Ergot Alkaloids And Psychoactive Plants
The word ergot is used as a common name to refer to members of the Claviceps genus. The Claviceps genus is made up of about 50 species of fungi.
A species of ergot fungus like Claviceps purpurea occurs in a symbiotic relationship with cereals such as barley, rye, wheat. The relationship is symbiotic because while the fungi feed on the host plant, they offer protection.
The alkaloids present in some species of these fungi offer chemical defense against entities that may otherwise feed on them. When consumed by humans and some animals, ergot alkaloids can cause ergotism.
Ergotism, more commonly referred to as ergot poisoning, can happen to humans and animals that eat plants infected with the ergot fungus Claviceps purpurea.
There are two types of ergotism. They are based on toxic reactions. Both types can eventually lead to death, but not before the patient had suffered immensely.
Ergotismus convulsivus includes mental effects like delirium, hallucinations, mania. Physical effects include convulsions, diarrhea, painful limbs, muscle spasms, nausea, seizures.
Ergotismus gangraenosus affects extremities like the hands and feet. Once affected the extremity will swell, skin will peel off and produce burning pain then loss of feeling. Then the extremity will often fall off at a joint, painlessly and without loss of blood.
In days of old, ergotism epidemics were not uncommon, especially in Europe during the Middle Ages. These epidemics were usually due to large numbers of people eating infected food, like bread.
Although not nearly as common as it once was, the book The Day of St Anthony's Fire by John Grant Fuller describes a 1951 outbreak of ergot poisoning in Pont St.Esprit, France.
As of 2015, over 80 ergot alkaloids have been isolated. Ergot alkaloids occur not only in species of fungi in the genus Claviceps, but they can also be found in some plants in the family Convolvulaceae.
The Convolvulaceae family is commonly known as the bindweed or morning glory family of plants. Plants in the family that contain fairly large concentrations of ergot alkaloids include:
Hawaiian Baby Woodrose (Argyreia nervosa)
Morning Glory (Ipomoea spp.)
Ololiuqui (Turbina corymbosa)
Seeds from plants like hawaiian baby woodrose, and ololiuqui, and some species of morning glory from the genus Ipomoea are consumed for the ergot alkaloids that they contain.
The ergot alkaloids that may be present in these seeds and contribute to psychoactive results include:
--- LSA aka ergine (d-lysergic acid amide)
--- LAH aka LSH (d-lysergic acid hydroxyethylamide)
--- ergometrine (d-lysergic acid beta-propanolamide)
--- chanoclavine II
When consumed by humans, seeds that contain ergot alkaloids produce effects that are similar to LSD. The main difference is the effects are more sedating. Also the experience is not usually as intense as LSD ingestion is.
The seeds of plants that contain ergot alkaloids have been consumed for centuries to induce spiritual, religious, and other shamanic experiences.
However, it wasn't until the 1950's that scientists started seriously investigating plants that contain ergot alkaloids for possible medical benefits they might harbor.
Albert Hofmann was the man who first synthesized LSD in 1938. Several years later, in 1943, Albert Hofmann became the first human to intentionally ingest LSD.
LSD was first synthesized from ergotamine, a chemical that was obtained from Claviceps purpurea. Albert Hofmann was also one of the scientists that conducted early research on ergot alkaloids like LSA.
His studies in the 1960's showed that LSA was made up of alkaloids that were similar to ergot. Alkaloids like ergot had previously only been found in some species of fungi.
Some cluster headache and migraine sufferers find hawaiian baby woodrose, morning glory, or ololiuqui seeds effective in minimizing or eliminating these types of headaches.
Be aware that there are reports of manufacturers, of seed packets intended for gardening, treating these types of seeds with chemicals to discourage humans from consuming them.
While these chemicals won't cause death, they can make a person sick. Any seeds consumed for psychoactive effect should be harvested from growing plants, or seeds that are not treated with any chemicals.
The nausea that often accompanies ingesting these seeds is not necessarily from being treated with any chemicals to discourage ingestion. Like LSD, the nausea is part of the way the body responds to some ergot alkaloids.
AJPE article on ergot and its alkaloids.
The ergot alkaloids story.
Wikipedia list of some ergot alkaloids.