Proceedings: Plant Sciences

, Volume 93, Issue 3, pp 281–304 | Cite as

Psychoactive plants in need of chemical and pharmacological study

  • Richard Evans Schultes


Reports on the inebriating properties of plants—some employed in magico-religious ceremonies of primitive societies in various parts of the world—continue to appear. Their sources are many: reports of travellers, anthropological writings, historical documents, herbarium specimens and others. The diversity and wide occurrence of the reports have tended to keep them from the scrutiny of investigators who might have studied the plants for the ascertainment of their active principles.

In an effort to focus attention on some of these presumably psychoactive plants, the following notes are offered. Only those species which seem most urgently in need of attention are listed. There are others which appear to be promising albeit not of such immediate interest because of the vagueness of the ethnobotanical reports of their use or because of extreme difficulty in procuring sufficient supplies of the plant for phytochemical study. Even though the number of species listed below is limited, it is obvious how much remains to be done in the interdisciplinary study of biodynamic plants.

A very recent survey of natural hallucinogens has pointed out that more than 200 species of higher plants comprise the study, that they are widely distributed in the plant kingdom (146 genera in more than 50 families) and that the active principles are known for only about 45 species (Schultes and Farnsworth 1980)Bot. Mus. Leaft., Harvard Univ.28 (186–190). This survey attributes the lack of chemical knowledge of these plants to two causes: (i) the lack of good animal models which the chemist can utilize in monitoring his isolation work; and (ii) the paucity of field work of scientific trustworthiness in fast disappearing aboriginal societies. The survey ends with the statement that the “… Plant kingdom remains a fertile and almost virgin territory for those interested in the discovery of new psychoactive drugs, not to mention other types of biologically active compounds waiting in silent hiding.”

The extreme paucity of phytochemical studies on these plants of very significant use in primitive societies emphasizes one of the most important results from ethnobotanical investigations: the ability to orient chemical analyses along lines of biodynamically useful species.


Psychoactive plants Dictyonemataceae Lycoperdaceae Gramineae Cyperaceae Araceae Amaryllidaceae Moraceae Zingiberaceae Orchidaceae Fumariaceae Leguminosae Rutaceae Malpighiaceae Coriariaceae Sapindaceae Malvaceae Cactaceae Ericaceae Desfontainiaceae Labiatae Solanaceae Acanthaceae Bignoniaceae Rubiceae Campanulaceae Compositae 


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Copyright information

© Indian Academy of Sciences 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard Evans Schultes
    • 1
  1. 1.Botanical Museum of Harvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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