Entheogenic drugs and the archaeological record

Entheogenic drugs have been used by various groups for thousands of years. There are numerous historical reports as well as modern, contemporary reports of indigenous groups using entheogens, chemical substances used in a religious, shamanic, or spiritual context.[1]

Common era

A Finnish study assayed psilocybin concentrations in old herbarium specimens, and concluded that although psilocybin concentration decreased linearly over time, it was relatively stable. They were able to detect the chemical in specimens that were 115 years old.[2]

New World

The Maya, Olmecs, and Aztecs have well-documented entheogenic complexes. North American cultures also have a tradition of entheogens. In South America, especially in Peru, the archaeological study of cultures like Chavin, Cupisnique, Nasca and Moche, have demonstrated the use of entheogens through archaeobotanical, iconographic and paraphernalia.[3][4]

Olmec entheogens

The Olmec (1200 BCE to 400 BCE) lived in Central America and are largely viewed by many as the mother culture of Aztecs and Maya. The Olmecs left no written works on their belief structures, so many interpretations on Olmec beliefs are largely based on interpretations of murals and artifacts. Archaeologists state three reasons for believing that the Olmecs used entheogens:

  1. Burials of Bufo toads with priests
  2. The use of entheogens in later Olmec-inspired cultures
  3. Sculptures of shamans and other figures have strong Therianthropic imagery.


The Maya (250 BCE to 900 CE) flourished in Central America and were prevalent even until the arrival of the Spanish. The Maya religious tradition was complex and well-developed. Unlike the Olmec, the Maya had religious texts that survived to this day. The Maya religion displayed characteristic Mesoamerican mythology, with a strong emphasis on an individual being a communicator between the physical world and the spiritual world. Mushroom stone effigies, dated to 1000 BCE, give evidence that mushrooms were at least revered in a religious way.

The late Maya archaeologist, Dr Stephan F. de Borhegyi, published the first of several articles in which he proposed the existence of a Mesoamerican mushroom cult in the Guatemalan highlands as early as 1000 B.C This cult, which was associated from its beginnings with ritual human decapitation, a trophy head cult, warfare and the Mesoamerican ballgame, appears to have had its origins along the Pacific coastal piedmont. Borhegyi developed this proposition after finding a significant number of small, mushroom-shaped sculptures in the collections of the Guatemala National Museum and in numerous private collections in and around Guatemala City. While the majority of these small stone sculptures were of indeterminate provenance, a sufficient number had been found during the course of archaeological investigations as to permit him to determine approximate dates and to catalog them stylistically (Borhegyi de, S.F., 1957b, "Mushroom Stones of Middle America," in Mushrooms, Russia and History by Valentina P. Wasson and R. Gordon Wasson, eds. N.T.)

Quoting archaeologist Stephan F. de Borhegyi:

"My assignment for the so-called mushroom cult, earliest 1,000 B.C., is based on the excavations of Kidder and Shook at the Verbena cemetery at Kaminaljuyu. The mushroom stone found in this Pre-Classic grave, discovered in Mound E-III-3, has a circular groove on the cap. There are also a number of yet unpublished mushroom stone specimens in the Guatemalan Museum from Highland Guatemala where the pottery association would indicate that they are Pre-Classic. In each case the mushroom stone fragments has a circular groove on the top. Mushroom stones found during the Classic and Post-Classic periods do not have circular grooves. This was the basis on which I prepared the chart on mushroom stones which was then subsequently published by the Wassons. Based on Carbon 14 dates and stratigraphy, some of these Pre-Classic finds can be dated as early as 1,000 B.C. The reference is in the following".....(see Shook, E.M. & Kidder, A.V., 1952. Mound E-III-3, Kaminaljuyu, Guatemala; Contributions to American Anthropology & History No. 53 from Publ. 596, Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C. (letter from de Borhegyi to Dr. Robert Ravicz, MPM archives December 1st 1960 )

The most direct evidence of Maya entheogen use comes from modern descendents of the Maya who use entheogenic drugs today.


