Natural mind-altering substances have a pretty sexy evolutionary history.
In their quest to survive or seduce, many species of plants have cultivated their genes to embody a variety of intense chemicals. Whether to deter herbivores or captivate the birds and the bees; the natural substances produced by these plants have forever changed the course of history; coevolving the human experience with it.
The organic chemicals derived from these drugs are commonly known as psychedelics, which hijack the central nervous system; heightening emotions, shifting bodily sensations and projecting the mind into new perspectives.
Whether curious about ancient history, or looking for a trippy read; here is a brief introduction to the top most mind-alternating drugs of all time.
“Good ol’ ganja” is the world's most notorious plant.
Its sticky psychoactive resin has contributed to building communities and cultivating culture since 8000 B.C. Arguably one of the oldest crops known to man, the cannabis plant has developed to have over 1,000 strains. Typically split into two categories, you can find the “Indica”strains (which induce a calming body high ) in regions below the equator line and “Sativa” (inducing an illusory mental high) above the equator.
As the resilient plant grazed over the planet, warmer climates changed its genetic code to produce more and more mind-altering effects.
Surprisingly, these psychoactive components already exist in extremely small doses within our own bodies. Known as “endocannabinoids”; these receptors are the literal bridge between the body and the mind. As THC ( the active ingredient in cannabis ) binds to them, we experience a flood of “ happy juice “ from feel-good chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine.
Ancient shamans burned cannabis flowers to induce a state of trance where colours appeared brighter, time slowed down and our inner worlds could be projected outwardly.
As humans domesticated the crop, the ancestral plant gracefully followed man to the corners of the earth (and beyond!)
“The Glistening Cactus” - promises an illuminating dream-like state when ingested. The plant is usually transformed into a sacred “mescaline tea” that awakens the cacti’s psychoactive properties.
The use of Peyote by indigenous tribes is archived in ancient carvings preserved in Mesoamerican lava rocks going back at least 5,000 years. Uniquely native to Central America, the plant plays an important role in the region’s culture.
The mystery cactus was used to enhance spiritual experience lasting an infinite 12-18 hours. The hallucinogen is described to induce trips that involve a mixing of the senses. Allowing those who consume the bitter root to “see sounds” and “feel colours.” by disrupting neurotransmitters in the parts of the brain that affect emotion, cognition, and perception.
Peyote is said to fuel a profoundly mystical connection to nature. Rerooting its users back to a more elemental way of being.
In the river valleys of the first human civilisations, lies the infamous Poppy flower. The plant produces an extraordinary latex known as “Opium”; which derives from a milky substance found in its unripe buds.
First cultivated in the region of Mesopotamia, the Sumerians referred to it as Hul Gil meaning "joy plant’,’ after discovering the charming flower’s sedative and pain-soothing wonders. The plant today is most prevalent in the valleys of southwest Asia.
Its initial record of prescription was found on a 8000 year-old Sumerian clay-tablet, intended to be used as a potent anaesthetic, for a complete out-of-body experience indeed.
Opium revolutionised the world, giving our ancient ancestors the ability to transcend past their pain through euphoric rush followed by deep relaxation. Opium slows down messages between our body and brain, disorienting pain from reaching awareness.
Gifting access to a divine tool for healing.
Nestled deep within the Amazon, the mysterious South American vine is a famous gatekeeper to hidden secrets. The plant was commonly brewed and ingested to generate spiritual revelations.
For the Amazonians, the potion was used in initiation rites and rituals of rebirth; said to have the power to awaken a connection between the inner self and the universe. Ingesting the vine was usually followed by purging; deemed as a cleansing of negative energy. The active force behind the drug is DMT, altering brain waves to achieve a state similar to deep sleep.
The consumption of the plant stimulates neural cell growth; boosting mood and helping cure depression and addiction disorders.
Shamans used the potion to access the spirit world and feel at one with other animals; the ceremony was enhanced by an “Icaro”- or magic song to facilitate the intense journey mimicking the sounds of the natural world.
5. MAD HONEY
“Mad honey” also known as “deli bal” derives from the nectar of an ultra-rare rhododendron flower flourishing at dangerously high altitudes.
Throughout its history, the hallucinogenic honey was used as a medicine as well as a chemical weapon by ancient civilisations stretching from Nepal to the Black Sea.
A student of Socrates writes of Greek soldiers passing through the Caucasus mountains in 401 B.C. After ingesting the honey placed alongside their route, the army became disoriented giving the locals enough time to strike; forming a legend behind the honey’s deep, blood-red colour.
Reacting to the body by poisoning it with a “grayanotoxin”, the honey is not meant to be consumed in amounts bigger than a teaspoon, the neurotoxic substance is said to be a powerful aphrodisiac; giving a strong buzz to even the most busy bee. Other benefits include improved blood pressure , regulation of appetite, heightened mental alertness and surreal feelings of freedom. The feeling are evoked in an attempt from the body to reach its natural state.
Thriving in the tropical rainforests of Central America, the psilocybin mushroom was seen by Mesoamericans as “the flesh of the gods'' aiding in divination and revelation. The mushroom was said to allow its users the magical ability to shape-shift and transform.
The story of the magic fungus didn't stop there, its rediscovery led to prolific changes throughout the last century. The revival of the holy shroom began in what was known as the “Psychedelic 60s” in which a single dose of psilocybin (found across at least 144 species of mushrooms) provided an ultimate reboot and sustained improvements in mood, spiritual well being and overall quality of life - helping capture the feelings of a changing world. The drug stimulates serotonin 2A receptors in the brain; increasing neural activity in the visual cortex and pacifying the brain's "default mode”.
Made to elevate above the ego and reward new perspectives.
THE LAST TRIP
Modern research suggests that the psychedelic experience is one of very few things that can alter personality in adulthood. It has the ability to unlock creativity, emotional openness and a deep sensation of connectivity; all necessary tools in healing and evolution.
The transcendent experiences of using mind-altering plants linger; helping synchronise areas of the brain that typically never communicate. The effects allow one to fully embrace a more integrated state of mind.
Within a whirlpool of auditory and visual illusion, the myths and magic of these glorified vegetables may have been the very reason our brains evolved its way to consciousness.