Salvinorine and Schizophrenia Research

Claude de Contrecoeur Cyrano at
Mon Aug 26 07:38:40 EST 1996




 College of Pharmacy, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109 (U.S.A.)
  *Deportamento de Neurobiologia, Instituto de Investigaciones Biomedicas,
  Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Aportodo Postal 70228. Ciudad Universitaria
                                 20, D.E.

                          (Accepted July 10, 1982)

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Salvia divinorum is a perennial labiate used for curing and divination by

the Mazatec Indians of Oaxaca, Mexico. The psychotropic effects the plant

produces are compared to those of the other hallucinogens employed by

the Mazatecs, the morning glory, Rivea corymbosa L., Hallier f. and the

psilocybin-containing mushrooms. A discussion of the role of ska Maria

Pastora in the native "pharmacopeia" is based on previous reports and

fieldwork by the authors, with a Mazatec shaman.


Salvia divinorum (Epling & Jativa-M.) is a perennial herb in the Labiatae

(mint family) native to certain areas in the Sierra Mazateca of Oaxaca,

Mexico (Fig. 1). It is one of about 500 species of Salvia in the New World

subgenus Calosphace (Epling and Jativa-M., 1962). The plant grows in large

clones to well over 1m in height and its large green leaves, hollow square

stems and white flowers with purple calyces are characteristic taxonomic

features. This sage has been found only in forest ravines and other moist

humid areas of the Sierra Mazateca between 750 m and 1500 m altitude

(Diaz, 1975a). Carl Epling, who first described S. divinorum, reported

the newer as having a blue corolla, and it has been illustrated this way in

the literature (Epling and Jativa-M, 1962; Schultes, 1976). However, this

description has been shown to be an error, as all living specimens of the

plant have had blossoms with white corollas and purple calyces (Diaz,

1975a; Emboden, 1979).

S. divinorum is one of several vision-inducing plants employed by the

Mazatec Indians, one of the native Peoples living in the mountains and

upland valleys of northeastern Oaxaca. Unlike other Mexican tribes, there

Fig. 1. S. divinorum at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, University of
Michigan (December 1980).

is little information concerning their existence before the arrival of the

conquering Spanish, who reduced the Mazatecan population through exploi-

tation and disease (Weitlaner and Hoppe, 1964). The 1970 census estimated

their number at 92,540 (Cortes, 1979) and the language of the Mazatec-

Popoloca family is one of the many non-Spanish dialects spoken throughout

Mexico (Weitlaner and Hoppe, 1964). The Mazatecan ritual use of hallucino-

gens, such as mushrooms containing psilocybin and morning glory seeds

containing lysergic acid amide, has been widely publicized through the

investigations of R. Gordon Wasson and Albert Hofmann, among others

(Wasson and Wasson, 1957; Wasson, 1963; Hofmann, 1964; Hofmann,


Review of literature

Although the use of the mushrooms and morning glories was documented

by the Spanish conquistodores and chroniclers who arrived in Mexico during

the Sixteenth Century (Wasson, 1963), the literature on S. divinorum is

relatively recent. Wasson originally proposed that this Salvia was the

known to the Spanish by the Nahuatl (Aztec) name of pipiltzintzintli, but

new investigations suggest that the Mexican name probably refers to

Cannabis sativa I,. (Diaz, 1979).

There are a number of common names for S. divinorum and nearly all

are related to the plant's association with the Virgin Mary. It is known to

the Mazatecs as ska Maria Pastora, the leaf or herb of Mary, the

The name is usually shortened to ska Maria or ska Pastora and the sage is

also known by a number of Spanish names including hojas de Maria, hojas

de la Pastora, hierba (yerba) Maria or la Maria. The Mazatecs believe this

Salvia to be an incarnation of the Virgin Mary, and care is taken to avoid

trampling on or damaging it when picking the leaves, which are used both

for curing and in divination (Fig. 2).