The Aztec entheogenic complex is extremely well documented. Through historical evidence, there is proof that the Aztecs used several forms of psychoactive drugs. These drugs include Ololiuqui (the seed of Rivea corymbosa), Teonanácatl (translated as “mushroom of the gods," a psilocybe mushroom) and sinicuichi (a flower added to drinks). The Xochipilli statue, according to R.G. Wasson, gives the identity of several entheogenic plants. Other evidence for entheogenic use of the Aztecs comes from the Florentine Codex, a series of 12 books vividly describing the Aztec culture and society, including the use of entheogenic drugs.

Native Americans of the southwest United States

There are several contemporary indigenous groups who use entheogens, most notably Native Americans of the southwest United States. Various tribes from California have been known to use strong alcoholic drinks as well as peyote to achieve visions and religious experiences.

Old World


During the Paleolithic, there is ample evidence of drug use as seen by preserved botanical remains and coprolites. Some scholars had suggested that the "Flower Burial" in Shanidar Cave, a Paleolithic site in Iraq, was evidence of a shamanic death ritual, but more recent evidence and analysis has contradicted that claim. The most direct evidence we have from the Paleolithic in terms of art comes from Tassili, Algeria cave paintings depicting Psilocybe mairei mushrooms[5] dated 7000 to 9000 years[6] before present.[7][8][9][10] From this region, there are several therianthropic images portraying the painter and the animals around him as one (an often cited effect of many psychedelic drugs, Ego death or unity). One image, in particular, shows a man who has formed into one common form with a mushroom.[11][12]

There are several Paleolithic sites that display therianthropic imagery. However, there is some debate as to whether or not sites like Lascaux or Chauvet were entheogenically inspired.


A cave painting in Spain has been interpreted as depicting Psilocybe hispanica.[5][13]

See also


  1. ^ "Brazilian Archives of Biology and Technology - Jurema-Preta (Mimosa tenuiflora [Willd.] Poir.): a review of its traditional use, phytochemistry and pharmacology". scielo.br. Retrieved 2009-01-14.
  2. ^ Ohenoja E, Jokiranta J, Mäkinen T, Kaikkonen A, Airaksinen MM (1987). "The occurrence of psilocybin and psilocin in Finnish fungi". Journal of Natural Products. 50 (4): 741–44. doi:10.1021/np50052a030. PMID 3430170.
  3. ^ Sharon, Douglas (2000). Shamanism & the sacred cactus: ethnoarchaeological evidence for San Pedro use in northern Perú. San Diego: San Diego Museum of Man. ISBN 978-0937808740.
  4. ^ Capriles, José M.; Moore, Christine; Albarracin-Jordan, Juan; Miller, Melanie J. (2019-06-04). "Chemical evidence for the use of multiple psychotropic plants in a 1,000-year-old ritual bundle from South America". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 116 (23): 11207–11212. doi:10.1073/pnas.1902174116. ISSN 0027-8424. PMID 31061128.
  5. ^ a b "Earliest evidence for magic mushroom use in Europe". New Scientist (2802). 5 March 2011. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  6. ^ Saromini, Giorgio (1992). "The Oldest Representation of Hallucinogenic Mushrooms in the World" (PDF). Integration: Journal for Mind-Moving Plants and Culture. 1 (2/3). Retrieved 18 September 2017. Reprinted at ArtePreistorica.com
  7. ^ Guzman, Gaston (2012). "New Taxonomical and Ethnomycological Observations on Psilocybe S.S. (Fungi, Basidiomycota, Agaricomycetidae, Agaricales, Strophariaceae) From Mexico, Africa, and Spain" (PDF). Acta Botanica Mexicana. 100: 100. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
  8. ^ Soukopova, Jitka (1 August 2012). Round Heads: The Earliest Rock Paintings in the Sahara. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 49. ISBN 1443840076. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
  9. ^ Lajoux, Jean Dominique (1963). The Rock Paintings of Tassili (1st ed.). London: Thames and Hudson. p. 71. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
  10. ^ Gartz, Jochen (1 September 1997). Magic Mushrooms Around the World: A Scientific Journey Across Cultures and Time - The Case for Challenging Research and Value Systems. London: Knockabout Comics. p. 8. ISBN 0965339904. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
  11. ^ McKenna, Terence (1993). Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge (Reprint ed.). Bantam Books. p. 42. ISBN 0553371304. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
  12. ^ McKenna, Terence; Oss, O.T.; Oeric, O.N. (26 April 1993). Psilocybin, Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide: A Handbook for Psilocybin Enthusiasts (2nd ed.). Quick American Archives. p. 71. ISBN 0932551068. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
  13. ^ Akers, Brian P.; Ruiz, Juan F.; Piper, Alan; Ruck, Carl (June 2011). "A Prehistoric Mural in Spain Depicting Neurotropic Psilocybe Mushrooms?". Economic Botany. 65 (2): 121–128. doi:10.1007/s12231-011-9152-5. Retrieved 18 September 2017.


