Psychoactive Plants

Psychoactive plants are those that contain substances capable of altering a person’s mental state, perception, mood, consciousness, or behavior. These plants have been utilized for thousands of years for both medicinal and spiritual reasons. They play a key role in religious and healing rituals in many indigenous cultures, used as a conduit to the spiritual realm or as a therapeutic tool. 

The legality of psychoactive plants varies greatly worldwide. In some countries, the use, possession, or trade of these plants is heavily regulated or outlawed due to their potential for abuse and addiction. It is crucial to understand the laws and regulations surrounding their use in your location.

Moreover, ethical considerations should also be taken into account. While these plants have been used traditionally by certain cultures, their commodification and misuse can lead to cultural appropriation and exploitation, and can potentially harm natural environments and indigenous communities.

Examples of psychoactive plants

There are hundreds of psychoactive plants worldwide, but some are more well-known than others. Here are a few examples of such plants.

Cannabis sativa
Probably the most famous psychoactive plant, Cannabis sativa is used for both recreational and medicinal purposes. It contains a compound called THC that affects the brain’s functions, influencing mood, cognition, perception, and behavior.

Cannabis sativa

Psilocybin mushrooms
Often referred to as magic mushrooms or shrooms, these fungi are known for their hallucinogenic properties. The psilocybin they contain turns into psilocin in the body if ingested, and creates an altered mental state.

Examples of genera containing psilocybin mushrooms are Gymnopilus, Inocybe, Panaeolus, Pholiotina, Pluteus, and Psilocybe.


Psilocybin mushrooms are depicted in the form of pre-Columbian sculptures and glyphs throughout the Americas. They may also be depicted in Stone Age art in Europe and Africa, but those interpretation tend to be more unreliable, with some notable exceptions, such as the psychedelic mushroom rock art found in Tassili, Algeria, which was created circa 9000 – 7000 BCE. There is also some rock art near Villar del Humo in Spain, which is most likely depicting how Psilocybe hispanica was used in religious rituals there some 6,000 years ago.

Banisteriopsis cappi and Psychotria virids

Ayahuasca is a South American psychoactive brew traditionally made from Banisteriopsis caapi stems and Psychotria virids leaves. It has a long history of being used by indigenous cultures in the Amazon and Orinoco basins for religious ceremonies, divination, and treating psychosomatic issues.

The exact recipe for ayahuasca varies, and hundreds of other species have been reported as included in various versions of the brew in South America. Some of them are used as additions, and some as substitutions.

Banisteriopsis cappi

P. virids contains DMT, a psychedelic substans which will normally not give any symptoms if you simply ingest the leaves of this plant it without preparing them and combining them with the right ingredients. B. caapi contains plenty of harmala alkaloids, some of which can act as monoamine oxidase inhibitors, which in turn results in halting the metabolism of DMT in the gastrointestinal system and in the liver. Due to this reduced speed of metabolism, the DMT is allowed to reach systemic circulation in the brain, where it activates certain receptors in the frontal and paralimbic areas of the brain.

Salvia divinorum
This herb, native to Mexico, has a tradition of being used in spiritual practices by the Mazatec people. It’s known for its hallucinogenic effects, which are chiefly brought on by the compound salvinorin A. In addition to hallucinations, the compound can also induce a dissociative state.

The psychoactive use of S. divinorum typically involves smoking or chewing the leaves, or extracts made from the leaves. The leaves can also be used to make a brew which is then drunk.

Salvia Divinorum

The psychoactive effects of Salvia divinorum typically start quickly after consumption and go away after a very short time.

Salvia divinorum grows in the cloud forest of Sierra Mazateca in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. Its prefered habitat is shady and moist locations. It rarely reproduces via viable seed, spreading vegetatively instead. Botanists have not been able to determine if it is a cultigen or hybrid.

The role of psychoactive plants in medicine 

Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in the therapeutic potential of psychoactive plants. For instance, cannabis has been prescribed for pain relief, especially for cancer patients, and to manage conditions like epilepsy. Psilocybin, the active compound in magic mushrooms, is currently being investigated for its potential benefits in treating mental health disorders such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Similarly, Ayahuasca is being studied for its potential in treating addiction and depression.


Psychoactive plants hold a fascinating place in the natural world. Their powerful effects on the human psyche have made them the subject of religious rituals, medical research, and legal debate. As we continue to explore their potential benefits and risks, it’s important to approach them with respect and understanding, acknowledging their cultural significance and the ethical issues surrounding their use. As always, any use of these substances should be done responsibly, legally, and under the guidance of a health professional.