Here's the work in progress of a paper I'm working on for my Horticulture class! Any comments, questions, or critiques are appreciated! Thanks and enjoy. heart
Plants have provided the animals of this planet with the necessary means to survive and evolve. For thousands of years, homo-sapiens have depended on the wide variety of plants species to provide them with food and materials. Plants are the providers of our planet, the main type of organism capable of harvesting energy from sunlight. They provide us with nutrients with shelter and some even provide us with an altered sense of perception. Many plants carry unique chemical compounds within their tissues which have a remarkable physiological effect on the minds and bodies of the animal with which it comes in contact. These medicinal properties have most likely been used and cultivated by humans since before written documentation. Archeologists have discovered many ancient stone artworks that display certain plants with reverence. Many of these plants have been passed down and cultivated over the millennia and are widely used even in modern times. Recent scientific advancements have synthesized, purified and improved these phytochemicals. The origin of medicine has been hidden and compacted into a tiny pill. Plants that are now illegal are being synthesized and morphed into over-the-counter medicines. For example, Zyrtec-5 is an over the counter medicine derived from the plant Ephedra, which was banned by the FDA in 2001 as a dietary supplement (naturalnews). Prescription medication gives us access to sterilized drugs in their purest form, while their organic ancestors are stamped out, demonized and forgotten. The only path to the ‘correct usage’ of drugs maybe the education of the individual, so that each may know when they are imbibing of a substance and whether it will beneficial or destructive.
There are certain plants in particular that have been the subject of much controversy. Even in ancient times only certain members of a society were allowed to use psychoactive plants. Among these controversial plants are the opium poppy, the peyote cactus, the coca plant, the cannabis plant, and the tobacco plant. In comparison, tea and coffee are plants containing the psychoactive chemical caffeine, which has never been negatively targeted, but rather has been widely used and celebrated for centuries. Even chocolate contains the psychoactive chemical anandamine, which is an endogenous cannabinoid also created by the brain (chocolate). Chocolate is currently viewed as a luxury food, certainly not a drug. Even the Mormons, who pride themselves on being substance free, are regular users of “Mormon tea” made from ephedra, another psychoactive plant (Ratsch). Today we have laws that prohibit the cultivation of many psychoactive plants. The criteria for which plants are legalized and which are not seems arbitrary. The most prevalent example of this would most certainly be that the production of sale of the tobacco plant is legal but that of the cannabis plant is not. Nicotine is an extremely toxic alkaloid which directly causes heart and lung diseases. Collier’s Encyclopedia states that nicotine is a powerful poison. Larger doses cause death from respiratory paralysis. It also has pronounced negative effects on the cardiovascular system. Because of its poisonous nature, nicotine is used in insecticide sprays and dusts. In comparison, cannabis contains alkaloids that are very gentle on the body. The Physician’s Desk Reference for Herbal Medicines states that the chief psychoactive agent in cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol. The use of THC has been found to be an anti-emetic, which effectively reduces nausea. Cannabis has also been reported to be effective for the treatment of headaches, anxiety, asthma and Tourette syndrome. In addition, THC has anti-inflammatory effects as well as inhibiting the growth of tumors.
The profound qualities of psychoactive plants are caused by chemical compounds residing in the plant tissue. These organic compounds are called alkaloids. Alkaloids affect the production, the metabolism, or mimic the structure of neurotransmitters in the brain. Because of these unique properties of alkaloids, they often have extreme effects on the central nervous system. According to collier’s encyclopedia, over 10,000 alkaloids of many structural types have been isolated, more than any other class of natural product. Frederick Serturner was the first to isolate an alkaloid. He isolated the alkaloid morphine from the opium poppy in 1806. These mind-altering substances may be divided into three categories based on their affect on the human body. These categories are stimulants, sedatives, and hallucinogens (Ratsch).
Alkaloids are usually distributed in varying concentrations throughout the plant. Alkaloid-bearing plants often contain more than one type, although some contain more than fifty separate alkaloids. The subject of the evolutionary purpose of alkaloids is hardly understood even today. Collier’s Encyclopedia states the possibility that plants synthesize alkaloids for the purpose of protecting themselves against predators. Alternatively, they may stimulate or regulate growth metabolism and reproduction. The function of alkaloids in a plant may simply be a by-product of the plants metabolism. While all of these theories may be valid, they do not explain why 85-90% of plants have evolved without producing alkaloids. Because of this, the purpose of plants producing alkaloids is still under speculation in the scientific community. The Encyclopedia Americana proposes that alkaloids do not merely accumulate in plants, but rather undergo fluctuations in concentration and are in fact metabolized by the plant. The New Encyclopedia Britannica tells us that certain plant families are richer in alkaloids than others. All plants in the poppy family (papaveraceae) contain them. The ranunculaceae (buttercup), solanaceae (nightshade), and amaryllidaceae (amaryllis) are other prominent alkaloid-containing families. Ergot and many other fungi produce them as well. For many cultures, however, the function of alkaloids in psychoactive plants is much more straightforward. The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants documents them as plant teachers, magical plants, or plants of the Gods. Shamans, those whose lives are based around exploring psychoactive plants, regard them as sacred because they believe the plants themselves contain a consciousness or spirit. This idea of the plants allowing humans to perceive a ‘true reality’ has been rejected by the majority of modern society. According to the Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants, this rejection is rooted in imperialism. It states that as the Europeans pushed into the New World, they encountered for the first time shamans, whom they labeled “magicians” and “black artists”. The shaman’s gods and helping spirits were degraded as false gods, idols, and the devil’s work. (Ratsch)
This mindset remains active in our society today. While there may be some truth in the idea that drugs are bad, we should realize that drugs are an integrative part of our culture and it is only the abuse and misuse of these substances which should be labeled as wrong, not the plants which created them.
Collier’s Encyclopedia © 1997 P.F. Collier, Newfield Publications Inc.
Encyclopedia Americana © 2003 Grolier Inc.
The New Encyclopedia Britannica © 2002 Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.
PDR for Herbal Medicines © 2004 Thomson PDR, Montvale NJ
Ratsch, Christian. The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants © 1998 AT Verlag Aarau, Switzerland
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I played hooky from school today. really I didn't want to get out of my bed. it was sooooo damn cozy.