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High, Neighbor? The top 5 backyard hallucinogens - (7/21/2019)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

Why get high?
For every law that is in place, people find a way around it. Moonshine was abundant during Prohibition. Currently, heroin currently is easier to get than prescription narcotics. And does anyone really have a difficult time scoring pot? Even though marijuana is a Schedule I drug defined by the Federal government as a substance with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse? In any event, why do people have this burning desire to get high? To escape the stresses of daily life? To minimize the pain in their lives? Do the laws exist to protect people from drugs or to protect people from themselves? 

Opium – The root of it all?

People have gotten high for millennia. Consider opium. The earliest mention of opium was its medicinal purposes and properties around 3400 BC when the opium poppy was cultivated in lower Mesopotamia (Southwest Asia) [DEA Museum, 2019]. Its original use was as an analgesic. But its euphoric properties were soon discovered.  

Opium has been used for recreational purposes since at least the 15th century in India, China, and Persia. The opium trade had become more common and regular in the 17th century when it was blended with tobacco and smoked. The Portuguese traders directed the trade flow of opium to China. Ships from Great Britain would go to India and purchase opium to ship back to Britain.

In the 1700s, the Dutch introduced the practice of smoking the opium and tobacco mixture with a pipe. The Chinese traded usually silver for the opium. By then the addictiveness of opium had already been known and the Emperor Yongzheng of China issued an order in 1729 for the prohibition of smoking Madak (opium/tobacco) and its sale within the country.

Many countries began to grow and process opium to expand its availability and to decrease its cost. Its cultivation spread along the Silk Road, from the Mediterranean through Asia and finally to China where it was the catalyst for the Opium Wars of the mid-1800s. Opium dens were established as sites to buy and sell opium. Dens were commonly found in China, Southeast Asia, the United States, and parts of Europe. Chinese immigrants to the United States in the mid-1800s worked for railroads and brought the habit of opium smoking with them. Opium dens sprang up in San Francisco's Chinatown and spread eastward to New York.

Opium has many derivatives, including morphine, codeine, oxycodone, and heroin. Physicians use such drugs as pain medication. While opium remains a controlled substance and is subject to laws and punitive actions, other psychoactive substances are available in fields, woods, and areas around the globe. 

This information does not condone the use of hallucinogens. Rather, it is to highlight the existence of psychoactive plants in the reader’s midst. As with any pharmacoactive plants, extreme caution must be taken because the doses, drug interactions and side effects are often unknown. 

Salvia – Smoke it, chew it, crush it if you dare!
Before you go running out to the backyard, rip up your mom’s salvia and stuff it into a bong, listen up. The type of salvia that produces a high is salvia divinorum, used for hundreds of years in South American religious rituals. Salvia has now become popular mainly with adolescents and young adults for the short-lived relatively pleasant experiences many consider a "legal high" and its ready availability through Internet purchases. A member of the sage family, the herb has made headlines for its growing popularity. Its use by American singer Miley Cyrus on her 18th birthday, done in front of a camera, catapulted salvia into party drug status. 

Native to Mexico, the plant is hallucinogenic and has historically been used by shamans to achieve altered states of consciousness. The leaves can be eaten or smoked and feature an active ingredient known as salvinorin A, a potent κ-opioid agonist [Mahendran, 2016]. Such agonists have analgesic, diuretic, and dysphoric (the opposite of euphoric) properties in humans. Although the short and long-term effects have not been examined in sufficient detail, it is widely believed to have low addictive potential and low toxicity. The effects are intense but short-lived and include changes in mood and body sensations, visions, feelings of detachment, and altered perceptions of self. 

Dried leaves can be smoked in a pipe or as a cigarette for mild effects lasting up to 15 minutes. When the leaves are chewed, the salvinorin enters the mucus of the mouth, producing visual hallucinations. Its leaves can be crushed and mixed with drinks. Extracts of salvinorin are vaporized and inhaled.

Salvia divinorum is treated as a controlled substance in Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Virginia. It is illegal if it is intended for human consumption in Louisiana and Tennessee. Australia, Denmark, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Japan, Poland, South Korea, Latvia, and Lithuania have banned the plant. 

Due to its legal status in various countries, this compound has gained worldwide popularity as a drug of abuse with easy access through smart shops and the Internet. Furthermore, salvinorin A has gathered an increased interest in the scientific community thanks to its unique structure and properties, and various studies demonstrated that salvinorin A has antinociceptive, antidepressant, in some circumstances pro-depressant and anti-addictive effects that have yielded potential new avenues for research underlying salvinorin A and its semi-synthetic analogs as therapeutic agents [Cruz, 2017].

Jimsonweed – A bumpy magic carpet ride
Jimsonweed (Datura stramonium) grows throughout much of North and South America. It is a weedy annual plant with striking white tubular flowers and spiky seedpods. The leaves and seeds contain potent alkaloids (atropine, scopolamine, hyoscyamine, and hyoscine) that cause hallucinations. Used ceremonially by a number of indigenous peoples, jimsonweed acts as a deliriant and can produce intense spiritual visions. However, it is highly dangerous, and careless use can easily result in fatalities. Users often report terrifying hallucinations and paranoid delusions under its influence and may experience prolonged side effects such as blurred vision after its use. Many do not try it a second time.

