Thursday, 30 June 2016

Flavonoids: The over looked ingredients in potency

This article was first published in Dragibus Curiosa magazine, Volume 1 issue 4, Spring 2013. © Brett Lothian.

Flavonoids: The over looked ingredients in potency

We all know about the alkaloids in psychoactive brews such as Ayahuasca and Cimora. However, is there an overlooked ingredient in some of the plants utilized, which have been previously thought to not be psychoactive or the psycho-activity being attributed solely to the alkaloids? The answer is a resounding yes and that ingredient is flavonoids.

I was led onto this line of research by the San Pedro and Mescaline presentation by Keeper Trout at the 2011 Entheogenesis Australis. Trout states that in regard to Trichocereus bridgesii, bioassay accounts often report more potency than is suggested by the published literature and that anecdotal claims exist suggesting interaction with some additional active component; possibly a MAOI. He further states that this is not supported by the published literature, but it also does not appear to have been examined yet. This is no surprise as the ridiculous ‘War on Drugs’ has drastically curtailed proper scientific research into these plants and substances, to the great detriment of us all.

Trichocereus bridgesii
With this in mind, I started researching what else could be contained in Trichocereus bridgesii that explains the reported increase in potency, outside of the well-known alkaloids. I came across  numerous reports that Trichocereus bridgesii contained the flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol, which act as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor or MAOI for short. Further research confirmed that both quercetin and kaempferol do in fact act as short term reversible Monoamine oxidase inhibitors, as well as having numerous other benefits such as anti-allergy, anti-cancer, anti-bacterial, anti-arthritis and anti-viral activity. Furthermore, it is also useful in treating neurodegenerative disorders, coronary heart diseases, diabetic complications, eye disorders, gout, osteoporosis, prostatitis and peptic ulcers.


Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) are chemicals which inhibit the activity of the monoamine oxidase enzyme family. They have a long history of use as medications prescribed for the treatment of depression. Because of potentially lethal dietary and drug interactions, monoamine oxidase inhibitors have historically been reserved as a last line of treatment, used only when other classes of antidepressant drugs have failed. New research into MAOIs indicate that much of the concern over their dangerous dietary side effects stems from misconceptions and misinformation. In addition, despite proven effectiveness of this class of drugs, it is underutilized and misunderstood in the medical profession. New research also questions the validity of the perceived severity of dietary reactions, which has historically been based on outdated research. Personally, I have never had a negative interaction from using MAOIs despite eating reportedly dangerous foods in interaction. It may be that my system is less prone to negative interactions and care should be taken none the less.

MAOIs act by inhibiting the activity of monoamine oxidase; thus, preventing the breakdown of monoamine neurotransmitters and thereby increasing their availability. There are two isoforms of monoamine oxidase, MAO-A and MAO-B. MAOA preferentially deaminates serotonin, melatonin, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. MAO-B preferentially deaminates phenylethylamine and trace amines. Dopamine is equally deaminated by both types. The early pharmaceutical MAOIs inhibited monoamine oxidase irreversibly. When they react with monoamine oxidase, they permanently deactivate it, and the enzyme cannot function until it has been replaced by the body, which can take about two weeks.

Flavonoids that act as MAOIs are reversible, meaning that they are able to detach from the enzyme to facilitate usual catabolism of the substrate. The level of inhibition in this way is governed by the concentrations of the substrate and the MAOI. In addition to reversibility, MAOIs differ by their selectivity of the MAO receptor. Some MAOIs inhibit both MAO-A and MAO-B equally. Other MAOIs have been developed and found to target one over the other.

Quercetin and kaempferol have been shown to have the ability to selectively inhibit MAO-A. Harmaline found in Peganum harmala, as well as the Ayahuasca vine, Banisteriopsis caapi, and Passiflora incarnataare also reversible inhibitors of MAO-A. MAO-A inhibition reduces the breakdown of primarily serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine; selective inhibition of MAO-A allows for tyramine to be metabolized via MAO-B. Agents that act on serotonin, if taken with another serotonin enhancing agent, may result in a potentially fatal interaction, called serotonin syndrome. Also irreversible and unselective inhibitors (such as older pharmaceutical MAOIs) of MAO can create a hypertensive crisis as a result of tyramine food interactions and is particularly problematic with older pharmaceutical MAOIs.

Trichocereus bridgesii
Tyramine is broken down by MAO-A and MAO-B, therefore inhibiting this action may result in excessive build-up of it and so diet must be monitored for tyramine intake. MAO-B inhibition reduces the breakdown mainly of dopamine and phenethylamine so there are no dietary restrictions associated with this. MAO-B would also metabolize tyramine, as the only differences between dopamine, phenethylamine, and tyramine are two phenylhydroxyl groups on carbons 3 and 4. Two MAO-B drugs, selegiline and rasagiline have been approved by the FDA without dietary restrictions, except in high-dosage treatment, wherein they lose their selectivity.

