notes on: Plowman, "Brunfelsia in ethnomedicine". Harvard University Botanical Museum Leaflets, v. 25 n. 10, December 1977, p. 289.

This isn't in many libraries, so I thought it would be useful to make available my notes on it. Unquoted text is nominally mine, but is not guaranteed to be far enough from the original to qualify as a paraphrase. Usual disclaimers apply as to completeness and accuracy.

"The genus Brunfelsia belongs to the alkaloid-rich family Solanaceae and usually is placed in the relatively advanced tribe Salpiglossideae. Brunfelsia is a medium-sized genus of about 42 species of small trees and shrubs: 22 species are confined to the West Indies; 20 species are found in tropical South America."

B. uniflora is manacá root. Reported effects: diuretic; diaphoretic; purgative; emetic; alterative; anesthetic; abortifacient; emmenagogue; antirheumatic; antisyphilitic; antiscrophular; poisonous; anti-inflammatory; narcotic; stimulates peristalsis and the lymphatic and endocrine systems; lowers body temperature; produces paresthesia, muscular tremors and cramps, delirium, vertigo, and clouded vision.

the fresh leaves are used, but considered less potent than the root.

an alkaloid manacine from the root, isolated only as an amorphous powder, reported as C15H23N4O5 with mp 115° and as C22H33N2O10 with mp 125°. perhaps a glycoside of 6,7-dihydroxycoumarin with manaceine, C15H25N2O9.

tropane alkaloids reported by Pammel in 1911, but not since.

blue-fluorescent substance identified as scopoletin (6-MeO-7-OH-coumarin), the aglycone of scopolin. found throughout the plant, and in pauciflora, grandiflora, and brasiliensis ssp., as well as in plants of other genera of Solanaceae. "It may function as a regulator of growth processes in plants but is not known to be pharmacologically active in humans."

B. uniflora shows depressant and anti-inflammatory activity in rats.

B. Mire and the related B. hydrangeiformis cause paralysis and stimulation of the sweat and salivary glands in rabbits and frogs.

B. grandiflora is used as a fish poison, as an analgesic, and for fevers and bronchitis. "In contrast to the root and bark, the leaves reputedly do not cause nausea."

has been reported as a hallucinogen, but there may be confusion with ayahuasca, to which it is sometimes added. causes a sensation of coldness.

"Another Siona informant volunteered the following: `It makes you shiver when you drink yagé. It also makes your legs heavy and you feel like spines are sticking you.'"

B. chiricaspi is considered a potent drug plant. Plowman reports:

December 3, 1968: Village of Santa Rosa, Río Guamués, Comisaría del Putamayo, Colombia.

"My companion, Pedro, and I arrived at Santa Rosa from San Antonio well before sunset on the night our Kofán curaca had chosen to prepare covi tsontinbá'k'o [B. chiricaspi]. The curaca did not return to the village until nearly dark, carrying with him a handful of scraped bark which he had collected in the nearby forest. He said the plant is not common and he had had difficulty finding it. He extracted the juice of the greenish brown bark in a cup of cold water by wetting the bark and squeezing it repeatedly until the liquid became a murky light brown color. He then handed each of us half a cupful. The drink had a very bitter taste and pungent odor. We drank it quickly and sat down on the front porch of the curaca's hut.

"The effects of the drugs appear within about ten minutes. I first felt a tingling sensation in my lips, followed soon by the same sensation in my fingertips. This felt exactly like the feeling experienced when your leg ``falls asleep'', when the blood rushes back. Along with the tingling, I felt a pronounced vibrating in the affected parts.

"The tingling soon spread into my mouth and upwards into my face; later into my hands and feet, tongue, elbows, and shoulders. After about an hour, the sensations were felt generally throughout my body, especially in my back, legs, face, lips and hands. There was a definite progression of the tingling from the base of my spine upwards towards the back of the neck, with ever-increasing intensity which centered at the base of my skull.

"From the beginning I felt a strong urge to expectorate periodically and later realized that I was actually frothing at the mouth. In spite of the extraordinary sensations running through my body, I remained mentally lucid. I felt quite agitated from the strong tremors produced by the drug. I was also seized by periodic waves of cold, as frequently reported by the natives.