Attempts at the identification ska Maria Pastora were carried out in

conjunction with anthropological expeditions led by one of Mexico's leading

anthropologists, the former Austrian engineer, Roberto G. Weitlaner, who

rediscovered native use of hallucinogenic mushrooms among the Mazatecs

in 1936 (Wasson, 1963). On a field trip in 1938, Weitlaner's future son-in-

law, the American anthropologist, Jean B. Johnson learned that the Mazatecs

employed a "tea" made from the beaten leaves of a "hierba Maria" for

divination. The preparation was used in a manner similar to the "narcotic"

mushrooms and the semillas de la Virgen, which were later identified as

morning glory seeds (Johnson, 1939). Bias P. Reko, who knew Weitlaner

well, referred to a "magic plant" employed by the Cuicatec and Mazatec

Indians to produce visions. It was known as the hoja de adivinaci6n (leaf

prophecy) and although Reko could not identify the plant, it was probably

S. divinorum (Reko, 1945).

In 1952 Weitlaner reported the use of a yerba (hierba)-de Maria by the

Mazatecs in Jalapa de Diaz, a small Oaxacan village. According to his

mant the leaves of this plant were gathered by curanderos (shamans or

healers), who went up into the mountains and harvested them after a session

of kneeling and prayer. For use in "curing" the foliage was rubbed between

the hands and an infusion of from 50 to 100 leaves was prepared, the higher

dose being used for alcohol "addicts". Around midnight the curandero,

the patient and another person went to a dark quiet place (perhaps a house)

where the patient ingested the potion. After about 15 min the effects

became noticeable. The subject would go into a semi-delirious trance and

from his speech the curandero made a diagnosis and then ended the session

by bathing the patient in a portion of the infusion that had been set

The bath supposedly ended the intoxicated state. In addition to such

"curing", the yerba Maria also served for divination of robbery or loss

(Weitlaner, 1952).

Five years later the Mexican botanist, A. G6mez Pompa, collected speci-

mens of a Salvia known as "xka (sic) Pastora". He noted that the plant was

used as a hallucinogen (alucinante) and a dose was prepared from 8 to 12

pairs of leaves. Since flowering material was not available, the sage could

be identified beyond the generic level (G6mez Pompa, 1957). The holotype

specimen of S. divinorum was acquired by Wasson and Hofmann in 1962

while they were traveling with Weitlaner. Flowering plants were brought to

them in the village of San Jose Tenango, as they were not permitted to

the locality in which ska Maria Pastora grew. This collection was sent to

Epling and Jativa-M. who described it as a new species of Salvia, S.

(Wasson, 1962; Epling and Jativa-M., 1962).

Wasson was the first to personally describe the effects of ska Pastora,

relating the experiences he and members of his party had on ingestionof

different doses of a beverage prepared from the plant's foliage. At a

in July 1961 in which he participated, a curandera (female shamans are very

common among the Mazatecs and other Mexican peoples) squeezed the

juice of 34 pairs of leaves by hand into a glass and added water. Wasson

drank the dark fluid and wrote that although the effects came on faster

those of the mushrooms, they lasted a much shorter time. He saw only

"dancing colors in elaborate, three-dimensional designs" (Wasson, 1962).

Summing up the experience, he later stated (pers. comm.):

A number of us (including me) had tried the infusion of the leaves and we

we experienced something, though much weaker than the Psilocybe species of


Hofmann and his wife, Anita, who accompanied Wasson on an expedition

the following year, took the infusion prepared from five and three pairs of

S. divinorum leaves, respectively. Mrs. Hofmann "saw striking, brightly

bordered images" while Hofmann found himself "in a state of mental

sensitivity and intense experience, which, however, was not accompanied --

by hallucinations" (Hofmann, 1980).

Maria Sabina, the Mazatec shaman made famous by Wasson, and who

lives in the Mazatec highland town of Huautla, in Oaxaca, briefly mentioned

her use of the plant in her autobiography (Estrada, 1977):

If I have a sick person during the season when the mushrooms are not
available, I

resort to the hojas de la Pastora. Crushed (molido) and taken, they work
like the

"children" (i.e., the mushrooms). Of course, the Pastora doesn't have as


Roquet and Ganc reported that the Mazatecs prepared a dose of S.

divinorum from 120 pairs of crushed leaves and used the plant only when

the mushrooms and morning glory seeds were not available. Roquet and his

associates used the plant twice in their psychiatric investigations of

hallucinogenic plants and stated that they had difficulties in working with

it (Roquet, 1972).

