Article

Mescaline and the San Pedro cactus ritual: Archaeological and ethnographic evidence in northern Peru

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  • Raigmore Hospital, Inverness, UK
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Abstract

The San Pedro cactus contains the alkaloid mescaline and other derivates of phenethylamine with hallucinogenic properties. This cactus was used throughout history by a number of different pre-Columbine cultures and civilisations that settled in northern Peru. In this article we review the ethno-archaeological and ethno-historical evidence of the ritual use of the San Pedro cactus in the pre-Columbine cultures, and these findings are compared with the information provided by current ethnographical studies. The longer a cactus has been stored, the stronger and the higher its content in mescaline-derived alkaloids will be. Archaeological evidence has been found of the use of San Pedro for magical-religious purposes in the following pre-Columbine cultures: Cupisnique (1500 BC), Chavin (1000 BC), Moche (100-750 AD) and Lambayeque (750-1350 AD). Today's master shamans use San Pedro on altars ('mesas') erected for healing rites in order to treat enchantment and bad luck. The mesa follows a sophisticated ritual: 'levantar' (raise) or sniff tobacco with alcohol, ingest San Pedro, pinpoint the diseases, cleanse the evil and 'florecer' (flourish) the sick person. The mesa rite is performed in the early hours of Tuesdays and Fridays, which are sacred days in the Andean religions. San Pedro is sometimes replaced by an infusion of plants and seeds that contain hallucinogenic components, such as ayahuasca and the 'mishas' (Brugmansia sp.). The ancient tradition of using the San Pedro cactus for healing and hallucinogenic purposes has remained part of the culture in Andean shamanism up to the present day.

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... Entheogens are a group of substances with known psychoactive effects that are used within spiritual and religious ritual contexts, often with a goal of awakening, transcendence, and/or personal development (4). Many Native American cultures, both past and present, have drawn on their botanical knowledge and incorporated particular species into ritual, social, and medicinal practices (5)(6)(7)(8)(9)(10)(11)(12)(13)(14). There are numerous plant species native to South America that contain psychoactive compounds, and their use by ancient specialists provides significant clues concerning past knowledge systems and the importance of certain species for cultural practices (5,11,15). ...
... There are numerous plant species native to South America that contain psychoactive compounds, and their use by ancient specialists provides significant clues concerning past knowledge systems and the importance of certain species for cultural practices (5,11,15). Hallucinogenic plants, in particular, have been used in numerous American contexts to establish a bridge between society and supernatural forces (6,7,9,16,17). In South America, the ethnographic documentation of the consumption of some critical plants has been linked with a deeper history of their use by means of archaeological research (18). ...
... One significant compound we did not identify in the ritual bundle is mescaline, a phenethylamine alkaloid (3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine), which is known for its hallucinogenic effects and has a history of being used in the Americas as an entheogen (6,7,9). Echinopsis pachanoi (previously listed as Trichocereus pachanoi), also known as San Pedro cactus, is native to South America and contains mescaline. ...
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This study was performed to analyze sociocultural beliefs about epilepsy among Guaraní communities in Bolivia. People with epilepsy, their family members, the general population, and local health care personnel were interviewed about the meaning of and beliefs, feelings, and practices concerning epilepsy. Epilepsy is called mano-mano, a term that means being in a constant passage between life and death. The disease is attributed mainly to a failure to observe a fasting period and to other eating habits. Natural remedies are the most recommended treatments even though half of respondents reported that antiepileptic drugs may be effective. The concept of epilepsy as an embodied disease with natural causes appears to differ from that documented in other traditional societies. People with epilepsy do not represent a threat to the community, which seems to have an attitude aimed at their protection. Moreover, people from these communities appear to favor a combination of biomedical and traditional care systems.
... Classic psychedelic use by humans appears to be ancient (e.g., Akers, Ruiz, Piper, & Ruck, 2011;Bruhn, De Smet, El-Seedi, & Beck, 2002;Carod-Artal & Vázquez-Cabrera, 2006). Among the varied indigenous societies that have used them, classic psychedelics are widely considered sacraments for use in religious and/or healing contexts Schultes, 1969;Schultes, Hofmann, & Rätsch, 2001). ...
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... Mescaline occurs naturally in some members of the Cactaceae plant family ( Fig. 1) [28][29][30][31][32][33][34][35]. It is also found in small amounts in certain members of the Fabaceae (bean) family, including Acacia berlandieri [36]. ...