Several flavonoids have been identified as inhibitors of MAO-A and MAO-B. The flavonols kaempferol and quercetin and the flavones apigenin and chrysin were isolated from a standardized Gingko biloba extract. All four flavonoids were identified as MAO-A inhibitors with IC50 values of: kaempferol (0.7 μM), apigenin (1 μM), chrysin (2μM) and Quercetin (5 μM). Phenelzine, a non-selective and irreversible inhibitor of MAO was used as a reference compound (IC50 value 0.04 μM). Quercetin was isolated from heather (Calluna vulgaris) and identified as a MAO-A inhibitor with an IC50 value of 18 μM. In the same assay clorgylin, a selective MAO-A inhibitor, had an IC50 value of 0.2 μM.

In another study it was reported that quercetin is a selective MAO-A inhibitor with an IC50 value of 0.01 μM for MAO-A and 20 μM for MAO-B. Quercetrin, isoquercetrin, rutin and quercetin isolated from Melastoma candidum (Melastomataceae) were shown to inhibit MAO-B with IC50 values of 19, 12, 4, 11 μM, respectively, in an assay where deprenyl (a selective MAO-B inhibitor) had an IC50 value of 19 μM. The flavan-3-ols catechin and epicatechin were isolated from Uncaria rhynchophylla (Rubiaceae) and found to inhibit MAO-B with IC50 values of 89 and 59 μM, respectively, while deprenyl had an IC50 value of 0.3 μM. Two flavonoids isolated from Sophora flavescens (Fabaceae) exhibited monoamine oxidase inhibitory activity: formononetin an isoflavone with IC50 values of 21 μM (MAO-A) and 11 μM for MAO-B and the flavanone kushenol with IC50 values of 104 μM (MAO-A) and 63 μM for MAO-B.

Naringenin was isolated from Mentha aquatica (Lamiaceae) in a bioassay-guided fractionation process. The IC50 value for MAO-A inhibition was 955 μM and 288 μM for MAO-B in an assay where the IC50 value of clorgylin was 0.0003 μM and 0.1 μM for deprenyl. In a recent study the inhibitory effects of pure anthocyanidins on MAO-A and MAO-B activity was investsigated. The following IC50 values were obtained for MAO-A and MAO-B inhibitory activity, respectively: malvidin (22 μM and 19 μM), pelargonidin (27 μM and 43 μM), cyanidin (30 μM and 32 μM), peonidin (31 μM and 22 μM), petunidin (32 μM and 43 μM), delphinidin (35 μM and 31 μM). In the same study different glycosides and diglycosides of the above mentioned anthocyanidins were also studied with IC50 values in the range of 29-117 μM for MAO-A inhibition and 31-242 μM for MAO-B inhibition.

Gingko biloba
All of the active flavonoids identified in the above possess inhibitory activity on MAO-A, MAO-B or both. Furthermore, this inhibitory activity is not confined to a single flavonoid class as all the classes are represented. This got me thinking that perhaps flavonoids could be employed to boost the effectiveness of psychoactive cacti other than Trichocereus bridgesii and psychoactive brews in general. Bioassay has shown this to be the case, with green tea, gingko biloba and onion leaves being utilized to great success.

It was then that I realised, perhaps the native people who traditionally utilized these plant brews could well have already discovered this action long ago. Maybe the traditional admixture plants that have been previously thought to be inactive were in fact active; just not in the way we had expected. As it turns out, this is very much the case. The list of traditional admixture plants to psychoactive brews is almost endless and contains far too many to mention here. Many of them have not been studied in any meaningful way, but from the plants that have been studied and plants in the same families, flavonoids are very common. In fact, flavonoids are present in almost all terrestrial plants. 

Fruits and vegetables particularly citrus fruits, apples, onions, parsley, tea, red wine, etc. are the primary dietary sources of Quercetin. Olive oil, grapes, dark cherries, and dark berries such as blueberries and bilberries are also high in flavonoids including Quercetin. Studies were conducted on the flavonoids (Myricetin, Quercetin, Kaempferol, Luteolin and Apegenin) contents of 62 edible tropical plants. The highest total flavonoids contents were found in onion leaves (1497 mg/Kg Quercetin, 391 mg/kg Luteolin and 832 mg/kg Kaempferol) followed by semambu leaves, bird chillies, black tea, papaya shoots and guava. Major flavonoids content in these plant extract is Quercetin, followed by Myricetin, and Kaempferol. In vegetables, Quercetin glycosides predominate but glycosides of Kaempferol, Luteolin and Apegenin are also present. Fruits contain almost exclusively Quercetin glycosides, whereas Kaempferol and Myricetin glycosides are found only in trace quantities. 
Trichocereus bridgesii monstrose 'Penis plant'
Quercetin also seems to work better when it is used in conjunction with Bromelain, a digestive enzyme found in pineapple. This also likely plays a role in many of the mostly plant based
‘Dieta’ undertaken, sometimes for a week or more before psychoactive brews are taken ceremonially in traditional cultures. It stands to reason that loading the body beforehand with high amounts of flavonoid containing plants would only help the MAOI process, effectively boosting the potency of the psychoactive brew once it was administered.

About the author: Brett Lothian is an Australian author, professional arborist, market gardener and ethnobotanist. He is the author of the Tricho Serious Ethnobotany blog, the creator of the Trichocereus cacti appreciation group, the Peyote appreciation group and ethnobotany appreciation society on facebook.

