Rubiaceae (Coffee Family)
Forms and Subspecies
It is possible for white thorns (domatia) to develop along the central nerve on the underside of some chacruna leaves. South American ayahuasqueros distinguish different forms of the plant on the basis of the number of these thorns. Plants with three thorns per leaf are considered to be particularly potent, medicinal, and well suited for the production of ayahuasca. A form with nine thorns is regarded as the highest quality.
Psychotria psychotriaefolia (Seem.) Standley may be a synonym (cf. Psychotria spp.).
Amirucapanga, cahua (Shipibo-Conibo), chacrona, chacruna, chagropanga, chalipanga, horóva (Campa), kawa (Cashinahua/Sharanahua), oprito (Kofán, “heavenly people”), sami ruca
It is not known when the use of chacruna in Amazonia first began. It is presumably as old as the use of Banisteriopsis caapi and ayahuasca. But it was only in the 1960s that the American ethno-botanist Homer Pinkley (a student of Schultes) first observed and described the psychoactive use of the plant among the Kofán Indians of Colombia, who use it as an ayahuasca additive (Pinkley 1969). Linnaeus, who provided the first botanical description of the genus Psychotria, derived the name of the genus from Psychotrophum (Patrick Browne), a term that had already been circulating in the literature. Unfortunately, he did not provide any reason for this action. It is quite possible that the genus name means that it “influences the psyche” (cf. Pinkley 1969).
The tropical bush is at home primarily in the undisturbed forests of the Amazon lowlands but has spread from Colombia to Bolivia and into eastern Brazil as a result of extensive cultivation. It is said to occur also north of the Amazon region and into Central America (Pinkley 1969, 535). Today, there are also plantations in Hawaii and northern California.
The plant is difficult to propagate from seed. The seeds can require sixty days to germinate. Sometimes, only one seed in a hundred will germinate. In contrast, cultivation from cuttings is much easier and more successful. A small branch needs only to be set in the ground and watered thoroughly. Plants can be grown even from a branch piece having only two leaves, and it is possible for individual leaves and leaf pieces to develop into plants. It has been claimed that a young plant once developed from a piece of leaf that was accidentally covered with soil. The plant requires moist, humus-rich soil. It can survive an occasional flooding of its location, as occurs in Amazonia (Pinkley 1969).
The evergreen bush can grow into a small tree with a very woody trunk, but in cultivation it is usually maintained at a height of 2 to 3 meters. It has long, narrow, ovate leaves that are light green to dark green in color and whose upper side is shiny. The flowers have greenish white petals and are attached to long stalks. The red berry fruits contain several small ovate-oval retuse seeds (approximately 4 mm in length). The convex side is streaked with three parallel grooves with irregular edges.
Psychotria viridis is easily confused with other Psychotria species. Psychotria psychotriaefolia in particular is very similar in appearance and may in fact be a synonym (see Psychotria spp.).
Preparation and Dosage
The leaves must be collected in the morning and are used both fresh and dried to manufacture ayahuasca and ayahuasca analogs. The dried leaves are coffee brown in color. The leaves also can be used to produce an extract that thickens to a tarlike mass and can be smoked.
As little as 1 ml of the juice pressed from the fresh leaves is said to contain some 100 mg of N,NDMT (cf. Russo 1997, 6).
See ayahuasca (“Ayahuasca Music—A Discography,” on page 711).
The Machiguenga use juice that has been freshly pressed from the leaves of Psychotria viridis or another Psychotria species (Psychotria spp.) as eyedrops for treating migraine headaches (Russo 1997, 5). While Psychotria viridisdoes have a reputation as a medicinal plant, such use has been little studied to date (see also ayahuasca).
The leaves contain 0.1 to 0.61% N,N-DMT along with traces of MMT and MTHC (= 2-methyltetrahydro-β-carboline). The DMT content is typically around 0.3%. Psychotria leaves appear to contain the highest concentrations of DMT in the early morning, which is why they should be collected at that time (Dennis McKenna, pers. comm.).
The Kofán Indians say that by mixing Psychotria viridis leaves into their yagé (= ayahuasca; cf. Banisteriopsis caapi), they are able to see the oprito, the small “heavenly people” that bear the same name as the plant (Pinkley 1969, 535). When used as an ayahuasca additive, the leaves manifest typical DMT effects (see ayahuasca).
