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Guide to Researching Psychoactive Plants: Resource List Options
 
Entropymancer
#1 Posted : 6/14/2012 6:38:34 AM

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Guide to Researching Psychoactive Plants of Interest



Maybe you're interested in an obscure plant and want to find out more about it. Maybe you're helping with a collaborative research project. Maybe you're just tired of relying on wikipedia for your information. This post can help.

It's structured in three parts:
  • I. Condensed List of Resources - All the key resources from Part III without any of my blathering
  • II. The Basics - A brief note on source attribution
  • III. Finding Sources - A discussion of the research process, including links to helpful resources

[Please feel free to suggest any references or databases that you feel should be included on the list]






I. Condensed List of Resources


Reference Books

Journal Articles

Botanical Nomenclature

Botany - General

Online Herbaria

Dissertations and Theses
  • ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Database
  • DATRIX

Patents

Chemistry

NCBI Databases

Ayahuasca-Related





II. The Basics


Keeping Track of Your Sources

Information is only as reliable as its source.

Imagine that I have just told you that Acacia berlandieri contains methamphetamine. Maybe you believe me because you think I'm a trustworthy guy, maybe not. It's hard to tell if that claim is reliable because I haven't cited any sources. If I make that claim and cite an Ask Dr. Shulgin article, that's a little better; most people think that Dr. Shulgin is a trustworthy guy, so that gives the claim a little more weight. But it's best if I make that claim and cite the original report from the journal Phytochemistry. That way you can check that I haven't misunderstood the paper's claims, and you can see what else they found in the plant.

There are a lot of "official" ways to format a bibliography entry (Chicago, MLA, APA, etc.). Unless you're really familiar with one of those formats, don't bog yourself down worrying about doing it "correctly." All that matters is that you record enough information that people can easily find your source. Include as many of the following as possible:

  • Author(s)
  • Year published
  • Title of the document
  • page numbers (if applicable)
  • For articles, write down the journal or book it was published in (for journals, also write down which volume/issue of the journal)
  • For books, include the name of the publishing company and the city in which it was published
  • For internet sources, include the address and the date that you visited the site

Just for your own records, it's often helpful to save a copy of any sources that you cite. Make a folder for the subject you are researching (either a physical one or on your hard drive) and put your copies in there so you can find them easily. It is legal (under fair use) to photocopy or scan the relevant pages from books or articles. It is especially important to save copies of any internet sources that you cite! Websites and web content disappear all the time. Either print a copy of the site or save the site to your computer.



Evaluating Reliability

Whenever reading a source, always ask yourself: How reliable is this information? Does the author have a good reputation? Do they appear to be really familiar with the subject? Do they cite their sources? Was the source written at a time in the past when our understanding of chemistry, botany, or anthropology was very different than today?

There are times when it is okay to use unreliable sources. An internet forum post by someone who claims to grow an obscure plant is worth quoting if no good information about cultivating that species has been published. A priest's account of "witchcraft" and heresy based on psychoactive plant use during the Inquisition can provide valuable information, even if you completely disagree with their worldview. Just make sure that you're always critically evaluating the reliability of any source you read.






III. Finding Sources


Reference Books

It's always a good idea to start by seeing what information is available about your subject in reference books. But obscure psychoactive plants don't typically make it into the Encyclopædia Britannica, so we'll need to look elsewhere. Sometimes you can find some preliminary information on Wikipedia... don't trust it! Always follow their citations and (if the source is reliable) take notes directly from the source.

There are some good reference works on psychoactive plants that can serve as a good starting point. When taking notes from these sources, always preserve their citations (and copy the relevant entries from the bibliography) so you can follow up their sources. And it is always a good idea to follow up and read the sources they cited. No matter how much you respect an author, you may find that there are areas where you disagree with them when you consider the literature for yourself. The following lists are representative of the most noteworthy books; more titles (including books dealing with more specialized subjects) can be found in the Recommended entheogen reference books thread.

Here are some examples of general references (with a brief note on each):

  • Garden of Eden (Snu Voogelbreinder): A very encyclopedic book that has entries on a lot of obscure ethnobotanicals. Up-to-date (published in 2009). Snu puts his citations at the ends of paragraphs; sometimes the paragraph talked about multiple species, so it can take a little extra time to follow up on all the cited sources and figure out which apply to your subject.
  • Pharmacotheon (Jonathan Ott): Ott is usually reliable and always includes extensive citations and bibliographies; if he mentions the plant that you're looking for, he will always point you to further literature on the subject.
  • Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants (Christian Rätsch): Information is frequently unreliable. Use his bibliographies to find additional literature, but don't take his word as fact.
  • Botany and Chemistry of the Hallucinogens (Schultes & Hofmann): Somewhat dated, but still a good source with a good bibliography.

