Morning Glory: The Aztec Vine of Vision
Morning Glory, a common garden variety, is a surprising host of psychedelic compounds closely related to LSD.
The morning glory vine (Ipomoea purpurea, Ipomoea tricolor, and others) is a small, creeping annual flower with heart-shaped leaves and trumpet flowers. It originated from Central Mexico and the Caribbean but has since naturalized in gardens all over the world.
The seeds of this plant contain a compound called LSA (lysergic acid amide), which is closely related to LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) and various other members of the lysergamide family of psychedelics.
There are three main differences between LSA and LSD:
LSA is naturally occurring — LSD is synthetically derived from LSA
LSA is much less potent — the active dose is around 400 mcg compared to just 80 mcg for LSD
LSA is sedative — it induces sleep and trance-like states
Because of the profound psychedelic effects of the morning glory vine, it was considered an essential part of Central American shamanism.
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Traditional Shamanic Uses of Morning Glory
Writings by Albert Hofmann, the man who discovered LSD and LSA, suggest that morning glory was perhaps even more important than psilocybin mushrooms or the mescaline-containing cactus peyote in terms of spiritual significance for indigenous cultures in Mexico.
Ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes compiled the early writings on Morning Glory in “A Contribution to Our Knowledge of Ololiuhqui of The Aztecs.” Several species of morning glory contain LSA and many other ergot alkaloids. These plants have a history of use with the Maya, Aztec, Mixtec, and Zapotec peoples of Mexico.
Examples of morning glory species used in Mexico by their Nahuatl names:
Ololiuhqui or Coatl-xoxouhqui — (Ipomoea corymbosa), also called “green snake.”
Tlilitzin — (Ipomoea violacea) is found in garden centers today but is less common than Ipomoea purpurea or Ipomoea tricolor.
Long revered and cultivated, these varieties of morning glory connect shamans to the spirit world. In altered states, the practitioners could divine the future or communicate with deities to learn the true nature of their patients’ ailments.
Sometimes, patients, rather than the shaman, would take the morning glory themselves, spend the night alone in a dark room, and emerge healed or with a new understanding of their condition.
Writings of early colonial missionaries document extensive magical preparations by priests, which included morning glory. These often involved venomous insects burned to ash and mixed with other plants as offerings and spells.
Morning Glory in Mayan Culture
The Mayans called morning glory “xtabentún,” and while the specifics of how it was used are still kept secret by Mayans in the Yucatan, there is some knowledge of its role from how it appears in art and creation myths and the ancient text Popol Vuh.
Notably, Mayan midwives used xtabentún. Mayan stories connect the plant to both death and birth. As part of their training, midwives undergo a “rebirth” process themselves. They learn to use the plant to induce childbirth, which, if not done correctly, can be extremely dangerous.
Early explorers noted that Mayans kept apiaries near morning glory plants and sometimes added the honey collected to blanché, an alcoholic drink still used today made from the Lonchocarpus violaceus tree.
Jonathan Ott has speculated that Mayans consumed psychoactive honey made active by bees harvesting pollen from xtabentún. The drink is also sometimes called xtabentún when made from the nectar of morning glory.
While there isn’t rock-solid proof of ololiuhqui’s involvement, of interest is Mayan rituals involving psychedelic enemas. Ancient art depicting the practice exists, and pottery used for the practice has been recovered. Nobody really knows exactly what was in these enemas, but morning glory is one of the proposed ingredients. Performed underground in darkness, and participants carried a “vomit bag” around their necks to deal with the ensuing purges.
The discovery earned Peter de Smet a Nobel Prize. De Smet personally conducted the rituals on himself for the sake of confirming their efficacy.
Morning Glory in Aztec Culture
In Aztec culture, plants were considered a gateway to connect with specific gods in the vast Aztec pantheon. Indeed, the morning glory — AKA coatl-xoxouhqui — was considered a divine plant.
While the Morning Glory’s use continues to this day in Mexico, colonial Spanish explorers chronicled much of what we know about the ancient use of these plants.
Known as Teopixqui, which in Nahuatl means “god guard,” the priests generally reserved the use of psychoactive substances for themselves. While at first glance it may seem excessive, Aztec culture had rigid views of who should use psychoactive substances and who shouldn’t.
Outside of specific rituals and celebrations, taking sacred plants or even drunkenness for pleasure was taboo. Priests consuming Morning Glory trained from a young age in schools called “calmecac.”
The Aztecs were known to have practiced human sacrifice to a staggering degree. Typically, prisoners were used rather than their own people. Needless to say, the work was not light, but it often involved visionary plants like Morning Glory.
For example, there’s a story about the renowned Aztec Emperor Montezuma. Upon assuming his post, he dressed as a high priest in gold, precious stones, and feathers, welding his ritual knife and jade bowls symbolizing status. Montezuma was then anointed with Teotlaqualli (morning glory) before performing 200 human sacrifices to consecrate a new temple.
The Emporer acting as high priest was a rare occasion. And no doubt, using a substance to “remove fear” before cutting open the chests of hundreds of people (some sedated with plant preparations, most not) to remove their beating hearts might require something to take the edge off.
There is also documentation of soldiers smearing Teotalqualli on their faces before battle, but it was mostly the priests performing functions high in mountains or in subterranean locations who used the preparation
Morning Glory & Divination
Explorers and ethnobotanists document the view of ololiúqui (morning glory) as a deity of its own. Those working with the plant entered into altered states of consciousness to communicate with the spirit world.