Jose Luis Diaz and his coworkers studied the use of ska Maria Pastora in

the Mazatec highlands during the 1970's. Diaz himself took the Salvia infu-

sion under the supervision of a shaman, Dona J., on six different

noting an increased awareness of the plants effects each time. The first

changes he perceived were a series of complex and slowly changing visual

patterns that occurred only in complete quiet with closed eyes. There were

no colored geometric patterns which characteristically occur with ingestion

of other hallucinogens nor were there auditory images. After a short time

he noticed peripheral phenomena, such as a feeling of lightness in the

extremities and odd sensations in the joints. The climax of effects, accom-

panied by dizziness or nausea (mareo), lasted about 10 min and disappeared

about 0.5 h after ingestion of the infusion. Other, more subtle, effects

seemed to persist for a few hours (Diaz, 1975a).

Hofmann (Hofmann, 1964) and Diaz (Diaz, 1975a) each investigated

S. divinorum chemically without isolating and identifying any active prin-

ciple. As noted above, the descriptions in the literature emphasize the

mildness of the plant's effects. There are many ways to achieve visions

than by ingestion of classically defined "hallucinogens" such as mescaline,

LSD and psilocybin. Among these are meditation, prayer, mental illness,

disease (especially when accompanied by fever), poisoning, experiences of

dying, and suggestion (placebo effect). Therefore, prior to conducting

chemical and animal studies, we decided to attempt to clarify the role of

S. divinorum as a vision inducer among the Mazatec Indians.

Mazatec healing

The following report is based on fieldwork with a Mazatec curandero, or

healer, living near the Alemin Reservoir in the Mexican state of Oaxaca,

about 100 km from the port of Veracruz. Although a study based on in-

formation from a single source is open to criticism, the jealous and

nature of native shamans works against statistical methods of survey.

many shamans in a single area can actually lessen the amount of information

gathered, as each curandero may fear the visitor is telling their secrets

giving their "power" to a rival. To them magic can hurt or kill. Wasson and

'Richard E. Schultes have both commented on the difficulty of making

contacts with the curanderos of this region (Wasson and Wasson, 1957;

Schultes, 1941).

Don Alejandro, the informant, spoke only a Mazatecan dialect. One of

his sons served as an interpreter, translating from the native tongue to

Spanish. The information they provided the authors was gathered in frag-

ments over many visits during the summer of 1979 and spring of 1~980.

Mazatec healing and religion are united in a manner common to tradi-

tional cultures. This is somewhat foreign to Western scientific medicine

which is isolated from religion except for the times when it no longer

to cure. A brief description of Mazatec healing, based mainly on the work

with Don Alejandro should help to explain the use of ska Maria Pastora

and its relationship to other healing plants. The Mazatecs (the name, taken

from the city of Mazatlan, was actually imposed on the natives by the

Spanish) are nominally Catholic Christians, but they have incorporated many

features of their traditional beliefs into their conceptions of God and the

Saints, whom they consider to have been the first healers. The most promi-

nent among them is San Pedro, or Saint Peter, who is said to have cured

a sick and crying infant Jesus through the ritual use of tobacco (Nicotonia

spp.). Tobacco is considered to be a health problem in the United States

and many other countries, and its acute pharmacological effects are due to

the alkaloid nicotine (Larson et al., 1961). Yet for the Mazatecs, as well

as for almost all Mesoamerican Indians, it is the most important curing

in the "pharmacopeia". The fresh tobacco leaf is ground, dried and mixed

with lime to form a powder known to the Mazatecs as San Pedro (Saint

Peter); the "best" is prepared on the Saint's day, June 29th (Inchaustegui,

1977). This preparation is more familiarly known by its Nahuatl name,

picietl @piciete). It is worn-in charms and amulets as a protection against

various "diseases" and witchcraft, but its most important use is in

or ritual cleansings. It may be used alone with a prayer and copal (an

prepared from the resin of Bursera spp.) (Diaz, 1975b), or in conjunction

with herbs such as basil (Ocimum spp.) or marijuana (Cannabis sativa)*,

eggs or various other substances. Anyone who comes to Don Alejandro to

be treated usually gets a : limpia This ritual cleansing may be the cure in

itself, or it may be accompanied by other "medicines". The patient is

given a pinch of the San Pedro powder (wrapped in paper) to carry with

them and use during the healing period.

