Other Names

Diterpene, diterpenes, diterpenoids, diterpenos

Diterpenes are not alkaloids but non-nitrogenous

natural substances composed of four isoprene

groups. They are related to the monoterpenes and

sesquiterpenes and belong to the terpene group.

Diterpenes occur in numerous plants and several

essential oils.

Some diterpenes regulate plant growth. Termites,

sponges (Spongia spongens 1.), and coelenterates

contain bioactive diterpenes that have

inhibiting effects upon certain bacteria (Buchbauer

et al. 1990, 28). There are even sweet-tasting

diterpenes, such as the natural sweetening agents

in Stevia rebaudiana (Bert.) Hemsl., the leaves of

which are used to sweeten mate (cf. Ilex

paraguariensis) .

The first psychoactive diterpene to be

discovered was salvinorin A. It is very likely that

there are other psychoactive diterpenes that have not yet been isolated, pharmacologically tested, or

chemically described. Some psychoactive alkaloids

are diterpene derivatives. Aconitine, the primary

active constituent in monkshood (cf. Aconitum

ferox, Aconitum napellus), is a diterpene alkaloid.

Diterpene alkaloids also occur in Delphinium and

Diterpenes in Psychoactive Plants

(from Buchbauer et al. 1990; Rein 1979; supplemented)

Stock Plant Distribution
Coleus blumei bicyclic diterpenes
Coleus spp. forskolin, labdanes, coleones
Crocus sativus crocetine (as glycoside)
Helichrysum spp. (cf. Helichrysum foetidum) various
Jatropha grossidentata jatrophone
Lagochilus inebrians lagochiline (diterpene alcohol)
Leonotis leonurus various
Leonurus sibiricus various
Nicotiana sylvestris Spegazz. 2,7, Il-duvatrien-4,6-diol
Nicotiana tabacum labdanes or duvanes
Nicotiana tomentosiformis Goodspeed labdanes
Nicotiana spp.  
Petunia patagonica (Spegazz.) Millan various
(cf. Petunia violacea)  
Piper auritum trans-phytol
Salvia divinorum salvinorin A, salvinorin B (clerodanes)
Scoparia dulcis labdanediterpenes
Taxus baccata 1. (cf. witches' ointments) taxines, taxol
Taxus brevifolia Nutt. taxines
Taxus canadensis Marsh. taxines
Taxus cuspidata Sieb. et Zucco taxines
Taxus wallichiana taxines


See also the entries for Coleus blumei, Salvia

divinorum, and salvinorin A.

Buchbauer, Gerhard, Helmut Spreizer, and Gabriele

Kiener. 1991. Biologische Wirkungen von

Diterpenen. Pharmazie in unserer Zeit 19 (1):


Reid, W. W. 1979. The diterpenes of the Nicotiana

species and N. tabacum cultivars. In The biology

and taxonomy of the Solanaceae, ed. J. G. Hawkes,

R. N. Lester, and A. Skelding, 273-78. London:

Academic Press.

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