Sometimes you can find a book with a more specialized focus that includes your plant of interest. For example, if you were looking for information on an obscure ayahuasca additive, you would do well to check Ott's Ayahuasca Analogues book for references. One reference series in particular deserves special attention: Trout's Notes. They can be a pain in the neck to find (many are out of print); I'm not even sure how many volumes there are (the website is a trainwreck). But when it comes to information, Trout's Notes are great, and he always cites his sources. Here are some of the more noteworthy volumes:

  • # A-4 Acacia species reported to contain Tryptamines and/or beta-carbolines.
  • # A-5 Ayahuasca & Ayahuasca Alkaloids (Free online)
  • # C-9 Cactus Alkaloids, other than Mescaline; Reported from Mescaline Containing Cacti; (including Coryphantha alkaloids)
  • # D-2 The Genus Desmodium (Free online)
  • # FS-X7 Some Simple Tryptamines
  • # SC2 Sacred Cacti, 2nd Edition
  • # SC3B San Pedro & Related Trichocereus species

If you're looking for older books (old enough that the copyright has expired), there are a couple of good resources:
  • Google Books: Also indexes the text of newer books, so even if you can't download a copy, it gives you a good idea of books you might want to borrow through your library.
  • Archive.org Ebook and Texts


Journal Articles


Most of the original research on these plants is published in academic journals. Both Google Scholar and PubMed index virtually all of the newer publications and are excellent places to look for information. If you want to search the publishers' databases directly (rather than a data aggregator like Google Scholar), the most significant ones are:


Finding copies of old journal articles is more difficult. Occasionally you might find a scanned copy with a simple search on Google (not Google Scholar). Otherwise:

  • Check with a nearby university library: They may own a copy of the journal you're looking for.
  • Inter-Library Loan: Many local libraries can borrow a copy of the article that you're looking for from a larger library or from a university. This service is typically free, and (in my experience) quite prompt. A photocopy of the article usually arrives within a couple days of placing the request.
  • There are other ways to access scientific journal articles, though they tend to lie in an ethical gray area. I personally recommend pursuing more mainstream routes... your local reference librarian can be your best ally.

There are also a couple of websites that have scanned a great deal of the older botanical literature. Both of the following have indexed their collections so you can search by botanical name:


Botanical Nomenclature

To find good sources, you have to know what to search for. Botanical names are sometimes revised. Sometimes the same species has been published under multiple names. You'll want to search the literature using all of the botanical synonyms if you want to get as much information as possible.

The following are botanical nomenclature indexes that are helpful in figuring out what the currently accepted name for a species is, as well as what other names for it exist in the literature:


Online Herbaria

Many herbaria have indexed their collections so that they are searchable online. Entries often include pictures of the specimen. These collections provide information about the geographic range of the species. Occasionally the collector will record the traditional names the plant is known by in the region it was collected.

[The following list is very incomplete; please help to expand it]


Dissertations and Theses

Sometimes graduate students write dissertations and theses that cover subjects related to your area of interest. Sometimes they can be very helpful. The writing quality can be poor, and they may only touch briefly on the subject you're interested in, but they always include a good bibliography.

  • ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Database: If your library subscribes to the service, you can search the ProQuest database for papers. If you're really lucky, your library might subscribe to the Full Text service so you can download a copy of the paper for free.
  • DATRIX: If your library doesn't subscribe to the database, you can still search it for free, but you have to send your search and receive results by email. ProQuest used to have a feature to search their database for free online; apparently that service was recently replaced by this email-only service.
  • Check with University Libraries: Buying a copy of a dissertation/thesis is expensive. If you've found a reference to one that you want to read but don't have free access to it, check with the library at the university where the author submitted the paper. Sometimes they keep copies on their servers that can be accessed for free. If that fails, you can try contacting the author directly and explain your interest; they may be able to provide you with a copy.


Patents

Sometimes you can find patents related to your plant of interest. Someone may be trying to patent a particular preparation of it (for example, a patent application has been submitted for chewing gum laced with Salvia divinorum). Or someone might be trying to patent a technique for synthesizing a chemical in the plant, or a pharmaceutical preparation involving a chemical that occurs in the plant. Copies of the patents or patent applications can always be found free of charge. You can search patents in the following databases:



Chemistry

So you've researched a plant and found out which alkaloids (or other chemicals) have been isolated from it; now you want more information about those alkaloids. For the most part, you'll find literature about the chemicals the same way you found literature about the plant. Google Scholar and PubMed are both good resources for finding chemical literature. Still, a few other resources can come in handy.

