List of substances used in rituals

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This page lists psychoactive substances which are consumed in ritual contexts for their consciousness-altering effects. Non-psychoactive consumption like symbolic ingestion of psychoactive substances is not mentioned here.


Common name Specie Specie, phytochemical(s) Substance effect class Regions/Cultures of use
Kambo (or sapo) Phyllomedusa bicolor Secretion: Opioid peptides (deltorphin, deltorphin I, deltorphin II and dermorphin).[1][2][3] Depressant Increasing popularity in cleansing rituals and depression treatment.[4][5][6]


The plant parts are listed to prevent accidents. For example, kava roots should always be used because the leaves of the plant are known to cause hepatoxicity and death.[7]

Common name Specie Specie, phytochemical(s) Substance effect class Regions/Cultures of use
Alcohol Yeast byproduct: Alcohol fermented species Alcohol Depressant During the Jewish holiday of Purim, Jews are obligated to drink until their judgmental abilities become impaired.[8][9]
Aztec tobacco Nicotiana rustica Leaf: up to 9% nicotine.[10] MAOI beta-carbolines. Stimulant Mapacho (South America)[11] and thuoc lao (thuốc lào) (Vietnam). Nicotiana rustica is used by Amazonian tobacco shamans known as tobaqueros.[12] Nicotiana rustica is a common ingredient of Ayahuasca in some parts of the Amazon.[13]
Blue water lily Nymphaea caerulea Flower: Aporphine, and nuciferine Depressant Mayans and the Ancient Egyptians.[14]
Chili pepper Capsicum spp. Fruit: Capsaicin Deliriant "While the Inca may have recognized chili’s potent spiritual medicine, they weren’t the only culture to do so. Chilies were mixed with tobacco and other plants by shamans and medicine people in pre-Columbian Central America to aid in journeys to the upper and lower worlds on behalf of mankind."[15]
Coca, coca tea Erythroxylaceae spp. Leaf: 0.3-1.5% cocaine[16] Stimulant Coca has been a vital part of the religious cosmology of the Andean peoples of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, northern Argentina, and Chile from the pre-Inca period through the present.[citation needed] In addition, coca use in shamanic rituals is well documented wherever local native populations have cultivated the plant. For example, the Tayronas of Colombia's Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta use to chew the plant before engaging in extended meditation and prayer.[17]
Cocoa Theobroma cacao Bean: Theobromine, small amount of MAOIs, etc (see full list) Stimulant Ritualistic practices originated among the Olmec, Maya and Mexica (Aztec).[18]
Coffee Coffea spp. Seed: 0.06-3.2% caffeine[19] Stimulant The earliest credible evidence of either coffee drinking or knowledge of the coffee tree appears in the middle of the 15th century, in Yemen's Sufi monasteries.[20] The sufi monks drank coffee as an aid to concentration and even spiritual intoxication when they chanted the name of God.[21]
Corn beer Yeast byproduct: Corn (Zea mays), fermented Alcohol Depressant The corn beer Chicha de jora was once a sacred drink of the Incas, often reserved for the most cherished of ceremonies.[22]

Tesguino is a corn beer made by the Tarahumara people of the Sierra Madre Occidental in Mexico. It is brewed for local celebrations related to Holy Week. For the Tarahumara, the beer is an elixir for healing, a barter item and is considered a sacred beverage.[23]

Ilex guayusa Ilex guayusa Leaves: 1.73–3.48 % caffeine.[24] Theanine Stimulant A ritual use by the Kichua people involves drinking guayusa infusion to have foretelling dreams for successful hunting expeditions.[25] Ilex guayusa is used in ayahuasca admixtures for its healing powers.[13]
Kava Piper methysticum Root: 3-20% kavalactones[26] Depressant Kava cultures are the religious and cultural traditions of western Oceania which consume kava.
Khat Catha edulis Leaf: Up to 14% cathine[27] Stimulant For centuries, religious leaders have consumed the leaves to stay awake during long nights of prayer.[28]
Kratom Mitragyna speciosa Leaves: Opioids (1–6% mitragynine, 0.01–0.04% 7-hydroxymitragynine[29]) Depressant In Thailand, kratom was "used as a snack to receive guests and was part of the ritual worship of ancestors and gods." (Saingam et al.)[30]
Opium, Opium poppy Papaver somniferum Latex exudate: 0.3–25% morphine and codeine 0.5-4%[31] Depressant From the earliest finds, opium appears to have had ritual significance, and anthropologists have speculated ancient priests may have used the drug as a proof of healing power.[32] In Egypt, the use of opium was generally restricted to priests, magicians, and warriors, its invention is credited to Thoth, and it was said to have been given by Isis to Ra as treatment for a headache.[33] A figure of the Minoan "goddess of the narcotics", wearing a crown of three opium poppies, BCE, was recovered from the Sanctuary of Gazi, Crete, together with a simple smoking apparatus.[34][35] The Greek gods Hypnos (Sleep), Nyx (Night), and Thanatos (Death) were depicted wreathed in poppies or holding them. Poppies also frequently adorned statues of Apollo, Asklepios, Pluto, Demeter, Aphrodite, Kybele and Isis, symbolizing nocturnal oblivion.[33] The opium poppy was a magical ritual plant among the Germanic tribes.[36]
Pituri Duboisia hopwoodii, Duboisia myoporoides, Nicotiana spp. Nicotine, tropane alkaloids A stimulant (or, after extended use, a depressant) chewed by Aboriginal Australians. Some authors use the term to refer only to the plant Duboisia hopwoodii and its leaves and any chewing mixture containing its leaves.[37]
Tea Camellia sinensis Leaf: 0.4-9.3% caffeine and theanine 0-5-1.4%[38] Stimulant Tea has been drunk by Buddhist monks since the Sui Dynasty (589–618 BC) to maintain a state of “mindful alertness” during long periods of meditation. Tea ceremonies have been ritualized for centuries.
Wine Yeast byproduct: Grape (Vitis spp.) (fermented) Alcohol Depressant Wine was used in rituals and worshipped by the Egyptians[39] and the Greeks, specifically in worship of Dionysus.


Plant substances found in in small amounts are not listed here: Cocaine; The coca leaf, when consumed in its natural form or as coca tea, does not induce a physiological or psychological dependence, nor does abstinence after long-term use produce symptoms typical to substance addiction.[40][41][42][43]

Substance IUPAC name Substance effect class Notes
Alcohol Ethanol Depressant See Vitis spp.
Caffeine 1,3,7-Trimethylpurine-2,6-dione Stimulant See Coffea
Cathine (1S,2S)-2-amino-1-phenylpropan-1-ol Stimulant See Catha edulis
Codeine (5α,6α)-7,8-didehydro-4,5-epoxy-3-methoxy-17-methylmorphinan-6-ol Depressant Prodrug for morphine
Kavalactones Depressant See Piper methysticum
Morphine (4R,4aR,7S,7aR,12bS)-3-Methyl-2,3,4,4a,7,7a-hexahydro-1H-4,12-methanobenzofuro[3,2-e]isoquinoline-7,9-diol Depressant See Papaver somniferum

See also


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  2. Melchiorri P, Negri L (1996). "The dermorphin peptide family". General Pharmacology: The Vascular System. 27 (7): 1099–107. doi:10.1016/0306-3623(95)02149-3. PMID 8981054. 
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  5. Daly, M (May 10, 2016). "How Amazonian Tree Frog Poison Became the Latest Treatment for Addiction". Vice. 
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