One learns to become a shaman through an informal apprenticeship,

although the Mazatecs will insist they are taught by a progression of

from and of heaven, rather than by people. Psychotropic plants are inti-

mately associated with this training, which can last up to two years or

longer. in this area of Oaxaca, as well as the highland region visited by

+Don Alejandro does not use marijuana, as it is illegal.

the vision inducers are taken systematically at intervals of a week to a

month. Once one becomes a healer the hallucinogenic plants are ingested

much less frequently. The process begins by taking successively increasing

doses of S. divinorum for a number of times to become acquainted with

the "way to Heaven". Next comes mastery of the morning glory (Rivea

corymbosa (L.), Hallier, f.) seeds and finally one learns to use the sacred

mushrooms. There is a very' rigid diet, or diet, to follow during this

"Hot" foods such as garlic and chili peppers are restricted and there must

be abstinence from sex and alcohol for extended periods. However, many

Mazatec shamans incorporate alcohol into their training and drink during

their ceremonies (Wasson and Wasson, 1957). Breaking from this dieta, or

ritual diet could "make one crazy," according to Don Alejandro and since I

such obligations require maturity, one should be at least 30 years old

becoming a curandero.

A comparison of Mazatec hallucinogens

Ska Maria Pastora is, pharmacologically the weakest of the three hallucino-

genic plants. Following its ingestion the Virgin Mary is supposed to speak

the individual, but only in absolute quiet and darkness. The relatively

experience is readily terminated by noise (such as a loud voice) or light.

Alejandro says the effects of tu-tu-sho, the flower seeds (R. corymbosa),

are similar to those of the Maria (S. divinorum) as both plants are

(son hermanos) under the protection of the Virgin Mary and San Pedro. A

"dose" he provided weighed 9.6 g and consisted of about 350 R. corymbosa

seeds. A brief report on another morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea Both)

noted that the ingestion of a large number of seeds produced effects

to LSD, but with an additional narcotic component characterized by drowsi-

ness and torpor (Savage et al., 1972). Humphry Osmond also noted a narcotic

effect on dosing himself with R. corymbosa seeds (Hoffer and Osmond,

1967). The activity of morning glories appears to be due to d-lysergic acid

amide (ergine) and related alkaloids (Schultes and Hofmann, 1980).

ingly, the authors discovered a woodrose (Argyreia spp.) growing in the

vicinity of the village where Don Alejandro lived. Argyreia spp. contain

like compounds (Chao and DerMarderosian, 1973). When asked whether he

used the plant, Don Alejandro said that he did not, since it caused people

to become crazy. The curandero also had several horticultural specimens of

Coleus spp. growing near his house. Wasson has reported that the Mazatecs

believe Coleus to be a medicinal or hallucinogenic herb closely related to

S. divinorum (Wasson, 1962). However, Don Alejandro said the plants were

not medicinal and his daughter had bought them at the market because

they were pretty.

According to Don Alejandro ni-to, or the mushrooms-that-one-takes

(hongos para tomar, probably not a literal translation, see Wasson, 1980)

are unlike the other two plants. The fungi are delicado (delicate),

(nervous), una cosa de envidia (a thing of envy). Unfortunately the English

translations of these terms do not convey the Indian-Spanish concept of

magic that has a dangerous and sinister side. Santa Ana and San Venanzio,

the Saints the curandero associates with the mushrooms, were not as good

at healing as San Pedro and the Virgen Maria, the patrons of the Saliva and

the morning glory. Eating too many of the fungi can "leave one crazy"

and the visions are often trucos (tricky). Other Mazatec informants have

attributed such characteristics to the visions, saying that one has to

the true from the false (Inchaustegui, 1977). Wasson has reported that

misuse of the mushrooms can lead to madness (Wasson and Wasson, 1957).

Munn and Wasson have given complementary descriptions of shamanic use

of mushrooms among the Mazatecs (Munn, 1979; Wasson 1980). Psilocybin

and psilocin, the vision-inducing compounds in the fungi, were isolated by

Hofmann, who used himself as a subject to assay for their activity. He

reported that a dose of 2.4 g of dried Psilocybe mexicana Helm (an average

amount for a curandero) produced effects he could not control or resist.

A colleague "was transformed" into an Aztec priest and at the height of the

experience Hofmann felt that he "would be torn into this whirlpool of

form and color and would dissolve" (Hofmann, 1980). This powerful experi-

ence was quite unlike the mild one produced by S. divinorum. As Don

Alejandro stated it, "The Maria, on the other hand accepts you (la Maria,

en cambia, te acepta)."

Remedial uses of S. divinorum

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