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... This makes it important to survey a wide range of tribes and to document their knowledge about neurological disorders before it is too late, as these people may be fast losing their traditional culture. 6 Some natural migraine treatments consisted of local applications of various leaves or decoctions employed as washes, and also the ingestion of oral infusions. We could identify some of these plants; however, a varied pharmacopeia and other unidentified agents were also described for migraine treatments. ...
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... The use of herbs and roots to treat epilepsy probably had an empirical origin in South America (Elferink, 1999). These American cultures developed a magical and natural therapeutic system to treat neurological diseases (Carod and Vazquez-Cabrera, 1996;Carod-Artal and Vazquez-Cabrera, 2001, 2006. ...
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Witchcraft with regard to epilepsy in ancestral indigenous cultures has been modified by the presence of white doctors so that traditional and scientific-western treatments coexist. To analyze traditional anti-epileptic treatment and the basis of the relevant magic in diverse indigenous cultures in Central Africa and in Central and South America. Transcultural analysis of the Bassá, Fufulve and Bambiliké tribes (Log-bikoy, Camerun), Wangoni (Songea, Tanzania), Guarani (Paraguay) and Maya Tzeltal (Chiapas). In traditional Africa epilepsy is linked to the evil eye. In the Wangoni tribe the curative ritual requires complete shaving of the entire body using glass, or banishment of the person causing the evil influence. In the Bassá and Bambiliké, burns are a common complication and epilepsy is known as the disease of people with burns. In Meso-american culture epilepsy is caused by some abuse suffered by the animal soul which accompanies the person involved, following a battle between the naguales or spirits who serve the forces of Good and Evil. Traditional indigenous medicine employs herbal remedies, rituals, spiritual cures or combinations of all these. More than 80% of the epileptic patients of the Third World use only these remedies. The mythical concept of the disease is the basis for interpretation of epilepsy in traditional indigenous cultures. The psychological benefit obtained from the traditional therapeutic model has made this necessary and complementary to western-style treatment.
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Archaeological investigations in northeast Mexico and Trans-Pecos, Texas have shown that the use of psychotropic drugs in this region goes back to around 8500 BC. The aboriginal inhabitants of this ...
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A wide range of fungi and medicinal herbs, rich in hallucinogenic substances and widely used for mystic and medicinal purposes, can give rise to neurotoxic symptoms. We review the toxic syndromes that can arise from the ingestion of hallucinogenic fungi, cacti and plants, together with descriptions of cases of acute poisoning resulting from the use of medicinal herbs and from foodstuffs that are contaminated by mycotoxins. A series of different psychedelic fungi belonging to the Psilocybe, Panaeolus and Stropharia genera contain hallucinogenic alkaloids such as psilocybin. Some of the most notable plants displaying hallucinogenic and sedative properties are Papaver somniferum, Erytroxylum sp. and Cannabis sativa. Infusions of ayahuasca are obtained from the lianas and roots of different plants with psychoactive properties, such as Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis, which contain alkaloids derived from tryptamine and from the beta carboline harmala. Peyote, a cactus rich in mescaline, and Claviceps purpurea (a fungus rich in LSD) are strong hallucinogens. We also examine ergotism and mycotoxicosis from Arthrinium sp. Poisoning from mycotoxin containing moulds on sugar cane can give rise to encephalopathy and late dystonia. Some of the more noteworthy medicinal plants for which neurological toxicity has been reported are Hypericum perforatum, kava kava (Piper methysticum), Aconitum sp. and Callilepis laureola. Because of the increasingly more widespread consumption of herbs and fungi and their potentially neurotoxic effects, in clinical practice there is a need to be aware of the neurological syndromes deriving from their use.
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Agurell has previously detected (tlc, glc-ms) tyramine, 3-methoxytyramine, and two unknown alkaloids in the Peruvian cactus, Trichocereus peruvianus Br. and R. The presence of mescaline in other similar Trichocereus species prompted us to reinvestigate this species, which is commercially available in the United States. The nonphenolic alkaloid extracts yielded an abundance of crystalline mescaline hydrochloride (0.82% yield) and a trace of 3,4-dimethoxyphenethylamine (tlc-ms). Crystalline tyramine hydrochloride, 3-methoxytyramine hydrochloride, and 3,5 dimethoxy-4-hydroxphenethylamine hydrochloride were isolated from the phenolic alkaloid extracts; the last compound has not been previously crystallized from nature, although it is the immediate biosynthetic precursor of mescaline. Crystalline 2-chloromescaline hydrochloride was isolated drom the nonphenolic extracts; but, as determined by mass-analyzed ion kinetic energy spectrometry, this new compound is an extraction artifact. Both 2-chloromescaline and 2.6-dichloromescaline hydrochlorides were prepared synthetically from mescaline. This cactus species has a mescaline content equal or superior to peyote and should be legally controlled as an item of drug abuse.
