After the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1521, several Spanish writers recounted the religious rituals of the Aztecs and other native groups that used the seeds of the Rivea corymbosa, called ololiuqui, for its intoxicating effects. Ergine, lysergic acid amide or LSA is the main alkaloid responsible for these effects. Over time, different botanical varieties have been discovered that contain the same psychoactive alkaloids, such as some Ipomoeas, the lysergic rose (Argyreia nervosa), and rye ergot.
There are different plants around the world that contain alkaloids from the lysergic acid family. Some of the best known are the Ipomoea violacea (morning glory), the Ipomoea tricolor (tlitliltzin) and the Rivea corymbosa (ololiuqui). These alkaloids are also present in the fungus Clavíceps purpurea, known as cornezuelo or ergot. All these plants have been used since ancient times for their psychoactive and medicinal properties.
The Rivea or Turbina corymbosa, also known as piule by the Mazatecs, a-mu-kia (medicine for divination) by the Chinantec and ololiuqui and xixicamatic by the Aztecs, is a woody and large vine of the convolvulaceae family. It is a plant native to Central and South America. It has large leaves and white, bell-shaped flowers with brown seeds.
The Ipomoea violacea and the Ipomoea tricolor are two varieties that are often confused and which some authors believe are the same. They are also perennial vines of the convolvulaceae family and are native to North America and Central America, although their cultivation has spread throughout the world. They produce purple and blue flowers, respectively, and their seeds are black. The seeds of different varieties of Ipomoea were used by the Zapotecs, who knew them by the name of bandungas or black badoh, to distinguish it from badoh, which was what they called the ololiuqui. Another name was “the seeds of the virgin.” I. violacea is commonly known in Mexico as the plate breaker, a term derived from the Mixe name.
Clavíceps puprúrea is a fungus, also known as ergot, which is a parasite on certain cereal crops, particularly rye. In this case it is known as “ergot rye” because of its dark horn shape that appears in the spikes. Its poisonous effects have been known since antiquity and different episodes of poisoning occurred in the Middle Ages. Ergot poisoning was called “Fire of San Antonio.” Ergot contains psychoactive alkaloids, such as Ergine, but also toxic and poisonous ones, such as ergotamine and ergotoxin, which produce strong physical symptoms, such as gangrene and loss of limbs, which can be fatal.
There are also other varieties that contain the same alkaloids as Argyreia nervosa (seeds of the Hawaiian rose), although it is unknown if they were used traditionally.
A. nervosa is a climbing vine and one of the largest plants in the convolvulaceae family. Its leaves are large and heart-shaped, and it produces pink flowers similar to roses, so it is sometimes known as a “lysergic rose.” It is native to the Indian subcontinent, although it is also found in Hawaii, Africa and the Caribbean. Its psychoactive effects have not been known until recently, although in Ayurvedic medicine it was used for therapeutic purposes.
A report from the time of the Spanish conquest of Mexico states that the Aztecs had an herb that they called “cóatl-xoxouhqui,” or green serpent, which contained seeds called ololiuqui. A Spanish missionary said of ololiuqui that it deprived those who consumed it of reason, and that it was the way that the natives communicated with the devil and experienced visions attributed to the deity contained in the seeds.
This plant was illustrated in the Florentine Codex by Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, who also described the medicinal uses of seeds to treat gout and “aquatic fever,” probably malaria, in combination with other psychoactive substances, such as mushrooms, peyote and the daturas.
The use of these seeds by the Aztec peoples is documented in both reports as well as in murals, such as the one in Teotihuacán, dating from 500 CE, in which an Aztec mother goddess and her priests are represented under an ololiuqui vine. The piuleros of Oaxaca used them for divination and the Mayans used the seeds in an agave mead beverage to enter a trance as well as to treat tumors.
