Coca and Cocaine

Coca, a shrub native to the hot, humid valleys of the eastern slopes of the Andes, has been cultivated by the Indians of South America for thousands of years. Today the plant is legal in Peru and Bolivia, where millions of Indians still chew coca leaves every day as a stimulant and medicine. (Coca, by the way, is not related to cocoa.) Coca contains fourteen drugs, cocaine being the most important. The other drugs are present in smaller amounts and seem to modify the stimulating effect of the...

Amphetamines and Related Drugs

Amphetamines are synthetic stimulants that were invented in Germany in the 1930s. Their chemical structures resemble those of adrenaline and noradrenaline, the body's own stimulants. Their effects resemble those of cocaine but are much longer lasting. A single oral dose of amphetamine usually stimulates the body for at least four hours. Amphetamines are more toxic than cocaine and, when abused, cause worse problems. The body has a great capacity to metabolize and eliminate cocaine the liver can...

Amanita Mushrooms Fly Agaric Amanita muscaria Panther Mushroom Amanita pantherina

Amanitas are a family of large, beautiful mushrooms that grow in many parts of the world. Some of them are deadly, the most poisonous of all wild mushrooms. Some are edible and delicious. Two are neither deadly nor edible as food but are used as psychoactive drugs. Amanita muscaria, the fly agaric, is a big mushroom with white dots on a red or orange cap. Agaric is an old word for mushroom the name fly comes from an old practice of chopping this mushroom into a saucer of milk to attract and...

Antidepressants Elavil and Relatives

The word antidepressant sounds attractive. It suggests a drug that lifts mood and makes you feel good, something like a stimulant. The antidepressant drugs used in psychiatry today, however, do not give the good feelings of stimulants. Instead, they often cause sedation and a variety of uncomfortable physical effects. These drugs date from 1958, when the parent compound, imip-ramine (Tofranil), was invented. It is still in wide use today, along with a close relative, amitriptyline (Elavil), and...

Tobacco and Nicotine

Tobacco is one of the most powerful stimulant plants known, and nicotine its active principle is one of the most toxic of all drugs. An average cigar contains enough nicotine to kill several people. When tobacco is smoked, most of the nicotine is destroyed by the heat of burning. (To kill people with a cigar, you'd have to soak the cigar in water till it turned dark, then make people drink the liquid.) Nicotine is so strong and dangerous that the body very quickly develops tolerance to it to...

Bronchodilators

Bronchodilators are drugs that open the airways in the respiratory tract. They are widely prescribed as pills and aerosol inhalers to patients with asthma to relieve the wheezing and difficulty in breathing characteristic of that disease. Most of these drugs work by stimulating the sympathetic nervous system, which regulates the muscular walls of the bronchial tubes. As a result, in addition to their desired effect, they commonly cause stimulation, anxiety, jittenness, and insomnia. Patients...

Nutmeg and Mace

Nutmeg, the ground spice that goes into cookies, eggnog, and pumpkin pie, contains a drug called myristicin that may be converted in the body to one of the amphetaminelike psychedelics. Someone told me you could get high by eating nutmeg. So one night I choked down a whole can, which was over an ounce. After three hours, I felt light and dreamy. It was a little like a light dose of pot. However, the next morning, I had a splitting headache, my heart was racing, and my mouth was really dry. I...

Refined Forms

Morphine, cocaine, and mescaline are all examples of drugs that occur in plants but are commonly available in refined form as white powders, sold both legally and illegally. Some of them, such as mescaline, can easily be synthesized in laboratories, but even when they are, we can still call them natural drugs because the molecules already exist in nature. Others, such as cocaine and morphine, have more complex molecular structures. Chemists can make them in laboratories, but it is not cost...