San Pedro and Mescaline - Keeper Trout

The Encyclopaedia of Psychoactive Plants - Christian Ratsch 

Flavonoids and the CNS - Anna K. Jäger and Lasse Saaby

Quercetin, a versatile flavonoid - Dr. Parul Lakhanpal, MD and Dr. Deepak Kumar Rai, MD

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Trichocereus Potency: A basic guide for getting the most out of San Pedro

This article was first published in Volume 2 - Issue 2 of Dragibus Curiosa magazine, winter 2014. © Brett Lothian.

Trichocereus Potency: A basic guide for getting the most out of San Pedro

There is a lot of myth and conjecture as to the varying potency levels of Trichocereus cacti and the reasons for it. Often anecdotal evidence does not match the published literature and just as often the published studies are taken as gospel for entire varieties of the Trichocereus species, despite a very limited sample size having ever been tested. Let’s take a look at all the factors involved and try and get to the bottom of this.

First and foremost is genetics. Trichocereus pachanoi, peruvianus, bridgesii, macrogonus, scopulicola, terscheckii, valida, werdermannianus, taquimbalensis, tacaquirensis, pallarensis, santaensis, puquiensis, riomizquensis, uyupampensis, cuzcoensis, fulvilanus and schoenii have all tested positive for mescaline. Of these species, the most promising appear to be Trichocereus pachanoi, peruvianus, bridgesii, macrogonus, scopulicola, terscheckii, valida, werdermannianus, taquimbalensis, tacaquirensis, pallarensis, santaensis, puquiensis, riomizquensis and schoenii, having all tested above merely a trace amount of mescaline.

Other plants that have not been tested also show potential based on bioassay and very similar morphology to the other known mescaline containing Trichocereus cacti, such Trichocereus escayachensis, huanocoensis and the plant known as T. Cordobensis. Although T.cordobensisis is not a recognized name, it may be a variety of T. scopulicola, or possibly Ritters T. crasicostatus which he described as being a longer spined  scopulicola type plant.

Trichocereus cordobensis aka Super Pedro
But now it gets a little trickier. Amongst the proven mescaline containing Trichocereus the actual amount of mescaline can vary wildly. Even in different parts of the same plant, let alone across a seed batch or the variety. Different subvarieties of pachanoi for instance have tested at up to 6% and whilst others test as low as zero. So just having one of the known mescaline containing varieties such as a pachanoi does not guarantee a potent plant. But at least it gives us somewhere to start.

Luckily the traditional use of these plants, and the ever growing popularity of entheogenic cacti, has led to a growing body of anecdotal evidence that can help us narrow things down a little. Generally speaking, the most popular of the Trichocereus cacti for entheogenic purposes have been  Trichocereus pachanoi, peruvianus and bridgesii. Although the consensus regard Trichocereus scopulicola, macrogonus, terscheckii, and cordobensisas being of near to equal potency. Others may very well also be but bioassay reports are lacking and far more research needs to be done, particularly of the rarer varieties that show a lot of promise such as Trichocereus valida.

Trichocereus valida
So this leaves us with Trichocereus pachanoi, peruvianus, bridgesii, scopulicola, cordobensis, macrogonus and terscheckii. From here, for purely ethno-botanical purposes we can eliminate Trichocereus terscheckii in the west as it is has a much slower growth rate than the others and is therefore much less suited for ethno-botanical use. Unless, of course, you are lucky enough to live in the Bolivian Andes and have an abundant supply locally. Please do not let this discourage you from growing Trichocereus terscheckii (nor any of the other Trichocereus), as they are magnificent plants in their own right and are well worth growing simply for their beautiful, serene presence alone. They are just not as suited to the purposes we are discussing here.

Now that we have narrowed down our list to a few popular and renowned species, we have to look a little closer. As previously stated just because you have, for instance a pachanoi, it does not necessarily mean that you have a potent plant. So how do we tell if we have a potent plant? Well there’s one tried and true method, make a brew! But obviously this does not help us when we are purchasing a plant in the first place. And no one wants to drink a disgusting tasting brew that will have little to no discernable effect, especially with the likely puking involved. You really want to avoid that if at all possible.

Trichocereus terscheckii 'Short Spined'
Each variety presents its own  problems but some much more so than others. Generally speaking Trichocereus bridgesii, macrogonus, scopulicola and cordobensis all seem to be the most consistently potent plants with pachanoi and peruvianus varying wildly. This can often be explained by the confusion surrounding their taxonomy. A very wide variety of very different looking plants have all been classed as pachanoi, peruvianus and also for that matter with macrogonus. Whilst bridgesii, scopulicola and cordobensis all look to be relatively homogenous in their appearance by comparison.

Luckily despite the many very different looking subvarieties of macrogonus, they all appear to be relatively potent. This seems to be the general consensus. I’ve never personally come across a report of an inactive macrogonus (nor bridgesii, scopulicola or cordobensis for that matter) but of course it is quite possible. Most subvarieties of macrogonus being sold are almost, if not identical to the originally described peruvianus from Matucana that has proven to be consistently potent. These are the fat blue peruvianus with the large areoles. They are quite hard to mistake and amazingly beautiful.

Trichocereus macrogonus
The other main type of macrogonus you see is more akin to the originally described macrogonus being fat, brilliantly blue but with much smaller areoles. This type also seems to be consistently potent. There are a few other types of macrogonus getting around in particular from Karol Knize but their correct identification cannot be assured as Mr. Knize has an extremely bad reputation for ripping people off, misidentification and mislabelling. Also from the pictures I’ve seen of his set up there is absolutely nothing to stop cross pollination.