Aztec use of entheogens

The ancient Aztecs employed a variety of entheogenic plants and animals within their society. The various species have been identified through their depiction on murals, vases, and other objects. The plants used include ololiuqui (Rivea corymbosa), teonanácatl (Psilocybe spp.), sinicuichi (Heimia salicifolia), toloatzin (Datura spp.), peyotl (Lophophora williamsii) and many others.

Cannabis and religion

Different religions have varying stances on the use of cannabis, historically and presently. In ancient history some religions used cannabis as an entheogen, particularly in the Indian subcontinent where the tradition continues on a more limited basis.

In the modern era Rastafari use cannabis as a sacred herb. Meanwhile, religions with prohibitions against intoxicants, such as Islam, Buddhism, Bahai, Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and others have opposed the use of cannabis by members, or in some cases opposed the liberalization of cannabis laws. Other groups, such as some Protestant and Jewish factions, have supported the use of medicinal cannabis.


An entheogen is a class of psychoactive substances that induce any type of spiritual experience aimed at development or sacred use. The term entheogen is often chosen to contrast recreational use of the same drugs.

The religious, shamanic, or spiritual significance of entheogens is well established in anthropological and modern contexts; entheogens have traditionally been used to supplement many diverse practices geared towards achieving transcendence, including white and black magic, divination, meditation, yoga, sensory deprivation, asceticism, prayer, trance, rituals, chanting, hymns like peyote songs, and drumming. In the 1960s the hippie movement escalated its use to psychedelic art, binaural beats, sensory deprivation tanks, music, and rave parties.

Entheogenic use of cannabis

Cannabis has served as an entheogen—a chemical substance used in religious or spiritual contexts—in the Indian subcontinent since the Vedic period dating back to approximately 1500 BCE, but perhaps as far back as 2000 BCE. Cannabis has been used by shamanic and pagan cultures to ponder deeply religious and philosophical subjects related to their tribe or society, to achieve a form of enlightenment, to unravel unknown facts and realms of the human mind and subconscious, and also as an aphrodisiac during rituals or orgies. There are several references in Greek mythology to a powerful drug that eliminated anguish and sorrow. Herodotus wrote about early ceremonial practices by the Scythians, thought to have occurred from the 5th to 2nd century BCE. Itinerant Hindu saints have used it in the Indian subcontinent for centuries. Over the last few decades hundreds of archaeological and anthropological items of evidence have come out of Mexican, Mayan and Aztec cultures that suggest cannabis, along with magic mushrooms (psilocybin), peyote (mescaline) and other psychoactive plants were used in cultural shamanic and religious rituals. Mexican-Indian communities occasionally use cannabis in religious ceremonies by leaving bundles of it on church altars to be consumed by the attendees.

List of Acacia species known to contain psychoactive alkaloids

This is a list of Acacia species (sensu lato) that are known to contain psychoactive alkaloids, or are suspected of containing such alkaloids due to being psychoactive. The presence and constitution of alkaloids in nature can be highly variable, due to environmental and genetic factors.

List of entheogenic/hallucinogenic species

This is a list of species and genera that are used as entheogens or are used in an entheogenic concoction (such as ayahuasca). For ritualistic use they may be classified as hallucinogens. The active principles and historical significance of each are also listed to illustrate the requirements necessary to be categorized as an entheogen.

List of plants used for smoking

Various plants are used around the world for smoking due to various chemical compounds they contain and the effects of these chemicals on the human body. This list contains plants that are smoked, rather than those that are used in the process of smoking or in the preparation of the substance.

