Rubiaceae (Coffee Family)
Forms and Subspecies
It is possible for white thorns (domatia) to develop
along the central nerve on the underside of some
chacruna leaves. South American ayahuasqueros
distinguish different forms of the plant on the
basis of the number of these thorns. Plants with
three thorns per leaf are considered to be particulady
potent, medicinal, and well suited for the
production of ayahuasca. A form with nine thorns
is regarded as the highest quality.
Psychotria psychotriaefolia (Seem.) Standley may
be a synonym (cf. Psychotria spp.).
Amirucapanga, cahua (Shipibo-Conibo), chacrona,
chacruna, chagropanga, chalipanga, hor6va
(Campa), kawa (Cashinahua/Sharanahua), oprito
(Kofan, "heavenly people))), sami ruca
It is not known when the use of chacruna in
Amazonia first began. It is presumably as old as the
use of Banisteriopsis caapi and ayahuasca. But it
was only in the 1960s that the American ethnobotanist Homer Pinkley (a student of Schultes)
first observed and described the psychoactive use
of the plant among the Kofan Indians of Colombia,
who use it as an ayahuasca additive (Pinkley 1969).
Linnaeus, who provided the first botanical description
of the genus Psychotria, derived the name
of the genus from Psychotrophum (Patrick Browne),
a term that had already been circulating in the
literature. Unfortunately, he did not provide any
reason for this action. It is quite possible that the
genus name means that it "influences the psyche))
(cf. Pinkley 1969).
The tropical bush is at home primarily in the
undisturbed forests of the Amazon lowlands but
has spread from Colombia to Bolivia and into
eastern Brazil as a result of extensive cultivation. It
is said to occur also north of the Amazon region
and into Central America (Pinkley 1969, 535).
Today, there are also plantations in Hawaii and
The plant is difficult to propagate from seed. The
seeds can require sixty days to germinate. Sometimes,
only one seed in a hundred will germinate.
In contrast, cultivation from cuttings is much
easier and more successful. A small branch needs only to be set in the ground and watered thoroughly.
Plants can be grown even from a branch
piece having only two leaves, and it is possible for
individual leaves and leaf pieces to develop into
plants. It has been claimed that a young plant once
developed from a piece of leaf that was accidentally
covered with soil. The plant requires moist,
humus-rich soil. It can survive an occasional flooding
of its location, as occurs in Amazonia (Pinkley
The evergreen bush can grow into a small tree
with a very woody trunk, but in cultivation it is
usually maintained at a height of 2 to 3 meters. It
has long, narrow, ovate leaves that are light green
to dark green in color and whose upper side is
shiny. The flowers have greenish white petals and
are attached to long stalks. The red berry fruits
contain several small ovate-oval retuse seeds
(approximately 4 mm in length). The convex side
is streaked with three parallel grooves with
Psychotria viridis is easily confused with other
Psychotria species. Psychotria psychotriaefolia in
particular is very similar in appearance and may infact be a synonym (see Psychotria spp.).
- LeavesPreparation and Dosage
The leaves must be collected in the morning and
are used both fresh and dried to manufacture
ayahuasca and ayahuasca analogs. The dried leaves
are coffee brown in color. The leaves also can be
used to produce an extract that thickens to a
tarlike mass and can be smoked.
As little as 1 ml of the juice pressed from the
fresh leaves is said to contain some 100 mg of N,NDMT
(cf. Russo 1997,6).
See ayahuasca ("Ayahuasca Music-A Discography;'
on page 711).
The Machiguenga use juice that has been freshly
pressed from the leaves of Psych0 tria viridis or
another Psych0 tria species (Psychotria spp.) as
eyedrops for treating migraine headaches (Russo
1997, 5). While Psychotria viridis does have a
reputation as a medicinal plant, such use has been
little studied to date (see also ayahuasca).
The leaves contain 0.1 to 0.61% N,N-DMT along
with traces of MMT and MTHC (= 2-methyltetrahydro-~-
carboline). The DMT content is
typically around 0.3%. Psychotria leaves appear to
contain the highest concentrations of DMT in the
early morning, which is why they should be
collected at that time (Dennis McKenna, pers.
The Kofan Indians say that by mixing Psychotria
viridis leaves into their yage (= ayahuasca; cf.
Banisteriopsis caapi), they are able to see the
oprito, the small "heavenly people" that bear the
same name as the plant (Pinkley 1969, 535). When
used as an ayahuasca additive, the leaves manifest
typical DMT effects (see ayahuasca).
Commercial Forms and Regulations
The dried leaves are occasionally available from
sources specializing in ethnobotanical products.
The legal situation with respect to the raw plant
material has not been clarified.
See also the entries for Psychotria spp., ayahuasca,
and ayahuasca analogs.
Der Marderosian, Ara H., et al. 1970. The use and
hallucinatory principles of a psychoactive
beverage of the Cashinahua tribe (Amazonia
basin). Drug Dependence 5:7-14.
Pinkley, Homer V. 1969. Etymology of Psychotria in
view of a new use of the genus. Rhodora
Prance, G. T., and A. E. Prance. 1970. Hallucinations
in Amazonia. Garden Journal 20:102-7.
Russo, Ethan B. 1992. Headache treatments by native
peoples of the Ecuadorian Amazon: A
preliminary cross-disciplinary assessement.
Journal ofEthnopharmacology 36: 192-206.
---. 1997. An investigation of psychedelic plants
and compounds for activity in serotoninA monoamine neurotransmitter, biochemically derived from tryptophan, that is primarily found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, platelets, and central nervous system (CNS) of humans and animals. It is a well-known contributor to feelings of well-being. receptor
assays for headache treatment and prophylaxis.MAPS 7 (1): 4-8.