This applies to any Trichocereus you see named with a “KK” attached to it and as so, has to be regarded as extremely suspect. That is not to say that he always gets it wrong. Quite often he is right in his identification and has made an extremely significant contribution to the world of cacti in general. I for one love his plants even though I have no idea what many of them actually are. As a general rule, it’s a good idea not to eat anything you cannot confidently identify.

This problem particularly applies to Trichocereus peruvianus and to a lesser extent Trichocereus pachanoi. A large number of the peruvianus and pachanoi subvarieties being sold originate with Karol Knize. Does this mean we eliminate Trichocereus pachanoi and peruvianus? No. It just means you have to get the right ones, this is where being able to identify certain traits becomes important. With Trichocereus peruvianus the main thing you will have to be able to identify is the difference between the originally described plant (being the subvariety found around Matucana in Peru) and the more Trichocereus cuzcoensis type plants.

Trichocereus peruvianus 'Rosei 2'
There are numerous natural intergrades and hybrids as well as the problems presented by hybridization in horticulture. Also many regard Trichocereus cuzcoensis as a subvariety of Trichocereus peruvianus and as so sell it as such. But as a general rule once you can identify a genuine Matucana type peruvianus you will not mistake it for anything else. The Matucana type big fat blue plants with the large areoles have consistently proven to be potent. There are also a number of other regional varieties that have a very similar appearance. These are also generally considered to be consistently potent.

The more skinny green cuzcoensis type plants are generally considered to be at best weak, to being completely inactive. No doubt some of them are active, there are reports of the local population around Cuzco, Peru using Trichocereus cuzcoensis shamanicly, but they have certainly not proven to be reliably potent at least in western horticulture. Again Karol Knize seems to be largely responsible for this, selling thousands upon thousands of seeds as being what is known as Trichocereus peruvianus “KK 242”. “KK 242” represents the collection site as being Matucana, Peru despite the vast majority of the plants grown from that seed turning out to be far more akin to Trichocereus cuzcoensis. It could be a simple mislabel, open pollinated hybrid seed being sold as what the mother was or just plain dishonesty. Some plants bearing the name “KK 242” on the other hand do actually appear to be what they are supposed to be. No doubt, only adding to the confusion.

Trichocereus peruvianus 'Rosei 1'
With Trichocereus pachanoi we encounter a similar problem. The main thing you will have to be able to identify is what is known as the “PC” or predominant cultivar pachanoi which is widely regarded to be extremely weak in potency. It also has been known as the Backeberg clone (despite showing littlein common with the plant Backeberg considered as being pachanoi that is pictured in his book Die Cactaceae) and as the “pachanot”. I personally do not like this name as it seems to me to be a little misleading. It is the predominantly cultivated pachanoi type and has always been considered a pachanoi by the experts. My investigations lead me to believe that it is the “FR 567” pachanoi collected by Friedrich Ritter in the Chan Chan Valley, Ecuador.

The problem lies in that the particular subvariety no longer appears to be extant in the wild and that it displays white hair on its flowers where the originally described plant by Britton and Rose was observed to have black hair on its flowers. In fact, the “PC” pachanoi does actually have black hairs on its flower. It is just that they bleach white in the sun quickly, where as other subvarieties usually do not or at least not to the same degree. I’ve personally observed other plants considered to be pachanoi that are quite distinct from the “PC” pachanoi also having white hair on the flowers after having been bleached in the sun.  Unfortunately, there is no one distinguishing feature that separates the “PC” pachanoi from the other subvarieties of pachanoi. But, it is reasonably easy to distinguish from the vast majority of other plants also considered to be pachanoi. It is much skinnier than the average pachanoi, but so are a few other subvarieties that are in fact quite potent.

Trichocereus pachanoi 'PC'
As a general rule though the fatter the pachanoi is, the more likely it is to be potent. Also the “PC” pachanoi seems to be far less likely to throw long spines as it ages, as many other pachanoi  subvarieties do. It is a pretty distinct plant that with practice you soon will be able to easily identify. There are other pachanoi subvarieties that are also not potent, but they are much rarer than the “PC” which is literally everywhere. Often these can be found in older gardens and appear very similar to “PC” but with slightly larger spines and a more peruvianus type body. They are very distinct from the wild long spined pachanoi types that display a peruvianus like body which have proven to be  consistently potent. In fact, it is these long spined wild type pachanoi that generally have been tested to have the highest mescaline content of all Trichocereus.

But mescaline content is not the only factor involved in Trichocereus potency. There are other factors in play, such as the mono amine oxidase inhibiting alkaloid hordenine and the mono oxidase  inhibiting flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol. MAOIs act by inhibiting the activity of the monoamine oxidase enzymes in your  stomach, thus preventing the breakdown of mono amine neurotransmitters, such as mescaline, and thereby increasing their availability to the blood stream, and therefore brain. Effectively increasing the potency greatly. Hordenine has been observed widely across the Trichocereus species, but has only been observed in Trichocereus pachanoi of the plants we have narrowed ourselves down to here.