Commercial Forms and Regulations
The dried leaves are occasionally available from sources specializing in ethnobotanical products. The legal situation with respect to the raw plant material has not been clarified.
A large-leaved variety of the DMT-containing plant Psychotria viridis.
A small-leaved type of Psychotria viridis.
“Psychotria L. (Rubiaceae), derived from χϕξη (soul, life) and τρεϖειν (nourish, maintain); according to P. Browne, the seeds of Ps. herbacea are used on Jamaica to produce a pleasant, coffeelike drink. Linnaeus contracted the name Psychotrophum that Browne had originally coined.”
G. C. WITTSTEIN ETYMOLOGISCH-BOTANISCHES HANDWÖRTERBUCH [ETYMOLOGICAL BOTANICAL HAND DICTIONARY] (ANSBACH, 1852)
See also the entries for Psychotria spp., ayahuasca, and ayahuasca analogs.
Der Marderosian, Ara H., et al. 1970. The use and hallucinatory principles of a psychoactive beverage of the Cashinahua tribe (Amazonia basin). Drug Dependence 5:7–14.
Pinkley, Homer V. 1969. Etymology of Psychotria in view of a new use of the genus. Rhodora 71:535–40.
Prance, G. T., and A. E. Prance. 1970. Hallucinations in Amazonia. Garden Journal 20:102–7.
Russo, Ethan B. 1992. Headache treatments by native peoples of the Ecuadorian Amazon: A preliminary cross-disciplinary assessement. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 36:192–206.
———. 1997. An investigation of psychedelic plants and compounds for activity in serotonin receptor assays for headache treatment and prophylaxis. MAPS 7 (1): 4–8.
Wild Coffee, Psychotria Species
Rubiaceae (Coffee Family)
Most of the approximately 1,200 to 1,400 Psychotria species that have been described are found in the tropical zones of Central and South America, although a few species occur in the rain forests of Malaysia and in New Caledonia (Standley 1930). In the Caribbean, the seeds of some species, e.g. Psychotria nervosa, are referred to as wild coffee and drunk as a coffee substitute (cf. Coffea arabica). The fruits of many Psychotria species (P. involucrata Swartz, P. nudiceps Standley) are regarded as poisonous (Schultes 1969, 158; 1985). N,N-DMT has been demonstrated to be present in several species. Some contain the alkaloid psychotridine, and others indoles (Lajis et al. 1993). Some species (Psychotria poeppigiana Muell. Arg., Psychotria ulviformes Sterm.) appear to contain opium-like constituents (Elisabetsky et al. 1995, 78). The Yucatec Maya regard the Central American species Psychotria acuminataBenth. (ix-anal) and Psychotria tenuifolia Sw. (x’anal) as “male” and “female” counterparts and use them to treat nervousness and sleeplessness (Arvigo and Balick 1994, 45, 105*). In Europe, Psychotria emetica (L. fil.) Mutis, the Peruvian vomit plant, was known in particular as a counterfeit for ipecac (Cephaelis ipecacuanha [Brot.] Tussac [syn. Psychotria ipecacuanha (Brot.) Stokes]) (Rätsch 1991a, 136 f.*; Schneider 1974, 3:135 f.*). The vomit-inducing substance emetine is said to occur in numerous Psychotriaspecies (Fisher 1973, 231).
Psychotria brachypoda (Muell. Arg.) Britton
This Psychotria is used traditionally as a pain medicine. The species contains active constituents with opium-like, analgesic effects (Elisabetsky et al. 1995).
Psychotria carthaginensis Jacquin—sameruca
According to information provided by the Colombian Makuna Indians, eating the fruit of this bush will induce perceptual alterations that can persist for days, nausea, weakness, and fever (Schultes 1969, 158). The leaves, which contain some N,N-DMT, are used as an ayahuasca additive (Schultes 1985, 118).
Psychotria colorata (Willd. ex R. et S.) Muell. Arg.