  • Chemicalize: Since it's calculating based on the structure rather than searching from a database, it can give you information for any chemical you want, even ones that have never been reported in the literature. Just draw the structure or enter a valid IUPAC name (if you draw the structure, it will generate the IUPAC name for you). The only shortcoming is that it won't let you save the structure as an image.
  • Marvin Sketch: A free piece of software made by the same people who run Chemicalize. With this program you can save the structure as an image, and it includes support for scalable vector graphics (*.svg) format (this allows the image to be viewed at any size/resolution without getting grainy and pixellated)
  • ChemSpider: A free chemical database. I've found that the best way to search it for chemicals that don't have accepted common names is to input the structure in SMILES form (basically a string of characters that defines the structure); you can use Chemicalize to find the SMILES input for your chemical. Chemspider Indexes a lot of resources (literature, physical property calculations, etc.), so it's worth checking out.
  • ChEMBL: A great index for pharmacology data. You can either search the database with SMILES input or by entering the ChEMBL ID (which ChemSpider will find for you).
  • PubChem: Also indexes a lot of information.
  • The DMT Nexus Wiki: Endlessness has added a lot of chemical data to the Nexus Wiki, especially for simple tryptamines.


Internet Sources

Internet sources are, in general, the least reliable. If a website cites sources, always check the sources. If it does not cite sources, do not use it without very good reason (i.e. it discusses a subject not covered in more reliable literature; cultivation of rare species, for example). And always ask youself: How reliable is this information?

Forums
[I'm aware that this list is incomplete... still deciding whether a list of forums is noteworthy enough to include]

Sometimes you'll take some notes from a website, only to find the website is gone when you visit it again in a few weeks. When trying to recover a source that has been removed try using:



NCBI Databases

We've already mentioned PubMed and PubChem, but NCBI (the National Center for Biotechnology Information) has a lot more databases than just those two. If you want to take a shotgun approach, try:

  • Entrez: Searches across all of the NCBI databases. In addition to PubMed and PubChem, this includes a database of online books, DNA sequences, protein sequences, taxonomy, bioactivity screening data, and a large handful of others.


Ayahuasca-Related Sources
 

Psychedelic news, articles, interviews and art from the DMT-Nexus and other sources.
 
purple_dye
#2 Posted : 6/14/2012 3:56:56 PM

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This is really amazing. You obviously took a lot of time out to put all this information together.

I love your organized scientific writing style by the way.

This would be a good thread to link to ANY research thread and it might not be a bad idea to have it re-posted and stickied in the Nexus community projects section.

This could be the beginnings of every major (and minor alike) future contribution on the nexus
PS

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Shaolin
#3 Posted : 6/14/2012 9:46:48 PM

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Entropymancer, thank you.

Great overview of the info search. I'm positive I'll be going back to it many many times in the future.
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endlessness
#4 Posted : 6/15/2012 1:54:19 PM

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Yes, most excellent resource overview!!

Entropy, I think also a good place to research that you could add to the list is actually the Nexus wiki, I've added a lot of info with the DMT, DMT N-Oxide, 5-MeO-DMT, bufotenine, 5-MeO-DMT N-Oxide, bufotenine n-oxide, NMT- containing species page.

I added the sources to all the information, mostly from Trout's Notes on SST. The full publications are either directly linked (specially in the DMT plants page), or they are abbreviated (and the full citation is here). One problem I have with SST, though, and the same now with the wiki, is that the alkaloids are divided in sections and you dont see what other alkaloids are present in each particular plant, in some cases. So for example one plant may have been analysed and published with certain mixed alkaloids, and then in Trout's notes he will mention how much DMT it has in the DMT section, and how much Bufotenine it has in the bufotenine part, but you dont know its the same plant because the information isnt given together

Purple dye, since you were considering checking out Desmodium, here is also some info on it: http://www.erowid.org/li..._part2_desmanthus.shtml


Edit: I would also like to add Bia Labate's blog (and all her books) as great references on ayahuasca and ethnobotanicals (though often more anthropological)
 
endlessness
#5 Posted : 6/16/2012 9:40:36 PM

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I think I just stumbled onto a goldmine...

http://www.napralert.org


I found it by searching for latest ethnobotanical papers on sciencedirect, and finding this amazing paper by Mckenna on plant screening (attached), which mentioned this database. Problem is, it seems to be non-responsive when trying to search for things or register. Maybe you guys can try and see if it works...