Trichocereus pachanoi 'Yowie'
Quercetin and kaempferol have been observed in Trichocereus bridgesii. This would explain the large amount of anecdotal evidence that suggests Trichocereus bridgesii to be generally as potent, if not more potent than Trichocereus pachanoi in bioassay despite consistently testing much lower in actual mescaline content. Now, we have narrowed things down rather well. We can have a reasonable amount of certainty that if we acquire either a nice fat long spined wild type pachanoi, a beautiful fat blue type peruvianus, a bridgesii, a macrogonus, a scopulicola or a cordobensis that we will, in most likelihood, have a nice and potent plant.

But of course, it is no guarantee. From a seed batch of any Trichocereus there will be some degree of natural variation. This will also apply to the potencies of each plant. Now, if you had wanted to find out which of your plants is the most potent and cultivate it further (please do this people), one would have to try each individual plant. This will be a time  consuming project, dependant on how big the seed batch is. But well worth it! As known quality genetics is invaluable for our purposes in the ethnobotany community. Hopefully, people will take this a step further and selectively breed even more potent Trichocereus than we currently have today.

Trichocereus bridgesii
If you do not have the patience to wait a few years whilst a seed batch grows (as most people don’t) you can narrow things down even further by researching the named clones of each species. However, just because a certain clone has been named it does not always mean that it is a potent plant, or even particularly different from the average whatever it may happen to be. With a little research,  information about the potency of different named clones can be easily found online in the various ethnobotany related forums. Or you can simply ask the wider community in one of the said forums. The Trichocereus Cacti Appreciation Group is the largest and best such forum on facebook. Quite often they are excellent sources of acquiring plants. Especially plants that have proven themselves to be consistently potent.

Now that we have our nice, consistently potent Trichocereus cacti, we can look at the ways to maximize its potential. Trichocereus cacti have been found to be far more potent in winter than at other times of the year (in sub tropical conditions). During the colder months, in sub tropical conditions, they stop growing and concentrate their energy on their natural defence system against pests, the alkaloids. During this time, the plant is being stressed by the environment, which is a key factor in Trichocereus potency.

Depending on conditions, a Trichocereus can be naturally stressed in numerous ways, including extreme sun, heat, cold, lack of water and nutrients, pest and disease damage, having its stress response triggered by the release of stress hormones into the air, such as methyl jasmonate, by other plants in the direct environment, falling under its own weight or numerous other potential scenarios. The important thing is the stress to the plant, or more importantly the plants natural defence mechanism, so that it will produce more of the alkaloids, such as mescaline.

Trichocereus cuzcoensis
There are also numerous ways a person can induce the stress response of a Trichocereus artificially. Such as mimicking the environmental stresses it would encounter naturally - by withholding water and nutrients, spraying the plant with methyl jasmonate (jasmine flowers are a great source) , giving it more sun, etc. You can also physically damage the plant to induce the response by cutting repeatedly, but this also risks the chance of gaining an infection or having rot set in. The last thing you want to do is lose your newly acquired potent plant, so I do not recommend doing that. One also has to remember not to over stress a plant in an effort to increase its potency. This can cause susceptibility to disease and pests, if the plant is in too weakened a condition.

 Also it will drastically affect growth rate, which must be balanced if you want to have any cactus at all to use. The best way of going about this is to only stress the plant for a short period of time (no more than a few weeks) before harvest. And to then follow the traditional method of preparing the cutting. Or simply take the cutting during the dead of winter, if you are in sub tropical conditions, when the plant has stopped growing itself and has been naturally stressed for some time.

Trichocereus scopulicola
Traditionally, taking advantage of the plants stress response has been achieved by taking the cutting to be used and leaving it in a dark place for an extended period of time before consumption. A Trichocereus cutting, after a certain amount of time (varying from plant to plant by weeks to sometimes months), will begin to once again devote its energy to growing instead of producing more alkaloids, despite not being rooted in the ground. It will also in time send out roots in the search for water. The point of optimum alkaloid production will be just before the plant begins to grow again, and should be used at this time for its greatest possible potency. And yet, as seems to be only natural for our species, we can always take things even further.

A great way to potentiate a Trichocereus brew is to add a variety of admixture plants and substances, such as in the traditional Cimora brews. The already mentioned flavonoids, quercetin and kaempferol, are widely distributed in the plant kingdom and can be found in high quantities in the following easily obtainable plants: tea (Camellia sinensis), capers (Capparis spinosa), onion (Allium cepa) and Gingko biloba. Other flavonoids and coumarines also show promise as safe reversible short term monoamine oxidase inhibitors, thusly having the potential to increase potency. Other monoamine oxidase inhibitors, such as those found in the Ayahuasca vine harmine, harmaline and tetrahydroharmine, can also be used to effectively  increase potency. Caution should be advised when using any MAOI and please take the time to do the research about their effects, potentially dangerous side effects, and counter interactions.

Many other  types of plants and substances that are widely available will also have a potentiating effect on a Trichocereus brew. Generally speaking, almost any psychedelic plant or substance, such as Magick mushrooms, Ayahuasca, Hawaiian baby woodrose seeds or Iboga, taken in conjunction will greatly boost its effects. Also, stimulants such as coffee and Khat, as well as dissociatives such as nitrous oxide and ketamine, show great promise in this regard but should be treated with all due care and caution.

