


Ethnobotanically relevant species:


Coryphantha compacta (Engelm.) Britt. et Rose (peyote substitute)

Coryphantha macromeris (Engelm.) Britt. et Rose [syn. Lepidocoryphantha macromeris] (peyote substitute)

Coryphantha macromeris var. runyonii

Coryphantha palmeri Britt. et Rose (narcotic)

Coryphantha ramillosa Cutak

Folk Names


Biznaga de piña, donana, falscher peyote, huevos de coyote (Spanish, “the eggs [= testicles] of the coyote”), mulato (for Coryphantha macromeris), stachelkaktus, warzenkakteen



Most members of the genus are from Mexico, although some occur from northern Mexico to Texas.



Like all cacti, these species can be grown from seed. Coryphantha thrives best in sandy and clayey soils and requires much sun and much water during the blooming period (but do not keep wet). No water at all should be given during the winter (Hecht 1995, 26*).



The most ethnopharmacologically interesting of these cacti, Coryphantha compacta, is a slightly depressed spherical cactus with a maximum diameter of 8 cm. The whitish, 1 to 2 cm long thorns are arranged in a radial pattern. Most Coryphantha species are spherical, heavily thorned ball cacti (Preston-Mafham 1995*) that often develop magnificent, sun-yellow flowers. They can be confused with some species from the genera Ferocactus and Echinocactus, as well as with Mammillaria spp.


Many species in the genus Coryphantha are spherical in shape and regarded as peyote substitutes. (Coryphantha recurva, photographed in Arizona)


Psychoactive Material


—Cactus flesh, fresh or dried

Preparation and Dosage


The thorns must first be removed, after which the aboveground portion is eaten fresh. The dosage is given as eight to twelve cacti (Coryphantha macro-meris) (Gottlieb 1973, 12*).

Ritual Use


Presumably the only ritual or shamanic use of Coryphantha species is (for some of them) as peyote substitutes (see Lophophora williamsii).




Medicinal Use


Presumably similar to that of Lophophora williamsii



β-phenethylamines (hordenine, normacromerine, calipamine, methyltyramine and derivatives, synephrine, macromerine, metanephrine, tyra-mine) have been found in many Coryphantha species (Bruhn et al. 1975). Most species contain primarily hordenine (Howe et al. 1977; Mata and McLaughlin 1982, 97–100*; Ranieri et al. 1976).



Coryphantha compacta is “taken by shamans as a potent medicine and greatly feared and respected by the Indians” (Schultes and Hofmann 1992, 67*).

Commercial Forms and Regulations


Many species of the genus are available in cactus shops.


Coryphantha echinus, from northern Mexico, produces psychoactive effects.





“The goddess sits at the top of the round cactus,

our mother, butterfly of obsidian.

Look, there in the springlike fields,

nourished by the hearts of deer,

is our mother, queen of the earth,

adorned with fresh clay and new feathers.

From the four directions of heaven,

because she breaks lances:

she is transformed into a deer.

Across the stony ground

come Xiuhnelli and Mimich,

to see you.”










See also the entries for Lophophora williamsii and β-phenethylamines.


Bruhn, J., S. Agurell, and J. Lindgren. 1975. Cactaceae alkaloids. XXI: Phenethylamine alkaloids of Coryphantha species. Acta Pharm. Suecica 12:199.


Howe, R. C., R. L. Ranieri, D. Statz, and J. L.


McLaughlin. 1977. Cactus alkaloids. XXXIV: Hordenine HCl from Coryphantha vivipara var. arizonicaPlanta Medica 31:294.


Keller, W. J., and J. L. McLaughlin. 1972. Cactus alkaloids. XIII: Isolation of (–)-normacromerine from Coryphantha macromeris var. runyoniiJournal of Pharmaceutical Science 61:147.


Kelly Hornemann, K. M., J. M. Neal, and J. L. McLaughlin. 1972. Cactus alkaloids XII: ®-phenethylamine alkaloids of the genus CoryphanthaJournal of Pharmaceutical Science 61:41–45.


Ranieri, R. L., J. L. McLaughlin, and G. K. Arp. 1976.


Isolation of β-phenethylamines from Coryphantha greenwoodiiLloydia 39 (2–3): 172–174.

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