Before Europeans first came to Mesoamerica – the region covering what is now central Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and northern Costa Rica – the area was a hotbed of heads high on herbs, plants, toads and enemas. That’s according to Francisco Javier Carod-Artal of Hospital Virgen de la Luz in Cuenca, Spain, whose report in the December issue of the journal Neuralgia details the many common and unusual psychotropic drugs used by the native peoples in pre-Columbian times and which ones are still used today.
Starting with the most popular, the study found at least 54 hallucinogenic mushrooms used by pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures dating back to at least 3,500 years ago. Mushrooms containing psilocybin are still taken today, although not as often for the religious experience. The same is true for peyote, a cactus that contains over 60 hallucinogenic compounds including the ever-popular mescaline. The study found evidence of peyote use dating back over 5,000 years.
Moving to the more unusual is the partaking of the dried skins of some Bufo toads, which contain psychoactive bufotoxins.
The report says the skins were mixed with tobacco and alcohol for a drink with an extra kick – a recipe still used by Mayans for their balché.
Balché normally refers to the fermented mead-like drink made from the bark of a leguminous tree and sometimes mixed with honey made by bees that visited a psychedelic species of morning glory.
Just like today, balché drinkers imbibed while smoking tobacco.
Unlike today, they sometimes mixed everything together in gourds and gave themselves psychedelic enemas.
Finally, Carod-Artal talks about toloache, the so-called “devil’s herb” that was brewed into a conscious-altering tea. Fans of “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” will recognize the effects as described in the report.
It has been hypothesized that during ritual human sacrifices, some prisoners and those people that would be sacrificed were drunk with some consciousness-altering beverages, probably ones including toloache.