Tabernanthe iboga
The tropane alkaloid containing plants, such as Datura and Brugmansia, have often been traditionally used to potentiate the effects and to also mitigate nausea. Tropanes are especially dangerous and should under no circumstances be used without proper research into their potential dangers and safe dosage levels. Eighty five percent or more dark chocolate goes particularly well in combination. As does marijuana, which has the side benefit of also helping to mitigate nausea.

Which brings us to probably the most unfortunate side effect (depending on your point of view) of a  Trichocereus brew, namely nausea and the resultant purging. Purging is traditionally considered to be a positive part of the experience, in that it is divined to be an expelling of demons or negative energies and such things of that sort. Considering it that way could also be just a mental trick we play on ourselves to help us get past what is, let’s face it, a rather uncomfortable thing to have involuntarily happen to us. But that is outside the scope of this article. The reason I mention this is because when you purge you’re potentially wasting a large amount of the active ingredients that could have been absorbed had they stayed in the digestive system.

As previously stated the tropane alkaloids and marijuana help to relieve nausea greatly, making it possible to avoid the awful feelings of nausea and purging, as well as potentiating the psychedelic effects. Lemon essential oil also works well in this regard. It works by effectively blocking or antagonising the 5-HT3 receptor that is largely responsible for triggering feelings of nausea when agonised by serotonergic psychedelics, such as dimethlytriptamine and mescaline. This also frees up more mescaline to bind to the 5-HT2 site in the brain that is largely accredited with being responsible for the psychedelic experience. Suppressing nausea and therefore purging could however be potentially dangerous and will most certainly increase any risk of overdose.

Datura metel
Diet can also play a role in how effective, or potent if you will, a Trichocereus brew will be. Preloading the body with a mostly plant based diet high in the MAOI flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol will greatly boost a brews effectiveness. Such as is often used in the “dieta” undertaken before the use of Ayahuasca in traditional cultures. Also, fasting on the day of consumption will make a substantial difference. Any psychoactive will be more effective when taken on an empty stomach.

Lastly is, of course, dosage. The potency of your brew (once having a bona fide potent plant) will now largely depend upon how much you actually use. This will also obviously apply to any admixture plants one may happen to use, and also to how much they potentiate the active ingredients. As a very basic general rule, around one foot of cactus is usually required for a reasonable dose. However, as we all have different physiologies and reactions to plant medicines it is a wise idea to start off at small doses and work your way up. Learn your body and your reactions to the medicine. From there you can then start to utilize admixtures and start to tailor your experience as so desired. The more experience you gain working with these plant medicines the more you will know the correct dosage levels required for your system.

Please keep in mind that this article is only intended as a general guide and starting point for further research and experimentation. Set and setting should also obviously be taken into account and all due care and preparation should be undertaken before experimenting with these plants. These plants are potentially dangerous,  particularly in combination,and must be treated with the utmost respect. Also, in many countries these plants and/or ingesting them may be illegal, despite being utilized perfectly safely by traditional cultures for millennia.

Trichocereus valida

Saturday, 18 June 2016

The Cocaine Mummies Revisited

This article was first published in New Dawn Magazine issue 156, May/June 2016. © Brett Lothian.

The Cocaine Mummies Revisited
By Brett Lothian

Deep in the mists of ancient Egypt, around three thousand years ago, a priestess of the Temple of Amun, Henut Taui - The lady of the two lands, began her epic journey in the afterlife. Whilst we cannot know what became of her spirit or Ka, her mummified body remained preserved in the ancient sands of Egypt, right up until modern times, and it told of a mystery few would believe or understand.  

Henut Taui, the lady of the two lands.
Long had it been known that the priests and priestesses of ancient Egypt used various narcotic and hallucinogenic plants in their arcane rites and medicinal pharmacopia, but to what extent had never been investigated, until 1992. What was found was to be truly paradigm shaking, a supposed impossibility, a true mystery indeed. What they found was the presence of what was believed to be only New World narcotics, in ancient Egyptian mummies.

These findings came to our attention when S Balabanova, S Parsche, W Pirsig published the scientific paper, First identification of drugs in Egyptian mummies. The scientific paper showed that of the nine mummies (including Henut Taui, all dated to between 1070-395 BC) evaluated, using techniques such as the accepted hair shaft test (used in police forensics), all showed signs of cocaine, whereas all but one sample tested positive for nicotine. The concentrations of the compounds found suggested uses other than that of abuse. For example, modern drug addicts often have concentrations of cocaine and nicotine in their hair 75 and 20 times higher respectively than that found in the mummy hair samples. This would most likely suggest a medicinal or perhaps even a magical/religious use.

This was followed in January of 1995 by the scientific paper, Presence of drugs in different tissues of an Egyptian mummy by F Parsche and A Nerlich. The scientific paper showed that the biochemical findings in several internal organs from an Egyptian mummy with a Carbon 14 dating of approximately 950 BC. These analyses revealed a significant deposition of cocaine and nicotine in the tissue from the mummy. The concentration profiles additionally provide evidence for the preferential ways of consumption,  cocaine and nicotine showed their highest concentrations in the intestines and liver, so that they seem to have been consumed orally.

