Morning Glory, the ancient LSA experience


Illustration of an Ipomea species by © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

Ololiuqui, the Aztec name for the Morning Glory seeds, historically referred to as Ipomoea species it’s synonym Turbina Corymbosa, have been used since the prehispanic times and it’s still used by tribes such as Zapotecs, Chinantecs, Mazatecs, and Mixtecs, due to their remote locations, these tribes have received little to no Christan influence being few of the known tribes that fully remain with their ancestral believes and ancient medicines.

These seeds entered our scientific knowledge by the description and illustration of Ololiuqui by the Spanish Physician Francisco Hernandez in 1570, Francisco carried on researching the flora and fauna of Mexico for the king of Spain Philip II. His research leads to one of his famous works “Rerum medicarum Novae Hispaniae thesaurus, seu plantarum, animalium, mineralium mexicanorum historia” which was published in 1651, the description and classification of Oliuqui was published under the headline “De Oliliuhqui, seu planta orbicularium foliorum”.

In his research, Hernandez claimed that Ololiuqui was used by the cleric to receive messages from the supernatural and communicate with gods, in his reports he describes priests going under hallucinations that caused them, pure terror, while under the influence of the drug.

The ethnobotanist Evan Schultes once claimed that ” ololiuqui must have been very extensively used in the valleys in prehispanic times. As the drug seems to have a similar if not more important role in divinity than Peyotl (Peyote) and Teonanácatl (Psilocybe species).” 

In ancient Shamanic medicine, Ololiuqui was used for a vast list of diseases such as flatulence, pain, remove tumors, as ointments, as well as an esoterical value of being able to create miracles, nowadays the seeds are usually taken with water or alcoholic beverages, more specifically aguardiente (moonshine), the seeds are also used by soothsayers as a tool to foresee the patient’s illnesses. Despite various documents regarding Ololiuqui, the botanical identification was only complete by M.Urbina in 1897, identifying Ololiuqui as Rivea Corymbosa (syn. Ipomoea Sidaefolia).

The first chemical investigation of these seeds was conducted by the pharmacologist Santesson in 1937, although Santesson was unable to isolate crystalized compounds he was able to analyze the narcotic effects of alcoholic extracts in frogs and mice. Being the first documented psychedelic experience in 1955, when the Canadian psychiatrist Osmond self-experimented consuming 60 to 100 Rivea seeds and became apathetic with increased visual sensitivity and hallucinations, in 1958, this experiment was replicated by Kinross-Wright with dosages up to 125 seeds with the same documented effects.

However, the chemical analysis of the Morning Glories was yet to be unveiled, while under his Mexican exploration R.G. Wasson was able to obtain samples collected by a Zapotec near Oaxaca, the samples consisted of a Mixture of brown and black seeds, the brown seeds going by the name “Badoh” similar to the seeds of Rivea Corymbosa, and the black seeds named as “Badoh Negro” similar to the seeds of Ipomoea Violacea.

The seeds given to Wasson were then investigated in the Sandoz laboratories, unveiling that the psychoactive compound in the seeds were in fact ergot alkaloids, both “Badoh” and “Badoh Negro” were in fact a mixture of nearly the same composition alkaloid wise. The main components of the seeds is d-Lysergic acid amide (ergine) or LSA for short. By the time the alkaloids in Morning Glory were found, the drug was already tested pharmacologically under the name LA-111, just like LSD, LSA interacts with serotonin, dopamine, and adrenergic receptors, except it has a lower affinity when comparing to LSD, unfortunately, symptoms such as hyperthermia, nausea, vasoconstriction, panic states, dissociation reactions, and schizophrenic breakdowns and of course hallucinations were factors that left this compound away from its clinical use.


Biosynthesis of LSA  from dimethylallyl pyrophosphate and tryptophan via 4-(c, c-dimethylallyl)tryptophan

However, according to E.T Brady Jr, a staff member pharmacist at Ross General Hospital these effects can be mitigated by using chlorpromazine or barbital in addition to psychiatric consultation.

The Morning Glory seeds are often cultivated for their beauty and ornamental values especially amongst the plant collectors, since the plant grows rapidly, if the right conditions are given, as the plants require plenty of sunlight to achieve its full bloom , the effects of ergot alkaloids in the treatment of mental diseases can make this plant be a very valuable tool in the clinical aid for diseases such as depression and PTSD.

Bringing up the question:

After centuries could Aztec medicines prevail as a tool for our modern health issues?


Notes on the Present Status of Ololiuhqui and the Other Hallucinogens of Mexico from 

R. GORDON WASSON, Botanical Museum Leaflets, Harvard University,

Bulletin on Narcotics, Issue 1, 1971; 3-14 by Albert Hofmann

H. Osmond, J. Mental Sci., 101, 526 (1955)

V. J. Kinross-Wright, in Neuro-Psychopharmacology (P. B. Bradley, P. Deniker and C. Radouco-Thomas, Eds.), Elsevier, Amsterdam 1959, p. 453.

A. Hofmann, Botan. Museum Leaflets, Harvard Univ. 20, 194 (1963).

JAY FINK, P. (1966). Morning Glory Seed Psychosis. Archives of General Psychiatry, 15(2), 209.

Friedman, M., Dao, L., & Gumbmann, M. R. (1989). Ergot alkaloid and chlorogenic acid content in different varieties of morning glory (Ipomoea spp.) seeds. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 37(3), 708–712. doi:10.1021/jf00087a028

Brady, E. T. (1968). A Note on Morning Glory Seed Intoxication. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 25(2), 88–89. doi:10.1093/ajhp/25.2.88

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