Narcotic plants and stimulants have been widely used in North as well as South America even before the discovery, 'not only for the purpose of exhilaration or intoxication, but also in connection with the practice of necromancy and in religious rituals and ceremonies accompanying the initiation of boys into the status of manhood.'(Safford, 1916: Pg: 387, P.I) Narcotic plants belong to those categories of plants called Psychedelic or Hallucinogenic plants. The term 'narcotic' indicates the presence of certain chemical compounds in the plant compounds that causes the hallucinating effect. Narcotics that cause hallucinations are known by various names depending on its effects - hallucinogens being hallucination generators, psychotomimetics functioning as psychosis mimickers, psychotaraxics being mind disturbers, and psychedelics being mind manifesters.
Hallucinogenic" is the term most often used in the psychiatric research literature for these substances. (Mesner, 1998: Pg: 2, p. I) The term hallucinogens are generally used to describe the category of plants that are narcotic by nature. Though psychedelic is very commonly used in the United States, 'it combines two Greek roots incorrectly, is biologically unsound, and has acquired popular meanings beyond the drugs or their effects.' (Shultes, 2003: Pg: 5, p. III) The agrarian and non-industrial societies have always considered plants that alter the normal functions of the mind and body as sacred and holy, and hallucinogens have been considered "plants of the gods."The addictive drugs produced from narcotic plants are essentially identical in their effects on the human constitution in that they first produce an enjoyable effect and is invariably followed by an unpleasant effect. The narcotic plant compounds present in hallucinogens alter the mental state, rather than the physical, state.
The narcotic or hallucinogenic substances found in plants are mainly two groups- nitrogenous alkaloids with the chemical structure similar to neurohormones of the human brain and cannibinols that lack nitrogen and an active ingredient in cannabis or marijuana. When consumed these compounds leads to hallucinations or illusions -- seeing or sensing things that are not really present. Such hallucinations are normally temporary changes in perception of physical being, mood and thoughts. However in reality it is found that hallucinogenic or narcotic extractions often produces more effects than the hallucinogenic effect and such drugs are seldom found to have only a single effect on the human body. As in the case of all other chemicals compounds the nature of effect -- whether medicinal, narcotic, or poisonous-- depends on the dosage.
History of the Use of Narcotic Plants and Hallucinogens:
Narcotic and hallucinogenic plants has been known for its effects on mind and body since the prehistoric period and during the earlier centuries these plants were often associated with magic and religious rites and also used medicine. The extraordinary effects that these plants produced on the body and mind were considered to be the result of the existence of a divine spirit in the plant. For this reason the hallucinogenic and narcotic plants were treated as revered objects of worship and were used only by shamans, medicine men and witch doctors. The primitive men used these plants to correspond with the spirits essentially. Today the medical field use narcotic plants widely in experimental psychiatry. All through the history the list of hallucinogenic plants have been increasing and more and more narcotic plants are being added to the list as research advances in the area. Today about 60-65 species of hallucinogens are known, of which most are angiosperms and others are fungi.
The Major Narcotic Plants:
Though there are over 60 species of hallucinogens known today, the paper mainly focus on a few most narcotics of the species. The five major narcotics, which are consumed by people in one part of the world or other, are -- tobacco, opium, hemp (marijuana), betel and coca. (Author Unknown, 1858: Pg: 2, p. III) Peyote: Botanically known by the name Lophophora williamsii, Peyote is a small grey-green variety of cactus found in northern Mexico and Texas. The Native Americans extensively used peyote particularly in their religious rites. The Aztecs ardently worshiped it and peyotism even grew as a religion among Americans. The compounds that are chemically active include mescaline and peyonine, of which mescaline induces hallucination essentially visual in nature, which enables the user to foresee and predict happenings as if in spiritual union with the divine power. Consumption of peyote causes intoxication accompanied by nausea, body shivers and perspiration for about two hours after which the user normally falls into hallucination.