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A lyophilised hydroalcoholic extract of Melissa officinalis L. (Lamiaceae) has been evaluated for behavioral effects in mice. According to the traditional use of M. officinalis, sedative properties have been confirmed for low doses by the decrease of behavioral parameters measured in a non-familiar environment test (staircase test) and in a familiar environment test (two compartment test). With high doses, a peripheral analgesic activity was obtained by reducing the acetic acid-induced pain (writhing test); moreover, the plant extract induced the sleep in mice after treatment with an infrahypnotic dose of pentobarbital and potentialised the sleep induced by a hypnotic dose of pentobarbital.
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Hallucinogens can be viewed as being composed of 2 primary groups: those such as LSD, which can cause or contribute to considerable anxiety and personality disarray, but which are not physiologically very dangerous, and the physiologically dangerous hallucinogens such as PCP. The diagnosis of hallucinogen use is primarily historical, made after the diagnostic exclusion of dangerous or treatable conditions such as anatomic lesions in the CNS, metabolic aberrations, dementias, psychoses, epilepsy, and others. Obviously the diagnosis must be considered in all patients who present with hallucinations; it is also pertinent to any adolescent involved in an unexplained accident or trauma. Specific urine screens do not substitute for a careful history. These drugs, because of their mythos and ability to alter perceived reality, show no evidence of disappearing from the drug scene. Pediatricians should be vigilant in detecting their use because of the physical, emotional, and developmental dangers that hallucinogens pose to their adolescent patients.
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The medicinal uses of local flora from the Callejón de Huaylas, Department of Ancash, northeastern Perú, are reported. This geographical area has an old tradition of herbal healing. A total of 33 species have been documented through interactions with village elders, traditional doctors and herbalists. Of the 33 medicinal plant species surveyed in the Callejón de Huaylas, six have not been previously reported, seven have received only minor phytochemical coverage in the literature, and the medicinal uses of seven other plants have not been corroborated with traditional medicinal reports from around the world. The traditional medicinal uses of six medicinal plants have been corroborated with previously published reports but their biological activities have yet to be confirmed in the laboratory. The medicinal uses of four other plants have been corroborated with previously published reports and their biological activities have been confirmed in the laboratory. The purported medicinal use of three plant species could not be confirmed in the laboratory.
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Amphetamines, tryptamines, phencyclidines, tetrahydrocannabinol and substances of the ecstasy group are characterized as stimulants, hallucinogens and entactogens. The various effects of each group and their mode of action in different transmitter systems are described. 28 new compounds of the amphetamine and tryptamine series has been calculated, which exceed the hallucinogenic effects of mescaline. The different pathways of the metabolism of MDMA (ecstasy) and MDE in humans may probably explain their individual effects.
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The Kamayura tribe is made up of 300 persons living in the Alto Xingu in Mato Grosso, Brazil. Their traditional system of health care is based on the pajé, a witch doctor who uses plants and prayers for treatment. Field work was done in the Kamayura village holding successive interviews with the chief and the pajé Takumá to obtain information regarding the neurological disorders found there, the indigenous beliefs regarding illness (natural or based on witch-craft), their classification and traditional treatment based on plants. The terms employed were translated from Kamayura into Portuguese. Illness in Indians is caused by the revenge of the spirit (mama'e) of the animal killed by the huntsman. Epilepsy (Teawurup) or armadillo disease is caused when a huntsman kills an armadillo. It is treated with two roots, tsimó and wewuru, kneaded, diluted in water and applied to the eyes. An infusion of enamum root is also used. Migraine or monkey disease causes a pulsatile headache and vertigo. Mental retardation and infantile cerebral palsy are included in the ant-bear disease. Depression is treated with the plant 'iputunú'; which is applied diluted in water to the face of the patient so that he no longer sees his dead relations and may be cured. Schizophrenia or apuayat (owl disease) also occurs, but not parkinsonism or stroke. The Kamayura pajes have established a system of health-care based on magic folklore, transmitted orally and making use of traditional plants.
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Extracts of eight medicinal plants from the Callejon de Huaylas in Peru were screened for antibacterial activity in eighteen bacterial strains by the agar-diffusion method; six of these were active against a variety of bacteria.