In A Contribution to our Knowledge of Rivea Corybosa, Richard Evans Schultes quotes Hernando Ruiz de Alarcon’s writings in 1692:
“It is remarkable how much faith these natives have in the seed, for, when they drink it, they consult it as an oracle in order to learn many things.”
The view was that ololiúqui could reveal future events, find lost objects, heal or diagnose illness and even make one’s enemies fall ill. The Aztec culture took omens seriously, and apparently, through divination, leaders predicted the arrival of the Spanish.
Teotlaqualli: “Food of the Gods”
The Aztecs had sophisticated methods of using psychotropic substances — they often combined two or more substances together for a stronger effect. The creation of these psychoactive potions was a ritual in itself.
“Teotlaqualli,” translated as “Food of the Gods,” is a black topical containing several psychoactive substances for communication with various gods.
In Aztec art and legends, many of the gods have black skin, a detail some have attributed to the application of Teotlaqualli.
The preparation of Teotlaqualli was complex. An early chronicle documented how to make Teotlaqualli:
Boys training as priests at the Calmecac would gather poison animals like spiders, scorpions, centipedes, lizards, and vipers.
Then burn the creatures in a brazier inside a temple.
The ash is then mixed with a large amount of tobacco.
Addition of pulverized morning glory seeds
More living poison insects were added.
Other ingredients are likely, but the details remain obscure.
The result is a paste rubbed on priests before rituals. It was used to eliminate all fear and enter into a trance-like state of mind to aid in communicating with the gods.
It’s unclear what specific gods these were, but there is some reference to:
Tezcatlipoca — an ambivalent god with good and bad qualities able to cure or send illnesses
Ixtlilton — a gentle god of medicine wearing an obsidian mask, brought darkness and restful sleep to children
Huitzilopochtli — the solar deity and god of war who fed on the blood of sacrifices to protect humans
Morning Glory in the Western World
In 1947, Albert Hoffman received samples of morning glory seeds and analyzed their contents. He shared his findings and shocked the conference attendees with his insight that one of the most common garden weeds was also a potent source of psychedelics.
These alkaloids are made by a fungus, which commonly grows on grains such as rye, called Claviceps purpurea. Some speculate that ergot is the source of ancient psychedelic alcoholic fermentations dating back over 10,000 years.
In 1956, the CIA experimented with LSA as part of the infamous MK-ULTRA mind control projects. The CIA allegedly used LSA extracted from morning glory seeds (specifically the Ipomoea corymbosa species), which were obtained in Mexico and Cuba.
Morning Glory remains mostly obscure as a psychedelic in the Western world, largely due to the sedative effects and higher risk of nausea and griping compared to more “modern” psychedelics like LSD.
Morning Glory Active Ingredients
The primary active ingredient in morning glory seeds is LSA (lysergic acid amide) — but other ergot alkaloids are present that contribute to the overall effects as well. Some of these ingredients are also responsible for the adverse side effects of the plant.
Like other tryptamine-based psychedelics, LSA binds to the 5HT2A receptor — which produces a cascade of effects responsible for the psychedelic experience.
Other Active Ingredients in Morning Glory Include:
Lysergic acid amide (LSA or Ergine) — the primary psychedelic compound in morning glory.
Ergonovine (Ergometrine) — used to inhibit bleeding after birth or abortion.
Chanoclavine — stimulates dopamine receptors in the brains of mice.
Elymoclavine — found to have stimulating effects in animals.
Lysergic Acid — serves as the starting point for LSD and various medicinal ergot alkaloids.
Lysergol — like lysergic acid, this alkaloid is a precursor to other alkaloids used in medicine.
Agroclavine — a precursor for the synthesis of other ergot alkaloids.
Lysergic acid α-hydroxy-ethylamide — the effects of this alkaloid in humans remains unknown.
Ergobalansine — this alkaloid hasn’t been studied since the 1950s but is believed to have little psychedelic effects.
Alkaloids Found in Different Species of Morning Glory Vine
What Does Morning Glory Feel Like?
The effects of Morning Glory are comparable to that of LSD but much less potent. It also creates a strong sedating effect, which many describe as “dreamlike” or “trance-like.”
Users may feel as though their depth perception is off and experience visual hallucinations (patterns and textures appear to be moving and merging).
About halfway into the trip, morning glory causes an overwhelming urge to rest. Users may not fall asleep immediately, but they will feel a sense of “heaviness” that forces them to find a comfortable place to lie down.
People who fall asleep on Morning Glory experience wild, vivid, and sometimes even lucid dreams. For this reason, morning glory and other LSA-containing plants like Hawaiian baby woodrose are often used as oneirogens (dream-inducing substances).
The effects of a standard dose of morning glory seeds typically last about 6–8 hours or until you wake up the following morning. Some people report a lingering sense of lucidity about 24 hours after the experience.
Morning Glory also has some unwanted side effects that are pretty common at psychoactive dosages. The main side effects, besides sedation, are nausea and vomiting. This is likely due to a cocktail of other alkaloids in the morning glory plant — some of which are mild poisons. A strong ginger tea consumed right after taking Morning Glory may help with this effect.
Other side effects include a heavy “body load,” meaning strong physical sensations (such as cramping or general discomfort) and a sense of heaviness.
Hawaiian Baby Woodrose (The Other Main Botanical Source of LSA)
Lysergamide Psychedelics (The Chemical Family Encompassing LSA, LSD, and Others)
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