Paper attached:

Mckenna et al 2011. Receptor screening technologies in the evaluation of Amazonian ethnomedicines with potential applications to cognitive deficits. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 134 (2011) 475–492

 
Entropymancer
#6 Posted : 6/17/2012 7:10:19 AM

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I've thought of a couple more resources that really should be added to the list:


There's a fair amount of overlap between the two. Both are good places to look for scans of old literature. Also Google Books indexes the text of a lot of newer books, so even if you can't download a copy, it gives you a good idea of books you might want to borrow through your library.


endlessness wrote:
Edit: I would also like to add Bia Labate's blog (and all her books) as great references on ayahuasca and ethnobotanicals (though often more anthropological)


A couple other good sources for ayahuasca-related topics are:


endlessness wrote:
I think I just stumbled onto a goldmine...

http://www.napralert.org


I found it by searching for latest ethnobotanical papers on sciencedirect, and finding this amazing paper by Mckenna on plant screening (attached), which mentioned this database. Problem is, it seems to be non-responsive when trying to search for things or register. Maybe you guys can try and see if it works...


It appears to work (I could register, search, and get to the checkout area). But it seems like it could get expensive depending on what you're looking for. And I don't like that it only tells you how many citations it found; if you want to know whether they are papers you already have, you have to pay for the whole lot of them upfront.


 
endlessness
#7 Posted : 6/17/2012 1:15:11 PM

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Entropy, maybe we could have a search or two and make a test purchase just to see how well it works for these more obscure plants? I would be willing to make the purchase, if only I could register.....

By the way, http://www.discoverlife.org is an excellent tool, gives maps where plants grow, synonyms, identification info, link to herbarium collections, etc.

Also I found a webpage where they have info on different plant species that contain specific alkaloids, but the website's main page is in japanese, so I found it easier to google the "site:kanaya.naist.jp alkaloid/plant name" and it already goes to the right page (for example DMT page)
 
Entropymancer
#8 Posted : 6/17/2012 2:45:37 PM

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endlessness wrote:
Entropy, maybe we could have a search or two and make a test purchase just to see how well it works for these more obscure plants? I would be willing to make the purchase, if only I could register.....


Not very well apparently. It only has one citation for Tetrapterys methystica. The report reads as follows:
Quote:
TETRAPTERYS METHYSTICA (MALPIGHIACEAE) DRIED BARK
USED AS AN HALLUCINOGEN. A COLD-WATER INFUSION IS TAKEN.
INFUSION * ORAL * HUMAN ADULT


BOTANICAL SOURCES OF THE NEW WORLD NARCOTICS.
SCHULTES,RE:
PSYCHEDELIC REV (1963) 1 pp. 145-166 SOURCE WAS A SCIENTIFIC REVIEW PAPER.
HARVARD UNIV BOTANICAL MUSEUM CAMBRIDGE MA 02138 USA


The good news: That's a citation that doesn't turn up in a Google Scholar search. The bad news: there are a lot more other sources that do turn up in a Google Scholar search, but are apparently not indexed by Napralert.



On a somewhat related sidenote: Apparently the DMT-Nexus is indexed in Google Scholar...? When I search for Tetrapterys methystica or Callaeum antifebrile, our Poorly understood family of ayahuasca vines thread is one of the top results. Either someone at Google thinks we're doing good work, or else their crawlers include any website that seems to contain a lot of citations.
 
Morris Crowley
#9 Posted : 11/15/2012 8:08:25 AM

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Entropymancer wrote:
Keeping Track of Your Sources

There are a lot of "official" ways to format a bibliography entry (Chicago, MLA, APA, etc.). Unless you're really familiar with one of those formats, don't bog yourself down worrying about doing it "correctly." All that matters is that you record enough information that people can easily find your source. Include as many of the following as possible:

  • Author(s)
  • Year published
  • Title of the document
  • page numbers (if applicable)
  • For articles, write down the journal or book it was published in (for journals, also write down which volume/issue of the journal)
  • For books, include the name of the publishing company and the city in which it was published
  • For internet sources, include the address and the date that you visited the site



I'd like to add that BibTeX is a very useful way to keep track of your sources. It's basically a plain text format for keeping track of the sort of information quoted above. It was designed for reference management, especially for use in conjunction with LaTeX. If you do much writing, LaTeX/BibTex are very helpful tools to get familiar with -- they can seem a little overwhelming at first, but really it's just a simple (but very powerful) markup language, sort of like the BBCode language that you use to format posts on this forum.

