NEW YORK — Hundreds of plants containing mind-altering drugs have been discovered around the world in the last century by people who use them routinely, botanists said Sunday at a national meeting.
Different kinds of cacti, mushrooms, beans, potatoes, morning glories, berries and tree bark are laced with naturally occurring drugs--most of them alkaloids--that produce hallucinations, feelings of euphoria and drowsiness. Alkaloids can also have a strong toxic effect.
Marijuana and cocaine, which is derived from the coca plant, are commonly used in the United States today, the botanists said at a conference on psychoactive plants at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.
Richard Evans Schultes, a botanist and professor at Harvard University, estimated that more than 150 plants are used as hallucinogens in the world today, contrasted with less than 15 hallucinogenic plants known to Europeans and tribal peoples a century ago.
Botanists at the meeting said that mind-altering plants are a part of almost every civilization in the world and that many people worldwide cultivate or forage their own stocks of hallucinogens.
"No one here condones drug use. . . . We're just putting it a little into perspective," said Wade Davis, a recent Harvard doctoral graduate who published a book on plants and zombies in Haiti last year.
"One of the deadliest and most addictive drugs is tobacco, which is perfectly legal," he said.
Most of the hallucinogenic plants are found in the Amazon region in South America and in Africa, the botanists said.