2 From Plant to Intoxicant

In 1753 Linnaeus gave the name Cannabis sativa to Indian hemp. Thus one of the oldest psychoactive plants known to man formally entered modern botanical literature. Centuries earlier ( eighth century B.C.) the Assyrians had called the plant Quonoubou Qunnapu, whence the following roster of ancient epithets: the Hebrew Qanneb, the Arabic Qannob, the Persian Quonnab, the Celtic Quannab, and the Greek Kannabas. Some scholars assert that, excluding alcohol, hemp was indeed the original intoxicant.1 However, R. Wasson, an authority on "hallucinogens," has suggested that a cult of "hallucinogenic" mushroom worshippers may have existed thousands of years before the hemp intoxicant was introduced.2

Early man must certainly have been acquainted with many of the plants now known to have psychoactive properties. These plants are currently classified as members of one of two groups: those -- variously called "hallucinogens," psychotomimetics, and "psychedelics" -- which can produce subjective perceptions of that which does not exist; and, second, those yielding psychotropic drugs which normally calm or stimulate the central nervous system. Only two plant narcotics, opium and cocaine, are known to cause addiction and to be physically dangerous to the user. Marihuana, one form of Cannabis sativa, is a mild mind-active drug, and lacks the powerful consciousness-altering properties of either mescaline-bearing peyote or the psilocybin-bearing mushrooms.

The number of plants capable of producing mind-active substances remains undetermined. The total number of these species, however, forms a relatively small portion of the members of the kingdom. Of the 400,000 to 800,000 plant species, perhaps 60 species of flowering and nonflowering plants are known to have

-30-

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