22 February 2013

Five Fact Friday: Psychoactive Plants and Fungi

Last year I watched a few programmes about tribal life, including those of Bruce Parry - who is always up for joining in the ceremonial aspects of tribal life. These tend to include ingestion of some type of plant that has psychoactive properties. These five facts look at the reasons and early use of these plants.
  1. Sometimes termed 'Plants of the Gods' many plants have been used by people for their psychoactive purposes for many thousands of years, primarily for ceremonial, religious or spiritual purposes.
  2. Some of the earliest evidence of people using plants for hallucinogenic purposes is that of the Peyote tribes using Lophophora williamsii around 5500 years ago. Lophophora williamsii is a spineless and rather small cactus that grows in the regions around Texas.
  3. Thought to have been written between 2000 and 1400BC, the Indian writings Atharva Veda mention cannabis as one of its 'Five sacred plants'. In religious festivals, the leaves and flowers of the female plant are infused into a drink called Bhang. But not only is this used for sacred purposes, it is also used for pain relief from battle wounds.
  4. Some species of Acacia tree have psychoactive uses with the leaves, stems and roots brewed together with other ingredients for healing, religious or ceremonial purposes. In India the fruits can be used to make an alcoholic beverage that is apparently enjoyed by both people and elephants.
  5. Psilocybin mushrooms, mainly of the genus Psilocybe are commonly known as 'Magic Mushrooms' because of their psychoactive properties. The natives of Mesoamerica have used hallucinogenic species of Psilocybe from pre-Columbian times right up to today for the purposes of religion, divination, and healing.
Benson, W. (2012) Kingdom of Plants, London, Collins.

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