Unfortunately this has largely been ignored by Egyptologists and historians as patently absurd. In their minds, the ancient Egyptians simply never travelled to the Americas, so the results must be false, a result of modern contamination or the mummies themselves must be relatively modern fakes. Despite no evidence of such assertions at all and the very same hair shaft test used by S Balabanova, S Parsche, W Pirsig, being used by forensic experts as evidence in courts all around the world. As far as I’m aware, no one has been able to dispute their findings in any meaningful way, in fact they have only been corroborated.

Of course this set the alternative history scene ablaze ever since in what was seen as proof positive of ancient Egyptian contact with the Americas, as it is widely believed that cocaine and nicotine only occur in plants native to the Americas, ie the coca plant (erythroxylum coca) and tobacco plant (nicotiana tobacum). To quote Graham Hancock in his latest work Magicians of the Gods, “There is compelling evidence that long distance oceanic voyages were undertaken from Egypt during Pharonic times, for example, the presence in nine mummies of cocaine and tobacco, both indigenous American plants not previously thought to have been present in the Old World before the time of Columbus. Therefore - we must assume - the ancient Egyptians did indeed make voyages as far as the Americas”. But is this really true? Is the presence of cocaine and nicotine in ancient Egyptian mummies really proof that the ancient Egyptians travelled to the Americas?

Myself like many others were extremely excited by the news of the “cocaine mummies” and the possible implications. In my natural scepticism though, I distinctly remember asking myself at the time, if the ancient Egyptians did indeed manage to cross the Atlantic and bring back coca and tobacco plants from the New World, why are they not growing in Egypt today? Or why have we not found any plant material in archealogical excavations? The amounts of cocaine and nicotine discovered in the ancient mummies tested by S Balabanova, S Parsche, W Pirsig shows a continued use of these alkaloids over a long period of time in ancient Egyptian culture, which means a prolonged access to the plants that contain them. Also the ancient Egyptian Pharaohs were hardly bashful in proclaiming their achievements, and leaving them for posterity, usually carved in stone. So many examples of Pharonic boasting are still extant today that they are far too numerous to list here. Surely such an amazing achievement would have left some record for us to recognize today, but alas there is none. Which explains the dismissals of the Egyptologists. Another problem is, if the ancient Egyptians did indeed travel to the Americas, why just bring back coca and tobacco? Of the myriad of useful plants to be found there, surely they would bring back more than just two, like the Spanish, English and French etc did in their travels to the Americas or even found colonies as the aforementioned European nations did. Regardless of all this, there is another problem with how the ancient Egyptians managed to imbibe cocaine and nicotine over an extensive period of time, supposedly proving contact with the Americas, namely, they simply did not have to go there in the first place.

The fundemental problem with the assertion that the presence of cocaine and nicotine in ancient Egyptian mummies, proves that the ancient Egyptians travelled to the Americas, is the assumption that cocaine and nicotine containing plants only existed in the Americas at the time. This is simply not the case. Not by far. Whilst indeed cocaine containing plants such as erythroxylum coca, erythroxylum novogranatense etc and nicotine containing plants such as nicotiana tobacum, nicotiana rustica etc are native American plants, many other cocaine containing species of erythroxylum and nicotine containing species of nicotiana exist all around the world, even in Africa itself. So let’s take a look at the most likely suspects to have been utilized by the ancient Egyptians.

Erythroxylum brownianum, commonly known as the small leaf coca tree is found today in deciduous forest or scrub from Swaziland, Natal, eastern Transvaal to Mozambique in south eastern Africa. It has been and is still used today  traditionally as a medicine against cold and flu by the local inhabitants. While this plant is certainly a contender to have been utilized by the ancient Egyptians, a more likely candidate is Erythroxlym platycladum, which is found growing from northern Kenya to northern Mozambique, and also occurs in Madagascar and the Comoros islands. In fact there are literally over one hundred different types of coca plant that are native to Africa. Unfortunately no where near enough ethnobotanical study has been done on African plants and their traditional uses and the American lead “war on drugs” has made the study of coca plants worldwide almost impossible, so information about these plants is scant to say the least. But what we do know is many contain cocaine and have a tradition of medicinal use in Africa, potentially going back to Pharonic times and perhaps much, much earlier.

Erythroxylum platycladum
The only native African tobacco plant is nicotiana africana, today confined to the Brandberg, Erongo and Spitzkuppe mountains in northern Namibia. Nicotiana africana has been found to contain up to two percent nicotine, of its total alkaloid content, with nornicotine and anabasine as the primary alkaloids. While it is possible that the ancient Egyptians utilized this plant, it is impossible to prove and for the purposes of this article unnecessary. Another nicotine containing plant is known to have been utilized by the ancient Egyptians, namely acacia nilotica. In the Ebers papyrus, the oldest well preserved medical document from ancient Egyptian record, dated to approximately 1500 BC contains 110 pages on anatomy and physiology, toxicology, spells, and treatments recorded on papyrus. The papyrus also has many prescriptions showing the treatment of many disorders by animal, plant, and mineral toxins that still occur today. Acacia nilotica is recommended in the Ebers papyrus as a vermifuge (to expel intestinal worms), to ease diarrhea, internal bleeding and also to treat skin diseases. So, now we have a nicotine containing plant, known to have been utilized by the ancient Egyptians, but also known to have been taken orally as suggested by the scientific paper, Presence of drugs in different tissues of an egyptian mummy by F Parsche and A Nerlich. Also it is likely to have been used medicinally and not habitually as suggested by the scientific paper, First identification of drugs in Egyptian mummies by S Balabanova, S Parsche, W Pirsig. Just as prescribed in the Ebers papyrus.