Althaea officinalis ~ "Marshmallow"

Amaranthus dubius

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi ~ "Bearberry"

Argemone mexicana


Artemisia vulgaris ~ "Mugwort"

Asteraceae species ~ "Chamomile"

Cabbage ~ Brassica Oleracea

Calea zacatechichi

Canavalia maritima ~ "Baybean"

Cannabis THC and CBD

Cecropia mexicana ~ "Guamura"

Cestrum nocturnum ~ "Hasana" ???

Cynoglossum virginianum L. ~ "Wild comfrey"

Cytisus scoparius


Entada rheedii

Eschscholzia californica ~ “California Poppy”

Fittonia albivenis

Hippobroma longiflora

Humulus japonica ~ “Japanese Hops”

Humulus lupulus ~ "Hops"

Lavandula species ~ "Lavender"

Lactuca virosa ~ "Lettuce Opium"

Laggera alata ~ "?”

Lamiaceae species ~ "Mint"

Leonotis leonurus ~ "Lion's tail" or "Wild dagga"

Leonurus cardiaca ~ "Motherwort"

Leonurus sibiricus ~ "Honeyweed"

Lobelia cardinalis

Lobelia inflata ~ "Indian-tobacco"

Lobelia inflata

Lobelia siphilitica

Nepeta cataria ~ "Catnip"

Nicotiana species ~ "Tobacco"

Nymphaea alba ~ "White Lily"

Nymphaea caerulea ~ "Blue Lily"

Opium poppy

Origanum majorana ~ "Marjoram"

Origanum vulgare ~ "Oregano"

Passiflora incarnata ~ "Passionflower"

Pedicularis densiflora ~ "Indian Warrior"

Pedicularis groenlandica ~ "Elephant's Head"

Red raspberry leaf

Rubus occidentalis

Salvia divinorum

Salvia dorrii ~ "Tobacco Sage"

Salvia species ~ “Sage”, etc.

Scutellaria galericulata

Scutellaria lateriflora

Scutellaria nana

Scutellaria species ~ "Skullcap"

Sida acuta ~ "Wireweed"

Sida rhombifolia ~ "Wireweed"

Silene capensis

Syzygium aromaticum - "Clove"

Tagetes lucida ~ "Mexican Tarragon"

Tarchonanthus camphoratus ~ "???"

Turnera diffusa ~ "Damiana"

Tussilago farfara ~ "Coltsfoot"

Verbascum species ~ "Mullein"

Zornia latifolia ~ "Maconha Brava"

List of psychoactive plants

A list of plants that are used as psychoactive drugs. Some of them have been used entheogenically for millennia. The plants are listed according to the substances they contain.

List of psychoactive plants, fungi, and animals

List of psychoactive plants, fungi, and animals.

Psilocybin mushroom

A psilocybin mushroom is one of a polyphyletic group of fungi that contain any of various psychedelic compounds, including psilocybin, psilocin, and baeocystin.

Common, colloquial terms for psilocybin mushrooms include psychedelic mushrooms, booms, magic mushrooms, shrooms, and mush. Biological genera containing psilocybin mushrooms include Copelandia, Gymnopilus, Inocybe, Mycena, Panaeolus, Pholiotina, Pluteus, and Psilocybe. Psilocybin mushrooms may have been used in ancient religious rites and ceremonies. They may be depicted in Stone Age rock art in Europe and Africa, but are most famously represented in the Pre-Columbian sculptures and glyphs seen throughout Central and South America.

Psychoactive cactus

Many cacti are known to be psychoactive, containing phenethylamine alkaloids such as mescaline However, the two main ritualistic (folkloric) genera are Echinopsis, of which the most psychoactive species is the San Pedro cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi, syn. Trichocereus pachanoi), and Lophophora, with peyote (Lophophora williamsii) being the most psychoactive species. Several other species pertaining to other genera are also psychoactive, though not always used with a ritualistic intent.

Religion and drugs

Many religions have expressed positions on what is acceptable to consume as a means of intoxication for spiritual, pleasure, or medicinal purposes. Psychoactive substances may also play a significant part in the development of religion and religious views as well as in rituals.

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