This plant, also known as thorn apple, devil's apple, mad apple, stinkweed, the apple of Peru and Jamestown weed, is a member of the Solanaceae (nightshade) family [Haas, 1995]. Like other members of that family, it is extremely poisonous and may cause death. Marc Antony's troops ate datura when retreating from Parthia in 38 AD. Consequently, delirium, stupor, and death occurred. The word Jimsonweed is believed to be a corruption of the common name Jamestown weed. That name refers to an incident (about 1676) when soldiers, sent to quell a rebellion in the Jamestown Colony in North America, put some of the herb into their cooking pot and spent the next 11 days in a state of incoherence. The American physician and botanist Charles Millspaugh stated in 1892 that Jimsonweed was employed as "a narcotic, soothing drug" for epilepsy and neuralgia [Millspaugh, 2010]. He also noted that it was recommended as an ointment in burns and scalds, and used externally in folk medicine to treat boils and cuts. Asthma sufferers inhaled the smoke of the leaves or smoked the dried leaves for relief.

In 2008, after consuming jimsonweed, six adult family members were admitted to a hospital emergency department in Maryland with hallucinations, confusion, mydriasis, and tachycardia of approximately 3-4 hours duration [CDC, 2010]. About 4-5 hours earlier, all six family members had shared a meal of homemade stew and bread. A subsequent investigation by the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (MCDHHS) and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (MDHMH) determined that the stew contained jimsonweed. The poisoning incident resulted in six hospitalizations. Health-care providers and public health officials should be aware that jimsonweed poisoning can occur among many age groups, including younger persons, who typically consume the plant material for recreational purposes or persons of any age group who might unknowingly ingest the plant.

Morning glory – What’s your story?

Gliddy glub gloopy, nibby nabby noopy la, la, la, lo, lo
Sabba sibby sabba, nooby abba nabba, le, le, lo, lo
Tooby ooby walla, nooby abba naba
Early morning singing song 

[Lyrics from Good morning, Starshine from the play Hair]

The morning glory (Ipomoea purpurae) is a twining perennial vine that is cultivated in many gardens. The plant bears clusters of blue to purplish flowers and sometimes will produce white flowers. The seeds that are produced from the morning glory plant are brown or sometimes black in color. Also called ololiugui by the 16th century Mexicans, the seeds of the morning glory plant produce a hallucinogenic effect when ingested [Duke, 2002]. The active ingredient in morning glory seeds is an alkaloid called R-lysergic. The seeds also contain D-isolysergic acids. The acids are similar to ingredients found in LSD. The more seeds ingested, the greater the high.

Psychedelic or hallucinogenic substances produce a distortion in the brain of an actual stimulus [Duke, 2002]. The hallucinogenic agents of the morning glory seed affect the brain by interacting with the serotonin synapses. You can try to focus on your dog from across the room, but instead, you see every color and texture surrounding the dog as well. You cannot filter them out when “tripping.” Thus, the drug does not create a new event. Rather, it expands on what is happening at that moment. In other words, if a good event is happening, then the person ingesting the seeds may experience a good trip. Although when negative things are going on, then the person may experience a bad trip. 

Morning glory seeds will produce a heightened sense of awareness of colors, textures, and sounds. A person can experience a sensory change from one sense to another that is called synesthesia. The drug user can “hear” colors or “feel” sounds. After having ingested morning glory seeds, the hallucinations may take effect in about 3 hours.

Ingesting morning glory seeds is not all “strawberry alarm clocks” and “crystal blue persuasion.” A person can become nauseated and vomit due to ingesting too many seeds. When a person experiences a bad trip, he may need a friend to stay with him and help him get through the experience. A sense of major anxiety and panic can also occur. Sometimes a person may need to be taken to an emergency room because he can experience a psychotic episode from taking the seeds. At the emergency room, the drug user may need to be given a sedative or a tranquilizer to help him ease through the morning glory seeds' hallucinogenic effects.

Wormwood – The spirit of the green fairy
Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium L.) is a perennial herb with pale yellow flowers from which the alcoholic beverage, absinthe, is made. The name "wormwood" is derived from its anthelmintic properties, which were recognized by the ancient Egyptians [Padosch, 2006]. The medical use of the wormwood plant dates back to at least Roman times. The plant has a very bitter taste. Shakespeare referred to it in his play Romeo and Juliet [Act 1, Scene 3] in which Juliet's childhood nurse said, "For I had then laid wormwood to my dug" meaning that the nurse had weaned Juliet, then aged three, by using the bitter taste of wormwood on her nipple.
During the last century, its use was on the decline due to fears of absinthism, a syndrome allegedly caused by the wormwood-flavored spirit absinthe and more specifically because of thujone, a ketone often present in the essential oil of wormwood [Lachenmeier, 2010]. The disorder includes hallucinations, sleeplessness, tremors, and convulsions. There has been debate over whether absinthism was due to the thujone in absinthe or the alcohol contained therein (up to a whopping 150 proof!) [Padosch, 2006]. 