Acacia nilotica

This is merely the beginning, various nicotine containing plants from the nightshade family (to which tobacco belongs) are native to Egypt and Africa in general, such as atropa belladonna, commonly know as deadly nightshade, which just so happens to also be mentioned in the Ebers papyrus, as being useful as a pain reliever. 

The Ebers papyrus
 Trade throughout the ancient world is known to have been quite extensive. It is well attested that ancient Egypt traded with the land known in ancient times as Kush. Kush, known to the ancient Greeks as Ethiopia was an empire originally situated between Ta-Seti in Lower Kemet and the confluence of the White and Blue Niles. Centuries later, however, the name became synonymous with a much larger region that included the present-day countries of South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Central African Republic, Chad, etc. Well within the range of cocaine containing erythroxlum species native to Africa.

What we must also remember is that the climate of Africa has changed quite considerably since ancient Egyptian times. Becoming much hotter and dryer, particularly in the north of Africa. Human activity has also altered the landscape considerably, especially mono culture farming and cattle herding. Agriculture is without a shadow of a doubt the most enviromentally destructive endeavour we humans have ever created. It is therefore likely that the ancient ranges of African plants is vastly different to that of modern times. Potentially placing cocaine containing plants much closer to Egypt itself, and perhaps even in Egypt during ancient times.

Various types of coca plants are also found throughout Asia and in India in particular, such as erythroxylum monogynum, commonly called red cedar. It is a native of India and most intriguingly its roots contain low levels of cocaine and has been used in Ayurvedic medicine to cure many diseases such as Stomachic, Dyspepsia, Fever, and Dropsy. Trade between the Indus valley civilization and Mesopotamia, which in turn traded with ancient Egypt is well attested. To list every cocaine and nicotine containing plant found throughout Africa, Asia and even just in India is beyond the scope of this article. What matters is that it is widely accepted that ancient Egypt traded either directly or indirectly with ancient cultures that could have provided cocaine and nicotine containing plants, without having to have travelled to the Americas.

Returning to the Ebers papyrus for a moment, we see that it is dated to about 1552 BC (WHI 2008), 1534 BC (Demand 2000), or 1536 (Carpenter et al. 1998), based on the passage referring to the ninth year of the reign of the Pharaoh Amenhotep I (Demand 2000). However, there is a portion of the papyrus, paragraph 856a, that suggests a considerably earlier origin, a reference to the Pharaoh Den, that would place the origin of the knowledge contained nearer to the First Dynasty, about 3000 BC (Demand 2000). For this reason, some believe it to be a copy of ancient books of the reputed father of medicine, alchemy, and pharmacy, Thoth. If it is indeed a copy of earlier works, which seems likely, it shows that the ancient Egyptians knew about the medicinal use of at least nicotine containing plants much earlier than the dates of the nine mummies tested by S Balabanova, S Parsche, W Pirsig. Interestingly the Ebers papyrus refers to at least 80 different plants that we have not yet identified, could one of those 80 odd plants be erythroxylum platycladum or some other native African coca plant? I think it highly likely considering the scale of the ancient Egyptian pharmacopia, medicinal knowledge and trading with cultures from the regions in which they still grow and are used to this day.

So where does this leave us? Do we hold on to the assertion that the presence of cocaine and nicotine in ancient Egyptian mummies proves contact with the Americas? Surely not in light of the evidence presented. The fact is that the ancient Egyptians simply did not have to travel outside of their own continent to gain access to cocaine and nicotine. They didn’t even have to leave their own country to utilize nicotine containing plants, and from the Ebers papyrus we know that they did. This leaves us yet still with intriguing lines of exploration, such as the 80 odd plants (certain identifications are disputed) that we still have not identified from the Ebers papyrus, the true extent of ancient Egyptian trade and the potential knowledge of the ancient African pharmacopia which has hardly been studied at all. The “cocaine mummies” whilst not proving ancient contact with the Americas, do prove that the ancient Egyptians were certainly curious, advanced and mature in their medicinal plant knowledge and application, no small feat in itself. Something we still have yet to accomplish today.

About the author: Brett Lothian is an Australian author, professional arborist, market gardener and  ethnobotanist. He is the author of the Tricho Serious Ethnobotany blog, creator of the Trichocereus Cacti Appreciation group, the Peyote Appreciation group and the Ethnobotany Appreciation Society group on facebook.


American Drugs in Egyptian Mummies - S. A. Wells

The Mystery of the Cocaine Mummies - Transcript of video

First identification of drugs in Egyptian mummies - S. Balabanova, S. Parsche, W. Pirsig

Presence of drugs in different tissues of an egyptian mummy - Franz Parsche, Andreas Nerlich

Erythroxylum brownianum natural medicine facts

African Plant Database, Erythroxylum platycladum

PAPYRUS EBERS, full text

Ancient Egyptian Medicine

Ayurvedic Medicinal Plants

CRC World Dictionary of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants - Umberto Quattrocchi

The Encyclopeadia of Psychoactive Plants - Christian Rätsch