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The results of a field study carried out in August and September 1988, in the northern Peruvian Andes are described. The area of investigation extends from Ayabaca City (about 2900m above sea level) to Haughtiness Lagunas (about 3800m above sea level) in the Ayabaca District, Department of Piura. This is the first time that this location has been the subject of an ethnobotanical investigation. We have collected 46 plant species, belonging to 20 families, used in the treatment of various diseases. For each plant, we report the common/local names, the crude drug formulation, method of preparation, dosage and claimed toxicity. The disease concept of this Andean population concerning the "hot" and "cold" aspects of diseases and the plants to treat them, is also discussed. Very important appear to be the use and knowledge of psychoactive plants, in particular "cimoras," Brugmansia and Trichocereus species.
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A wide range of plants, seeds and fruits used for nutritional and medicinal purposes can give rise to neurotoxic symptoms. We review the neurological pathology associated with the acute or chronic consumption of plants, seeds and fruits in human beings and in animals. Of the plants that can trigger acute neurotoxic syndromes in humans, some of the most notable include Mandragora officinalis, Datura stramonium, Conium maculatum (hemlock), Coriaria myrtifolia (redoul), Ricinus communis, Gloriosa superba, Catharanthus roseus, Karwinskia humboldtiana and Podophyllum pelatum. We also survey different neurological syndromes linked with the ingestion of vegetable foodstuffs that are rich in cyanogenic glycosides, Jamaican vomiting sickness caused by Blighia sapida, Parkinson dementia ALS of Guam island and exposition to Cycas circinalis, Guadeloupean parkinsonism and exposition to Annonaceae, konzo caused by ingestion of wild manioc and neurolathyrism from ingestion of Lathyrus sativus, the last two being models of motor neurone disease. Locoism is a chronic disease that develops in livestock feeding on plants belonging to Astragalus and Oxytropis sp., Sida carpinifolia and Ipomea carnea, which are rich in swainsonine, a toxin that inhibits the enzyme alpha mannosidase and induces a cerebellar syndrome. The ingestion of neurotoxic seeds, fruits and plants included in the diet and acute poisoning by certain plants can give rise to different neurological syndromes, some of which are irreversible.
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Two archaeological specimens of peyote buttons, i.e. dried tops of the cactus Lophophora williamsii (Lem.) Coulter, from the collection of the Witte Museum in San Antonio, was subjected to radiocarbon dating and alkaloid analysis. The samples were presumably found in Shumla Cave No. 5 on the Rio Grande, Texas. Radiocarbon dating shows that the calibrated 14C age of the weighted mean of the two individual dated samples corresponds to the calendric time interval 3780-3660 BC (one sigma significance). Alkaloid extraction yielded approximately 2% of alkaloids. Analysis with thin-layer chromatography (TLC) and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) led to the identification of mescaline in both samples. No other peyote alkaloids could be identified. The two peyote samples appear to be the oldest plant drug ever to yield a major bioactive compound upon chemical analysis. The identification of mescaline strengthens the evidence that native North Americans recognized the psychotropic properties of peyote as long as 5700 years ago.
Article
The Uru-Chipaya people are an ethnic group of about 2,500 people, descendants of primitive Andean cultures. Their isolation (they live at an altitude of 4,000 metres in southern Bolivia), their non-written language (Chipaya-Puquina) and their traditional way of life, clothing and customs, which are similar to those used for thousands of years, make this an unusual culture. The aim of our work was to carry out an ethnographic study of the neurological diseases experienced by these people, the way they conceive such disorders and their therapeutic approaches to them. An ethnographic field study was conducted in June 2004. A structured interview was held with a yatiri, or Chipaya healer, to allow classification of the neurological or mental diseases. Epilepsy (tukuri) is interpreted as being a consequence of an evil spirit entering through the nose. Treatment consists in drinking an infusion containing dried powdered butterfly (jesko), birds or curupancho. Achamixi (headache) is common and is treated by drinking the yatiri's fermented urine, herb tea made from the chachacoma plant and by blowing, which is done by the yatiri over the patient's head. Fright, the symptoms of which are similar to those of a post-traumatic stress disorder, is treated by a wilancha, that is, the ritual sacrifice of a llama offered to the Pachamama. Sadness, the cultural equivalent to depression, is treated with infusions made from ayrampo, a plant found in the Andean Altiplano. Psychosis (sumsu), which is treated by means of a wilancha, and mental retardation/static encephalopathy (pustkis), which are considered to be a result of a fright suffered by the mother during pregnancy, also exist. No mention was made of the existence of extrapyramidal or vascular pathologies. The cultural equivalents of certain neurological pathologies (headache, epilepsy, mental retardation, anxiety and depression) are present in this ancestral culture.
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