Hallucinogenic drugs in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures

Neurologia. 2015 Jan-Feb;30(1):42-9. doi: 10.1016/j.nrl.2011.07.003. Epub 2011 Sep 3.
[Article in English, Spanish]


Introduction: The American continent is very rich in psychoactive plants and fungi, and many pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures used them for magical, therapeutic and religious purposes.

Objectives: The archaeological, ethno-historical and ethnographic evidence of the use of hallucinogenic substances in Mesoamerica is reviewed.

Results: Hallucinogenic cactus, plants and mushrooms were used to induce altered states of consciousness in healing rituals and religious ceremonies. The Maya drank balché (a mixture of honey and extracts of Lonchocarpus) in group ceremonies to achieve intoxication. Ritual enemas and other psychoactive substances were also used to induce states of trance. Olmec, Zapotec, Maya and Aztec used peyote, hallucinogenic mushrooms (teonanacatl: Psilocybe spp) and the seeds of ololiuhqui (Turbina corymbosa), that contain mescaline, psilocybin and lysergic acid amide, respectively. The skin of the toad Bufo spp contains bufotoxins with hallucinogenic properties, and was used since the Olmec period. Jimson weed (Datura stramonium), wild tobacco (Nicotiana rustica), water lily (Nymphaea ampla) and Salvia divinorum were used for their psychoactive effects. Mushroom stones dating from 3000 BC have been found in ritual contexts in Mesoamerica. Archaeological evidence of peyote use dates back to over 5000 years. Several chroniclers, mainly Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, described their effects in the sixteenth century.

Conclusions: The use of psychoactive substances was common in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican societies. Today, local shamans and healers still use them in ritual ceremonies in Mesoamerica.

Keywords: Alucinógenos; Culturas precolombinas; Hallucinogenic fungi; Hallucinogens; Hongos; Peyote; Pre-Columbian cultures; Psilocybe spp.; Turbina corymbosa.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Art / history
  • Ceremonial Behavior*
  • Fungi / classification
  • Fungi / metabolism
  • Hallucinogens / administration & dosage
  • Hallucinogens / adverse effects
  • Hallucinogens / history*
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Medieval
  • Humans
  • Mexico
  • Plants, Medicinal / adverse effects
  • Plants, Medicinal / classification
  • Religion / history*
  • Religion and Medicine


  • Hallucinogens