While not used for its psychoactive properties, Argyreia nervosa has a long tradition of use in Ayurvedic medicine. It has been used to treat such varied ailments as bronchitis, restlessness, tuberculosis, arthritis, diabetes as well as skin diseases and anorexia. It is also used as a medicinal plant in the Indian state of Assam, among the Lodhas and Santali people. All parts of the plant have been used for these medical purposes – leaves, seeds, roots and fruit.
Relationship with the Eleusinian Mysteries
In Ancient Greece, secret rites in honor of the goddess Demeter were celebrated annually in the month of September for almost two thousand years. These initiatory rites occurred in the city of Eleusis, and during the celebrations, the myths of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture and fertility, and her daughter Persephone, who was kidnapped by the underworld god Hades, were recounted. During the time that Persephone remained stuck in the underworld, the earth froze as Demeter was busy looking for her daughter, and thus winter came to be. After her release, Persephone was reunited with her mother, returned life to earth and spring appeared. The agreement reached by Hades and Demeter was that Persephone would spend one third of the year in the underworld, the winter period, and the rest of the year with her mother, thus giving rise to the three seasons of the year distinguished by the Greeks.
In the course of the Eleusinian mysteries, the initiates participated in a secret ritual in the telesterion, the main hall of the initiatory rite, in which a potion called kykeon was ingested. After its ingestion, the priests, called hierophants, performed stagings of the myths and the initiates experienced a vision, “they saw.” After the initiation, the participants became “someone who had seen,” an epopte. What happened in the telesterion and the visions of each epopte were secrets that were forbidden to be revealed under penalty of death.
Theories about the composition of kykeon suggest that it was an infusion containing rye ergot alkaloids, Ergine/LSA (lysergic acid amide), and that it was therefore a psychoactive potion. Unlike toxic alkaloids, Ergine/LSA is soluble in cold water, so it is hypothesized that an ergot infusion could extract just the psychoactive alkaloids and separate them from the toxic ones.
Chemical composition and Dosage
The different varieties of Ipomoeas and Argyreia nervosa contain alkaloids of the lysergic acid amide family. The main alkaloids present and responsible for the psychoactive effects are the D-lysergic acid amide, known as Ergine and LSA/LA-111, and to a lesser extent isoergine, chanoclavine and elymoclavine.
Isoergine does not have psychoactive effects in doses of up to 2 mg, although it does have sedative effects, and may have psychoactive effects in higher doses.
The seeds of A. nervosa have the highest concentration of alkaloids of all botanical varieties. The approximate content is 3 mg of alkaloids per gram of seeds. Of these alkaloids, 22.68% is Ergine (LSA), 31.36% is isoergine, followed by the LAE (lysergic acid ethylamide), iso-LAE, chanoclavine, elimoclavine and ergometrine in smaller percentages.
The seeds of I. violacea are about 5 times less potent than the seeds of A. nervosa. According to Albert Hofmann’s analysis, the seeds of the Rivea corymbosa (ololiuqui) contain 0.012% alkaloids, while those of the Ipomoea violácea contain 0.06%.
Dosage of Ergine
The doses of LSA/Ergine have not been clearly established, since there is no research in humans and there are hardly any reports regarding the use of the pure substance. Albert Hofmann, the discoverer of LSD, reported medium-strong effects with a dose of 500 micrograms administered intramuscularly, and later placed the active dose between 1 and 2 mg orally.
Dosage of seeds
The seeds from plants containing LSA are usually ground and left to soak in cold water for several hours. The water is then filtered and swallowed. Some preparations are also made through alcoholic extractions, or by mixing the filtered water with alcoholic beverages.
There is no uniformity in the dosage of seeds used. Different varieties have distinct concentrations of alkaloids and each plant’s potency is also influenced by its growing conditions. Therefore, many reports contain widely ranging information regarding the quantity of seeds used.
The Chinantecs and Zapotecs of Oaxaca often used thirteen powdered ololiuqui seeds (Rivea corymbosa).
Doses of A. nervosa are usually four to eight seeds. It is usually recommended to scrape the whitish layer that covers the seeds to reduce vomiting and gastrointestinal discomfort, although in many cases the seeds acquired do not have this layer.