Absinthe – also called the spirit of the green fairy or la fée verte – has often been portrayed as a dangerously addictive psychoactive drug and hallucinogen [Padosch, 2006]. Thujone was blamed for its alleged harmful effects. By 1915, absinthe had been banned in the United States and in much of Europe, including France, Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, and Austria-Hungary. However, it has not been demonstrated to be any more dangerous than ordinary spirits. Recent studies have shown that absinthe's psychoactive properties have been exaggerated [Kröner, 2005]. Nevertheless, wormwood is a poisonous plant and should not be consumed in large quantities. Illegally, wormwood is often smoked in tandem with cannabis to exaggerate the effects of the high.

Peyote – the magic mushroom
Peyote (Lophophora williamsii) is a small cactus found only in the Chihuahuan Desert of southern Texas and northern Mexico [McLaughlin, 1973]. The tops of the cactus can be dried to form “mescal buttons,” which are well known for their hallucinogenic effects and contain the alkaloid mescaline, among others. The hallucinatory effects vary greatly among individuals and even for a particular individual from one drug experience to the next. The variations seem to reflect such factors as the mood and personality of the individual and the setting in which the drug is administered. Hallucinations are usually visual, less often auditory. Side effects include nausea and vomiting. Peyote, like most other hallucinogenic drugs, is not considered to be addictive and is reputed by cultists and some observers to promote morality and ethical behavior among the Native Americans who use it ritually.

The ritual use of the Peyote cactus has occurred for at least 5700 years by Native Americans in Mexico [El-Seedi, 2005]. Upon early contact, Europeans noted the use of peyote in Native American religious ceremonies. Additionally, alternative mescaline-containing cacti such as the San Pedro have a long history of use on the South American continent, spanning from Peru to Ecuador.

In traditional peyote preparations, the top of the cactus is cut at ground level, leaving the large tap roots to grow new 'heads' [Giannini, 1982]. These 'heads' are then dried to make disc-shaped buttons and the buttons are chewed to produce the effects or soaked in water to drink. In modern times, users will often grind it into a powder and pour it into gel capsules to avoid tasting the bitterness of the cactus. The usual human dose is 200–400 milligrams of mescaline sulfate or 178–356 milligrams of mescaline hydrochloride. The average 76 mm (3 in) button contains about 25 mg mescaline.

The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act made mescaline illegal in 1970 [DEA, 2018]. The drug was prohibited internationally by the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances and is categorized as a Schedule I hallucinogen by the Controlled Substance Act (CSA). Mescaline is legal only for certain religious groups (such as the Native American Church) and in scientific and medical research. While mescaline-containing cacti of the genus Echinopsis are technically controlled substances under the CSA, they are commonly sold publicly as ornamental plants.

Books written about personal experiences while on mescaline include The Doors of Perception (1954) by Aldous Huxley, The Basketball Diaries (1974) by Jim Carroll, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971) by Hunter S. Thompson, and Nausea (1938) by Jean-Paul Sartre. 

The bottom line 

Using drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, is understandable because they directly stimulate the brain’s reward centers. What is less easy to explain is the appeal of psychedelic drugs such as LSD and psilocybin that produce altered states of consciousness. People who use hallucinogens say they have found God, they have discovered the key to understanding the universe, and have even traveled back and forth through time. Of course, all of the aforementioned drugs can kill in the quest for a higher plane. People on LSD have jumped from windows. Drug pushers lace heroin with fentanyl. Alcohol has all sorts of problems, especially when one decides to drive their car after 6 martinis. Do the laws exist to protect people from drugs or to protect people from themselves? Are the laws that save us from ourselves fair and just? 

Getting high has a purpose in the human experience. Only each individual can identify why he embarks on that trip. Whatever the reason, go into it with at least one eye wide open.

And now a word from Captain Buzzkill >>>This article is for informational purposes only. The author does not condone, recommend, or advise anyone to use these plants for either medical or recreational purposes. 

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.com. Read more at www.rx-press.com

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Jimsonweed poisoning associated with a homemade stew - Maryland, 2008. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2010;59:102-4.

Cruz A, Domingos S, Gallardo E, Martinho A. A unique natural selective kappa-opioid receptor agonist, salvinorin A, and its roles in human therapeutics. Phytochemistry. 2017 May;137:9-14. 

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Diversion Control Division. 2,5-Dimethoxy-4-(n)-propylthiophenethylamine (Street Names: 2C-T-7, Blue Mystic, T7, Beautiful, Tripstay, Tweety-Bird Mescaline). 2018. Available at: https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov 

Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Museum. Cannabis, coca, and poppy: Nature’s addictive plants; 2019. Available at: https://www.deamuseum.org/ccp/opium/history.html 

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