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Rubiaceae (Coffee Family)

Most of the approximately 1,200 to 1,400

Psychotria species that have been described are

found in the tropical zones of Central and South

America, although a few species occur in the rain

forests of Malaysia and in New Caledonia

(Standley 1930). In the Caribbean, the seeds of

some species, e.g. Psychotria nervosa, are referred

to as wild coffee and drunk as a coffee substitute

(cf. Coffea arabica). The fruits of many Psychotria

species (P. involucrata Swartz, P. nudiceps Standley)

are regarded as poisonous (Schultes 1969, 158;

1985). N,N-DMT has been demonstrated to be

present in several species. Some contain the

alkaloid psychotridine, and others indoles (Lajis et

a1. 1993). Some species (Psychotria poeppigiana

Muel1. Arg., Psychotria ulviformes Sterm.) appear

to contain opium-like constituents (Elisabetskyet

a1. 1995, 78). The Yucatec Maya regard the Central

American species Psychotria acuminata Benth. (ixanal)

and Psychotria tenuifolia Sw. (x'anal) as

«male" and «female" counterparts and use them to

treat nervousness and sleeplessness (Arvigo and

Balick 1994, 45, 105*). In Europe, Psychotria

emetica (1. fi1.) Mutis, the Peruvian vomit plant,

was known in particular as a counterfeit for ipecac

(Cephaelis ipecacuanha [Brot.] Tussac [syn.

Psychotria ipecacuanha (Brot.) Stokes]) (Ratsch

1991a, 136f.*; Schneider 1974, 3:135f.*). The

vomit-inducing substance emetine is said to occur

in numerous Psychotria species (Fisher 1973, 231).

Psychotria brachypoda (Muell. Arg.) Britton

This Psychotria is used traditionally as a pain

medicine. The species contains active constituents

with opium-like, analgesic effects (Elisabetsky et

a1. 1995).

Psychotria carthaginensis Jacquin-sameruca

According to information provided by the

Colombian Makuna Indians, eating the fruit of

this bush will induce perceptual alterations that

can persist for days, nausea, weakness, and fever

(Schultes 1969, 158). The leaves, which contain

some N,N-DMT, are used as an ayahuasca additive

(Schultes 1985, 118).

Psychotria colorata (Willd. ex R. et S.) Muell. Arg.

This bush is known as perpetua do mato in the

Brazilian Amazon, where it is used in folk medicine

to treat ear and lower abdominal pain. The

Caboclos produce eardrops by heating the flowers

in banana leaves on hot ashes. A decoction of the

roots and fruits is drunk to treat abdominal pains.

The leaves and flowers have been found to

contain alkaloids with opium-like effects whose

structures have not yet been determined

(Elisabetsky et a1. 1995).
Psychotria poeppigiana Muel!. Arg.-oreja del

diablo (Spanish, "clevil's ear")

In Amazonia (Ecuador), the nectar of this species

is used as a traditional ear medicine. The leaves are

rich in N,N-DMT and are evidently well suited for

use as an ayahuasca additive (ayahuasca analogs)

(Rob Montgomery, pers. comm.). In the Putumayo

region of Colombia, the roots are used to treat

lung ailments (Schultes 1985, 119; Schultes and

Raffauf 1990, 395*).

Among the Ka'apor, Psychotria poeppigiana

Muel1. Arg. is called yawaru-ka'a, «black jaguar

plant;' or tapi'i-ka'a, «tapir plant" (Balee 1994,

303*). These names suggest that the plant may

be used for shamanic purposes (animal

transformation) .

Psychotria psychotriaefolia (Seem.) Standley

In the Colombian Putumayo region, the leaves of

this species are used together with Banisteriopsis

caapi to produce ayahuasca. In Ecuador, both the leaves and the fruits are used for this purpose

(Schultes 1969, 158). The addition of this plant to

the mixture is said to deepen and prolong the

visions. The leaves contain N,N-DMT. The Kofan

Indians call the plant oprito. They use this same

name to refer to the "heavenly people" that they

contact while under the influence of ayahuasca

(164). This species may be synonymous with

Psychotria viridis.

Psychotria spp.

Among the many members of the genus

Psychotria, there are certainly other species that

contain N,N-DMT and may be suitable for use as

ayahuasca additives. We already know of some as

yet undescribed members of the genus that are

used to make ayahuasca and are often called by

the name chacruna.


See also the entries for Psychotria viridis, ayahuasca,

and N,N-DMT.

Elisabetsky, Elaine, Tania A. Amador, Ruti R.

Albuquerque, Domingos S. Nunes, and Ana do

C. T. Carvalho. 1995. Analgesic activity of

Psychotria colorata (Willd. ex R. et S.) Muell. Arg.

alkaloids. Journal ofEthnopharmacology


Fisher, H. H. 1973. Origin and uses of ipecac.

Economic Botany 27:231-34.

Lajis, Nordin H., Zurinah Mahmud, and R. F. Toia.

1993. The alkaloids of Psychotria rostrata. Planta

Medica 59:383-84.

Schultes, Richard Evans. 1969. De Plantis Toxicariis e

Mundo Novo Tropicale Commentationes IV.

Botanical Museum Leaflets 22 (4): 133-64.

---. 1985. De Plantis Toxicariis e Mundo Novo

Tropicale Commentationes XXXIV: Biodynamic

Rubiaceous plants of the Northwest Amazon.

Journal ofEthnopharmacology 14:105-24.

Small, John K. 1928. Psychotria sulzneri. Addisonia


Standley, Paul C. 1930. The Rubiaceae ofColombia.

Botanical Series, vol. 8, no. 1. Chicago: Field

Museum of Natural History.

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