Doses of Ipomoeas are somewhat more confusing due to the ambiguities in the taxonomic classification of the different varieties. The quantities of I. violacea seeds are between 5 and 10 grams, around 6 to 13 seeds. In the case of I. tricolor, 50 to 400 seeds are required.
The effects of seeds containing Ergine/LSA are commonly compared with the effects of LSD. However, in different studies and user reports on the effects of Ipomoea and Argyreia seeds, no classical psychedelic effects are described, and the predominant effects are sedation and fatigue, with a small presence of perceptual and cognitive changes, such as an alteration in the perception of colors and mood elevation.
Therefore, the effects of seeds containing Ergine/LSA should not be compared to those of LSD or other classical psychedelics, because although they can provide experiences in which there is introspection and slight perceptual changes, their main effects are sedative and not psychedelic. In addition, Ergine has somatic effects that LSD lacks, such as unpleasant body sensations and feelings of intoxication.
The effects, when the seeds are ingested orally, usually occur between 40 and 90 minutes after ingestion, and the maximum effects are reached at 2 or 2.5 hours. The total duration of the effects is usually about 5 – 8 hours, although in some cases the effects persist for longer.
The seeds of Ipomoea and Argyreia have quite noticeable and unpleasant physical effects, such as abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, fatigue and vertigo. There is also an increase in blood pressure and muscle tremors may appear. There is a certain drowsiness and decrease in motor activity for most people.
The majority of reports from people who have consumed seeds of Ipomoea or Argyreia describe effects such as sedation, apathy and lethargy, and at higher doses visual phenomena can appear, in the form of geometric patterns, intensification of colors, and changes in perception and in self-image.
The sensation of drowsiness and of living in a dream state has been described, in which there can be sensations of insight, thoughts of a philosophical nature, and during which confusion can also present.
In most countries the pure substance is controlled and illegal to sell and possess. Ergine/LSA is a controlled substance in the United Kingdom on list A, as a precursor to LSD. In the United States it is included on Schedule III.
However, plant products that contain LSA, such as the seeds of these different plants are not controlled, and therefore are legal to sell and own. The cultivation of these plants is not controlled.
Prevalence of Use
There are few studies that have quantified the prevalence of use of plants that contain LSA, although the available data indicate that it is very minor. The 2017 Global Drug Survey report indicates that 2.1% of respondents had used Argyreia nervosa at some time in their lives. In this survey, it was the second least consumed substance, as reported by respondents. When asked about the consumption during the last year, no plant containing LSA appeared in the results of the survey.
According to data from 2005 of the National Institute of Toxicology and Forensic Sciences of Spain, only 1% of the calls responded to are due to poisoning with plants (422 in total), and of them only 1.2% were related to Argyreia nervosa (5 calls).
The report of the Spanish Observatory of Drugs and Addictions does not collect any information about plants that contain LSA.
Health and Risk Reduction
One of the most notable difficulties when using seeds that contain LSA is the variability of potency of the different varieties, and even the variation of potency in seeds of the same species. In addition, it can be difficult to identify the actual variety of seeds that are being used. Therefore, it is difficult to control the dosage.
Analysis of products sold as legal highs with the same trade name have observed that these may contain a variable amount of alkaloids, so their potency may also vary depending on the batch and the seeds from which the product comes.
Added to this difficulty is the variability in individual responses. In studies with standardized doses, different people have had profoundly variable effects at the same dose, suggesting that each person may have a very different response to this substance.
Medium and high doses have caused episodes of confusion, mental disorganization and even temporary psychotic symptoms in at least two cases documented in the scientific literature, as well as very unpleasant physical effects. Therefore, although most reports claim sedative effects and low psychoactivity, it is important to be cautious with the amount of seeds used.
In combination with other substances such as THC/cannabis and alcohol more intense effects have been reported, and there has been one case of suicide under the effects of these combined substances.