BibTeX entries follow a simple format:
Code:
@<entrytype>{<key>,
  <field1> = {<stuff>},
  <field2> = {<stuff>},
  etc...
}

<entrytype> describes the type of reference (article, book, etc.), <key> is whatever arbitrary keyword you want to use for the reference, and the <field>s are things like author, year, title, etc. A list of entry types and fields supported by BibTeX can be found here

For example, an entry for Schultes and Hofmann's Botany and Chemistry of the Hallucinogens would look like this:
Code:
@BOOK{schultes1980,
  year = {1980},
  author = {R. E. Schultes and A. Hofmann},
  title = {Botany and Chemistry of the Hallucinogens},
  edition = {Second},
  publisher = {Charles C. Thomas Publisher},
  address = {Springfield, IL},
  series = {American Lecture Series Publication},
  number = {1025},
}


If you don't like dealing with plain text files, there is free software (like JabRef) for managing BibTeX bibliographies. On the other hand, plain text has its advantages... if tend to work on things from multiple computers, you can use GoogleDocs to edit your files from anywhere (if you go that route, the LaTeX Lab front end is worth a look).



Once you've built a BibTex bibliography, you can use LaTeX to produce a nicely-typeset PDF with the entries all formatted according to whatever standard you want (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc... personally I like the style "humanbio", which formats entries in the style of the journal Human Biology).

A fairly minimal LaTeX file that will generate a PDF of your reference list looks like this:
Code:
\documentclass{article}
\usepackage[authoryear,round]{natbib} % For bibliography formatting
\bibpunct{[}{]}{;}{a}{}{;} % Citation formatting
\begin{document}
\nocite{*}  % Includes all BibTeX entries even though we haven't explicitly cited any
\bibliographystyle{humanbio}
\bibliography{./bibliography} % This assumes that your BibTex file is called "bibliography.bib" and is in the same folder as this LaTeX file
\end{document}


Speaking as someone who has struggled to find a good way to organize notes and sources (writing by hand on notecards was frustrating and archaic, but I never got along with newer note-taking software like EverNote), I've found LaTeX/BibTeX to be a good way to go. It's explicitly intended as a typesetting system, but it's pretty functional for organizing any written material. If you're interested, there are a lot of good resources available to learn more about using LaTeX and BibTeX, so I'll cut my rambling short here.
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Ib
#10 Posted : 12/29/2013 3:19:41 AM

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I thinks that Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Database could be added on the list.
"These databases contain information on the activity of chemicals in plants, and ethnobotanical uses for plants. Databases are searchable by plant (scientific or common name), chemical (e.g., ascorbic acid), or activity (e.g., antiviral)."
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Cognitive Heart
#11 Posted : 3/17/2014 3:36:47 PM

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Thank you for all of the quality research and website information! It will be good to utilize these various sources as tools for gathering research, notes, discoveries or simply for curious reasons. Plant databases are a great outlet indeed!
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Morris Crowley
#12 Posted : 11/21/2014 5:01:33 AM

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One more to add to the list:

Global Biodiversity Information Facility
http://www.gbif.org/

Extremely useful in locating herbarium specimens. It appears to incorporate a very thorough index of searchable online herbaria. No need to individually search each and every herbarium manually, a search on GBIF gives you a list of how many specimens of the species are located at which herbarium.

The one drawback: It doesn't seem to link directly to the herbaria or the sheet images... you still have to visit each herbarium's website individually to pull up images. But still, this is a huge improvement!
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HolderChert
#13 Posted : 4/24/2019 4:41:17 AM

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Hello All,

Thought this might be of some use to anyone interested in researching natural products.

Library Genisis is a great resource for many pdf and other ebook formats of scientific literature and article publications. I've really enjoyed the resource.

One nice example:

Plant Alkaloids: A Guide to Their Discovery and Distribution. This covers the largest plant screening program of the 20th century conducted by Smith Kline & French; about 19,000 species were screened for alkaloid content using simple color tests.

Also if you're having trouble gaining access to published research because of credential restrictions or you just don't want to pay for access this is a good place to look.

SciHub is another good one but I think it's been mentioned on the forum before.

Anyway, hope this helps.


Best,
HC
 
downwardsfromzero
#14 Posted : 4/25/2019 9:05:52 PM

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Thanks for the links.

It appears that some of the links are broken in Entropymancer's original post. For instance, since the updating of Trout's notes those links have been changed. Mods?
Quote:
Caution to all readers of our pdfs.

Our former domain at largely accurate information media was purchased by someone who added some sort of malware that now responds to the old download links in our PDFs.

Please do not use any links to that site. All PDF copies are available for free through us and have been replaced with newer copies lacking those old URLs.
(As previously announced by K. Trout here on this forum.)

Here's a link (current as of the date of this post) to the Trout's notes library.
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