"I next felt the tingling sensations and vibrations enter my head and scalp. Moving my head or hands increased the intensity of the senations. The vibrations felt electric, penetrating my chest and back. Even then my thinking remained undisturbed though somewhat detached.

"After another hour, I began feeling sharp stomach cramps and occasional spasms of nausea. I wanted to vomit but could not. We had fasted since the previous day according to the curaca's instructions. The tingling remained very intense in my hands and feet and my head began to ache. A bitter taste developed in my mouth and I felt vaguely cold.

"Sometime later -- I was incapable of telling time at this point -- I began to get used to the tingling sensations, which I found disquieting at first. I could not tell if I was becoming stronger or weaker. I became very dizzy with vertigo, which intensified precipitously. Everything started spinning to the right yet never seemd to move. My mind kept adjusting to the spin to set me right agin.[sic] There was a complete loss of muscular coordination at this point, and I could no longer walk or even stand up. I lay either prone or sat on the floor with my back against the wall for the rest of the night. The pains in my stomache became more acute. I continued to be nauseous and vertiginous and felt extremely uncomfortable.

"During the course of the evening, the curaca went to bed. We did not see him for the rest of the night except for a brief appearance upon our departure. Since we were feeling increasingly out of sorts in this strange place, we decided to return to the nearby village of San Antonio where we were staying in an abandoned jail cell. It was very difficult to move or stand up, but eventually we mustered enough strength to start for home. This took at least an hour with Pedro and I supporting each other, frequently stumbling and crawling along the dark trail through the forest.

"When we arrived in San Antonio, we climbed into our hammocks to rest. I lay awake for a long time, still feeling the drug in my body, particularly the tingling. The stomach cramps and vertige began to subside, and eventually I fell asleep, completely exhausted both mentally and physically. The next day, I felt extremely weak and nearly unable to move without freat discomfort. I became very dizzy if I tried to stand up or walk. I could not eat anything and remained in my hammock. Only after two full days did I begin to recover and move around without becoming dizzy."

His companion Pedro, a Kamsá Indian from the Sibundoy Valley, reported "swollen lips and heavy tongue, crazy in the head, cold sweat, stomach ache, nausea and weak vomiting, urtication, inability to walk or move, and vertigo". He felt that "the world was spinning around me like a great blue wheel. I felt that I was going to die."

"Since Brunfelsia species appear to produce no striking visual hallucinations, we must look further for the rationale for including these plants in yagé preparations. Of the diverse physical effects of Brunfelsia, I would single out the tingling sensations as the most pronounced and bizarre and those which might best potentiate the hallucinatory yagé experience. By using smaller doses than I ingested, the Indians would be able to produce striking tactile hallucinations without the toxic side effects. The combination of these drugs may produce, perhaps synergistically, unique and other-worldy [sic] experiences and sensations. Because one often feels decreased sensitivity and numbness in the body with yagé alone, the addition of Brunfelsia to the drink may also serve to create a greater physical awareness during the ceremony."

B. australis:
"added to food as a condiment by the Guaraní Indians"
"noted on herbarium labels as being medicinal or poisonous."
"the root is used ... as a remedy for syphilis, and the foliage is reputed to be harmful to horses."

B. guianensis Benth.:
"also used like B. uniflora -- as an antisyphilitic, antirheumatic, depurative and poison in high doses."

B. americana:
"bears an astringent fruit which has been used as a tonic to cure chronic diarrhea and stomach problems."
"[on] Dominica, it is ... employed as a poison by the Island Caribs."
"Traces of cyanide have been found in the leaves and flowers as well as in the bark of the stem and root. Chlorogenic acid is reported from the leaves."
[Scott57] isolated two crystalline components of the leaf and stem which tested positive for alkaloids.

B. nitida Benth.:
"used for herbal baths."
"fruits ... found to be strongly alkaloid-positive."

B. undulata Sw.; B. shaferi Britt. & Wils.:
"Unnamed alkaloids have also been detected in the stems of B. undulata Sw. ... and in the leaves and fruits of B. shaferi Britt. & Wils."

"... the entire genus merits intensive investigation to isolate and identify its alkaloidal and other constituents, which have eluded chemists for so long."

(go to my front-door page)
19 Jan 2002