Ergot: Scientifically called Claviceps purpurea, Ergot is a parasitic fungus that infects grains such as wheat, and consuming the infested grains leads to a lethal disease called ergotism or St. Anthony's fire. The alkaloids like ergotamines produced by Ergot causes a wide range of physical and mental effects on the users -- they induce a feeling of being on fire, cause abortions and gangrene resulting in loss of hands, arms and legs and cause convulsions leading to death.
Albert Hoffmann, a Swiss chemist added diethylamide to the lysergic acid -- the chemical nucleus of ergot alkaloids -- and the resultant was lysergic acid diethylamide, commonly called LSD, the most powerful hallucinogen ever known. LSD is said to be about 10,000 times more powerful than an equal quantity of mescaline. LSD became popular as a hallucinogen in the 1950s and it produces vivid and strongly colored hallucinations. The physical effects of LSD include increased blood pressure and body temperature, sleeplessness, listless appetite and tremors. The psychological effects are characterised by the repeated intense hallucinations
Amanita: Botanically called by the name Amanita muscaria, Amanita is a variety of mushroom found in the Northern Hemisphere, specifically in temperate regions. Amanita was the most extensively and originally used narcotic plant; being used an insecticide by rural populace and also as an inebriate by Siberian tribal people. Amanita was commonly called as 'fly-agaric' as it killed the flies immediately on ingestion. The chemical compound that brings about the hallucinating effect is muscarine and muscimole, which is about five times more reactive in comparison with ibotenic acid. The narcotic effect gives the user very bright and intense visual illusions and when consumed in high concentrations it leads to death.
Marijuana: Marijuana is supposed to be known to the Chinese around 8,500 years ago, and since its introduction in 1611 in Virgina, marijuana was cultivated as a cash crop, and was an essential raw material for the production of rope and cordage. Marijuana was largely used as a drug plant in India and China, though later the Chinese abandoned it for opium. The ancient Greeks and Romans are said to have used it for its narcotic effects. Marijuana was a sought for drug and stimulant by artists and writers in the Europe and United States in the early twentieth century and was regarded as the poor man's form of cigarette and hard liquor. Cannabinols form the active compound, the most active being tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. Nitrogen is often an essential constituent in most of the plants that alter consciousness and are generally classified as alkaloids. Marijuana is the only hallucinogenic plant that does not contain nitrogen and possess the mind-altering ability.
Marijuana offers a variety of narcotic drugs - the common marijuana, which is produced by drying and crushing the leaves and flower tops and is smoked; hashish, which is basically the resin present in newly fertilized flowers that could either be smoked or consumed as a drink or eatable. Hashish in its true form is available very rarely and is used mainly by the North African and Near East Moslems. Bhang, mainly used in India, is the weakest of the narcotics and is obtained from the dried marijuana plants. The dried green leaves are powdered and made either into a drink or into a candy -- majun -- by adding sugar and spices. Ganja, another narcotic drug extracted from marijuana plant is 2 -3 times powerful than bhang, and is made out of the dried female flower tops which are either cultivated or found in wild forests and rich in THC, with resin mostly removed from cultivated or wild types rich in THC. The resin is removed and the seeds are also powdered along with the flower tops. Ganja is mainly used in India and is either smoked with tobacco or consumed. Charas yet another narcotic drug formulation, prepared from the pure resin present in wild marijuana -- sativa sub-species indica-- leaves and stems, is over ten times more powerful than bhang and is erroneously called hashish in U.S. Charas is also commonly used in India, either inhaled or eaten along with spices.
Though people have used marijuana across the globe for over thousands of years the exact psychological and physical effects of marijuana are still not clearly understood. The effects vary from person to person and also depend on the dosage. It is reported that smoking marijuana causes physical effects including increased appetite, increased pulse and heart rate, bloodshot eyes and lack of coordination. The psychological effects include anxiety, anti-social behavior, confusion, sensory distortions,…