Episode VII: Other Taboo Lifeforms
There are many plants and animals on this planet which yield psychoactive properties in humans when prepared and consumed properly. Throughout most of western history, any mind altering substances found in nature has been the subject of fear and/or hatred because of their abilities to give personal insight, feelings of elation, visions of the metaphysical plane, and the destruction of the ego. In medieval times, many of these plants and animals were considered to be the work of the devil. In modern times, many of them are considered illegal, and the use of these taboo life forms is met with much fear and apprehension.
Not all of the organisms in this months article are technically illegal, some are too obscure to be recognized as a threat, and others have effects that are so intense that they provide their own form of regulation through wise abstinence. This article is not intended to promote the use of illegal drugs, rather, its purpose is to shed some light on other forms of life that are controversial for their chemical makeup. Do not attempt to obtain or cultivate any of these plants and animals without further research on your own.
This psychedelic cactus has been used by people for spiritual growth and emotional clarity for at least 6,000 years. Wild peyote is found in a relatively small area ranging from southern Texas and extending into northern Mexico, where the cactus is considered endangered due to irresponsible harvesting. A peyote cactus needs three years to mature before it produces its active chemical: mescaline. Little is known about the use of peyote before the arrival of Europeans in the 1500’s. When Christian missionaries became aware of the plant and witnessed the rituals surrounding its sacramental use, they condemned the plant as a tool of Satan, and considered the peyote ritual to be witchcraft. Although there has been a contemporary ‘re-discovery’ of peyote use, decades of persecution and warfare eliminated most of the original peyote rites happening in the region.
In South America, beverages made from the extractions of this vine are said to give a person an experience which causes a strong personal insight. Ayahuasca is an intense hallucinogen that is sometimes used therapeutically for a wide variety of spiritual, emotional, and existential wounds, and is reported to help people come to terms with emotional scars such as abuse, terminal status, and relationship issues.
Found in the coastal waters near Norfolk Island, the dream fish has been reported to grant those who eat it extraordinarily vivid dreams. One National Geographic photographer tried the fish back in 1960, and claimed the experience to be “pure science fiction” and described how he dreamt about the future, and had visions of flying cars and space travel monuments.
Some Hindu Saddhus have been known to drink cobra venom with milk, or mix crystallized venom with cannabis to be smoked. The effect of cobra venom when consumed this way is said to produce a meditative-like state.
WARNING: Cobras are dangerous. Do not attempt to collect cobra venom!
While the reindeer themselves do not produce any psychoactive chemicals, these creatures are quite fond of psychedelic mushrooms, particularly Amanita Muscaria, also known as the fly agaric mushroom. Reindeer will seek out these little fungi, and it has been proven that the animals are effected by the hallucinogenic drug. Nobody knows for sure why reindeer eat the fungus, but we do know that the animals’ kidneys are able to filter out some of the less desirable compounds found in fly agaric, yet the active psychedelic compounds are present and concentrated in the reindeer urine. Arctic shamans in Siberia have been collecting and drinking reindeer pee for centuries, and some believe that these practices led to the origin for the Christmas ‘flying reindeer’ legend.
Ever heard of frog licking? It turns out that there actually are amphibians that can get a person high, although licking this one could kill you. Bufo Alvarius, commonly called the Colorado River Toad, features poison glands behind their eyes, which produce 5-MeO-DMT. This chemical is deadly for the toad’s natural predators when eaten, but when collected properly and smoked, Bufo Alvarius venom causes a strong distortion of the senses that lasts anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours. Proper venom collection can be achieved without hurting the animal, and it is not uncommon for people to raise these critters as pets. It is not illegal to have these animals in captivity, unless you intend to milk them. Also, removing wild Bufos from their habitat is unethical as well as against the law.
Like the reindeer above, average bees do not have any psychoactive properties. In remote areas around the Black Sea in Turkey, some beekeepers bring their colonies to the countryside when rhododendron flowers are in bloom. The flowers in this particular area produce a grayanotoxin, which the bees make into a special honey known as deli bal, or mad honey.
When taken in small doses, mad honey can be used to treat hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and various stomach problems. Some people claim that deli bal improves sexual performance.
In larger doses, the honey causes an extreme intoxication, known as ‘mad honey poisoning’. This effect has been known about for centuries, and in the year 67 BC, the Turkish army scattered honeycombs containing deli bal along a road that the invading Roman army was following. The unwitting Roman soldiers ate the honeycombs with gusto, and after succumbing to mad honey poisoning, they were easily overtaken by the Turks.
One of the more unusual entries in this article is the way these little bugs have been utilized in indigenous California.Pogonomyrmex venom is produced from the bite of a red harvester ant, and is a very powerful hallucinogen, reportedly causing out-of-body experiences that can last for days. The way these ants are taken is not for the faint of heart. The ants are consumed alive by the person seeking a vision. Under the direction of an ‘ant doctor’ the patient is fed little balls of eagle down feathers, in which the live ants are embedded. After consuming the appropriate amount of ants, the shaman would then startle or tickle the patient, causing the ants to bite the insides of the person. This causes a very strong, albeit painful, psychedelic experience. Red harvester ants were also eaten in this way as a treatment for paralysis, severe colds, and digestive ailments.
The Humr tribe of Baggara Arabs, who live in south-western Kordofan in Sudan are giraffe hunters. One of the mainstays of the Giraffe’s diet are the bark and leaves of the acacia tree, which contains trace amounts of DMT, an extraordinarily potent hallucinogen. While there is no evidence that the giraffe is effected by the psychoactive effects of DMT, the liver of the animal contains high concentrates of the drug. Members of the Humr tribe are known to consume giraffe liver prior to a hunt, believing the liver will give them visions of giraffes. These hunters believe that the spirit of the giraffe exists in the liver, and that eating it will serve as a guide to help them to find the animals.
Diego Monoz Camargo reported back in the 16th century that he witnessed the Aztecs eating a bird named oconenetl, which induced visions. There is not much description of the bird in Camargo’s account, save that it was raised domestically, and had black feathers. It may be possible that this bird, similar to the giraffe and reindeer, fed on psychoactive substances such as frogs or certain types of algae. Recently, researchers have discovered South American birds who eat the fruit of a plant used in the preparation of ayahuasca, and traces of these substances could be detected in their feathers and bones. Weather or not this is the legendary oconenetl may never be known.