This bush is known as perpétua do mato in the Brazilian Amazon, where it is used in folk medicine to treat ear and lower abdominal pain. The Caboclos produce eardrops by heating the flowers in banana leaves on hot ashes. A decoction of the roots and fruits is drunk to treat abdominal pains. The leaves and flowers have been found to contain alkaloids with opium-like effects whose structures have not yet been determined (Elisabetsky et al. 1995).
Psychotria poeppigiana Muell. Arg.—oreja del diablo (Spanish,“devil’s ear”)
In Amazonia (Ecuador), the nectar of this species is used as a traditional ear medicine. The leaves are rich in N,N-DMT and are evidently well suited for use as an ayahuasca additive (ayahuasca analogs) (Rob Montgomery, pers. comm.). In the Putumayo region of Colombia, the roots are used to treat lung ailments (Schultes 1985, 119; Schultes and Raffauf 1990, 395*).
Among the Ka’apor, Psychotria poeppigiana Muell. Arg. is called yawaru-ka’a, “black jaguar plant,” or tapi’i-ka’a, “tapir plant” (Balée 1994, 303*). These names suggest that the plant may be used for shamanic purposes (animal transformation).
Psychotria psychotriaefolia (Seem.) Standley
In the Colombian Putumayo region, the leaves of this species are used together with Banisteriopsis caapi to produce ayahuasca. In Ecuador, both the leaves and the fruits are used for this purpose (Schultes 1969, 158). The addition of this plant to the mixture is said to deepen and prolong the visions. The leaves contain N,N-DMT. The Kofán Indians call the plant oprito. They use this same name to refer to the “heavenly people” that they contact while under the influence of ayahuasca (164). This species may be synonymous with Psychotria viridis.
Psychotria nervosa is also known as wild coffee. However, nothing is known about any possible psychoactivity.
Some Psychotria species develop very striking flowers and fruits. (A Psychotria species, photographed in Chiapas, Mexico.)
Among the many members of the genus Psychotria, there are certainly other species that contain N,N-DMT and may be suitable for use as ayahuasca additives. We already know of some as yet undescribed members of the genus that are used to make ayahuasca and are often called by the name chacruna.
While the leaves of Psychotria poeppigiana are not traditionally used in the production of ayahuasca, they do contain high concentrations of DMT.
“Psychotria carthaginensis has also been reportedly used as an ayahuasca admixture, and preliminary studies likewise detected DMT in leaves of this species. . . . Various unidentified species of Psychotria are also used as ayahuasca admixtures by Peruvian Sharanahua and Cashinahua Indians. Psychotrialeaves called pishikawa and batsikawa were added to ayahuasca by Sharanahua of the upper Río Purús region . . . , and the latter was said to be inferior. . . . Nai kawa was thought to be P. alba, P. carthaginensis, P. horizontalis or P. marginata. Clearly, more detailed taxonomic and ethnobotanical studies are needed to clarify the identity of these Psychotria species. A number of species of the genus are used ethnomedicinally throughout Amazonia.”
JONATHAN OTT AYAHUASCA ANALOGUES (1994, 25*)
See also the entries for Psychotria viridis, ayahuasca, and N,N-DMT.
Elisabetsky, Elaine, Tânia A. Amador, Ruti R. Albuquerque, Domingos S. Nunes, and Ana do C. T. Carvalho. 1995. Analgesic activity of Psychotria colorata (Willd. ex R. et S.) Muell. Arg. alkaloids. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 48:77–83.
Fisher, H. H. 1973. Origin and uses of ipecac. Economic Botany 27:231–34.
Lajis, Nordin H., Zurinah Mahmud, and R. F. Toia. 1993. The alkaloids of Psychotria rostrata. Planta Medica 59:383–84.
Schultes, Richard Evans. 1969. De Plantis Toxicariis e Mundo Novo Tropicale Commentationes IV. Botanical Museum Leaflets 22 (4): 133–64.
———. 1985. De Plantis Toxicariis e Mundo Novo Tropicale Commentationes XXXIV: Biodynamic Rubiaceous plants of the Northwest Amazon. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 14:105–24.
Small, John K. 1928. Psychotria sulzneri. Addisonia 13:47–48.
Standley, Paul C. 1930. The Rubiaceae of Colombia. Botanical Series, vol. 8, no. 1. Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History.