Note: This article is a summary of the journal article cited as follows:
Gonçalves, J., Luís, Â., Gallardo, E., & Duarte, A. P. (2021). Psychoactive Substances of Natural Origin: Toxicological Aspects, Therapeutic Properties and Analysis in Biological Samples. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 26(5), 1397. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules26051397
Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7961374/
Scientists from Portugal, where the possession and consumption of all drugs has been decriminalized since 2001, published a study of psychoactive substances from plants including kratom.
The plants listed are not “new”, as the researchers point out. Like kratom, they’ve been used for centuries.
Despite the term “new” referring to a recent appearance, the truth is that some of these compounds have existed for decades, but they only became available on the market more recently, and consequently, their commercialization is not yet regulated
Despite traditional use, the paper seems to call for an urgency in regulation and the establishment of drug testing for these new compounds. Certainly when traditional plant medicines enter a new population, there is abundant potential for misuse. American kratom consumers are eating far more kratom than was ever consumed traditionally. Many of the plants on the list, like Jimsonweed, might produce dangerous outcomes like severe psychosis or death if they are misused.
However, as with all psychoactive substances across the board, most outcomes are positive. On the whole, consumers have shown the ability to self-regulate when consuming psychoactive plants, if they are afforded the freedom to access a clean supply. But that depends on whether consumers can overcome hurdles put in place by special interests who profit from prohibition, over-regulation, or the prohibitory expense of developing these plants and making their alkaloids available only as pharmaceutical drugs.
Plants on this list beside kratom include:
Areca nut Areca catechu: The fruit of the tree originating in Malaysia and Sri Lanka, now growing in other continents, consumed for “stimulating, relaxing or aphrodisiac effects”. Arecoline is the “main psychoactive compound” that functions as a GABA inhibitor. This is available on Ebay.
Morning glory Argyreia nervosa: The psychoactive compound lysergamide (LSA) comes from the seeds which can be purchased legally in the US as morning glory or Hawaiin Baby Woodrose seeds. LSA is similar to LSD but with weaker psychoactive effects.
Ayahuasca: This one is popular now, with celebrities and other American tourists going on trips to the Amazon to pay a shaman to help them trip in the Amazon. It’s made from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and Psychotria viridis leaves and brewed into a brown liquid that makes people vomit their guts out and trip really hard. The main hallucinogenic compound is the N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) in the leaves. But the DMT needs a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) to be active, and that’s what you get from the vine.
Khat Catha edulis: Leaves from East Africa that are chewed for stimulant effects. Although side effects are listed, the traditional chewing of khat seems to produce very little harm, on par with coca leaf chewing in South America or tobacco chewing in the United States. Active compounds in khat are called cathinone. Synthetic cathinones were the ingredients produced and sold as “bath salts”, and blamed in the US, with zero evidence of course, for everything from robberies to cannibalism.
Jimson Weed Datura stramonium: If you live in the US, you probably have some in your backyard. Unfortunately the toxic effects are at such a low dose that it serves as more of a poison than a medicine. The study mentions the plant was used traditionally by Pueblo Indians as a topical pain medication but other histories point to use in ceremonial and initiation rituals. Wild and very real reports of acute psychotic hallucinations (the not fun kind) and even deaths have been reported about misuse of jimson seeds. The main alkaloids are scopolamine and atropine. The seriousness posed by the misuse of plants like jimson weed is why we shouldn’t “cry wolf” about plants like kratom. A very small amound of datura seeds pack a punch. Even notorious journalist and psychonaut Hunter S. Thompson said of jimson weed, “I only did it twice.”
Mandrake Mandragora officinarum: Like jimson weed this plant contains atropine and scopolamine, and also hyoscyamine. Consuming it
can compromise the autonomic nervous system, resulting in an anticholinergic action and, consequently, reducing neuronal activity mediated by acetylcholine . Thus, effects such as dry mouth, urinary retention, increased heart rate, mydriasis and decreased secretions are described. In more extreme cases, its consumption can induce coma or even cause death. Thus, the use of this plant is controlled both in the United States of America and in Europe, with the imposed measures being very restrictive
Peyote Lophophora williamsii: Hallucinogenic cactus used legally to this day in religious ceremonies by Native Americans of the Southwest. The main psychoactive compound in mescaline. The study points out that peyote can also be used “to treat fever, labor pain, toothache, diabetes, blindness, breast pain and skin diseases”.
Kava Piper methysticum Forst: Legal in the US and most of the world, kava produces anxiety relief and a mild euphoric but clear buzz. Some studies have shown that heavy consumption can cause liver damage. Leaves and stems are used to make a liquid drink that’s used in social events traditionally on the island of Fiji and other islands of the South Pacific.
Mushrooms of the psilocybe genus Shrooms are becoming decriminalized in cities around the US and increasing studied for their positive psychological outcomes. The main compound is psilocybin. These were initially used in healing rituals by Aztec shaman and popularized in the mid 20th century in modern Western nations by R. Gordon Wasson after he visited Maria Sabina, a shaman in the Oaxaca region of Mexico. Clean psychedelic effects, a short trip compared to LSD, and mostly positive outcomes characterize the mushroom experience.
Salvia divinorum Salvia comes from Oaxaca and was also consumed in Aztec healing rituals. Salvinorin A is the main psychoactive compound but there’s an alphabet of salvinorin compounds. The study mentions “extraordinary illusions and a feeling of physical and mental displacement” which is correct. These usually last for a very short amount of time, about 5-15 minutes, much like a DMT trip. It was outlawed in the US after the rising popularity of YouTube videos of young people smoking salvia easily contributed to a drug hysteria created around the plant.
What does this study say about kratom?
M. speciosa has been used for several years by rural workers and peasants in Asian people for reducing fatigue and increasing productivity at work, coughing, pain, fever, diarrhea, hypertension and diabetes. More recently, it began to be consumed in a recreational context in Europe and the United States of America
There’s that word, “recreational”. Forget that most people in the US and Europe report that they also consume kratom for the same reasons as it has been traditionally consumed. But the information is mostly accurate, and the study does mention that “The use of this substance for substitution treatment in chronic opioid users has also been reported”.