You know about ayahuasca and chacruna, the DMT-containing plant that’s often used in the brew, but there’s more DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) to be found in nature, and this time, we’re diving into a lesser-known plant: Anadenanthera peregrina, or yopo.
What is Yopo?
Yopo is a tree that’s native to South America and the Caribbean, also known as jopo or calcium tree. It can grow up to 20 metres tall and its bark is generally rough and thorny. It grows small, white/yellow flower clusters and seeds or beans, which contain a variety of hallucinogenic compounds, including DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, and bufotenin throughout its system, including its leaves, seeds, and bark. It has a sister species, Anadenanthera colubrina, which is also hallucinogenic and thrives in Brazil.
How was it used?
Yopo has been used in the preparation of South American “snuffs” for thousands of years. Snuff is a smokeless way to consume some plant materials, usually tobacco. The plant leaves in question are usually pulverized into a very fine powder and then snorted, delivering a swift hit.
Since 1200 BC, this appears to be the go-to way for consuming yopo across cultures, as evidence shows the snuff used for spiritual ceremonies not just in South America, but in parts of Puerto Rico and Hispaniola, the divided Caribbean island that is home to the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
Radiocarbon testing shows puma bone pipes full of beans from yopo’s sister plant, the A. colubrina in the Inca Cueva, a site in northwestern Argentina date back nearly 4,000 years, suggesting that the beans used to be smoked before they started to become sniffed.
To make the snuff, yopo beans are collected and toasted in order to break the husk.
The husk is then removed and the beans are ground into a fine powder, often mixed with lime or some kind of calcium. Water is then added to make a sort of dough, which is kneaded into a ball and left to sit for several hours or days. Afterwards, the dry ball is once again crushed into a fine powder, which can then be snorted. Typically, a shaman, guide, or simply another person will blow the final snuff into the nostrils of the user, which is apparently the preferred method as it is less irritating and allows more of the snuff stuff to enter the nose.
Technically, yopo can be consumed orally, but is rarely, done, and only in small amounts by some South American tribes which usually leads to intense nausea and vomiting. Most tribes in the area believe that oral consumption of the yopo beans is dangerous. Also, this DMT forum says that the nausea is “very bad,” even after just a few seeds.
Tribes with a history of working with yopo include the Piaroa of southern Venezuela, the Cuiva people of Colombia and Venezuela, and the Sanema of Brazil and Venezuela, as well as the now-extinct Taino people of Hispaniola. Other places where evidence of snuff and yopo has been found include northern Chile and the southern part of the Brazilian Amazon.
Oh, yeah, the yopo tree also has pretty hard wood which is often used to make furniture. So that’s pretty cool, too.
How does it feel?
Yopo has been used in shamanic and spiritual healing and connection ceremonies by South American and Caribbean tribes for thousands of years, but the Western world only found out about it in the Late Middle Ages, when Friar Ramón Pane was commissioned by Christopher Columbus to hit up the Hispaniola island to live among the “Indians” that Columbus had “discovered” and write about their culture and beliefs. Pane was in Hispanionla from 1494 to around 1496, and he wrote his report in 1498, although it wasn’t published until 1511.
The people living on Hispaniola around that time were the Taíno, and while their culture is now extinct, we still have the written An Account of the Antiquities of the Indians that Pane wrote, and in which he recounted his experience with the yopo powder, or, as he called it, the “cohoba” or “kohobba” powder.
Apparently, it was consumed through a foot-long cane and without the help of others– perhaps the assistance part of the ritual developed over time. The nasal hit is quick, Pane reports: “[A]lmost immediately they believe they see the room turn upside-down and men walking with their heads downwards […] The administering witch-doctor took the drug along with his patients, intoxicating “them so that they do not know what they do and … speak of many things incoherently,” clearly believing that this was their connection to communications with spirits.
The Sanema tribe reports a tingling feeling and a belief that snorting the yopo could help them become their spiritual animal totem and merge or become one with the jungle around them. Typically, effects kick in right away and users enter a sort of trance and report “seeing” spirits around them or communicating with spirits inside of objects or nature itself. Since 5-MeO, DMT, and bufotenin are acting all at once, DMT is responsible for the short-lived hallucinations while bufotenin’s effects stick around past the 30-minute mark and even up to three hours. The aftermath of the trip tends to leave users with a deep sense of inner peace and connection to themselves and the world around them.
The goal of yopo consumption was spiritual healing and communication with ones who had passed on. The shamanic and ritual use of hallucinogenic substances for deepened spiritual understanding or otherworldly communication is nothing new and has been practiced, in some form or another, across almost every continent.
Give me a chemical breakdown
We got you.
A lot of the yopo tree is hallucinogenic, including the beans, which tend to be the most potent. The beans contain bufotenin at a fairly high concentration (7.4%), and 5-MeO-DMT and N,N,DMT at fairly low concentrations, hitting 0.04% and 0.16% respectively.
5-MeO and DMT have a tendency to deragade much faster than bufotenin. In fact, some researchers found a 120-year-old batch of yopo beans which contained no 5-MeO or DMT but were still found to have 0.6% bufotenin.
Is it legal and can I still get it today?
Technically speaking, the yopo plant is legal in the United States and most other countries (except for the state of Louisina, which has banned all psychoactive plants– no fun over there– and New Zealand and Australia, which have prohibited the plant and its seeds for import), In the UK, yopo would fall under the blanket ban on anything exciting that is the NPS Act. DMT and the other active ingredients in yopo are not legal, so actually making the snuff or extracting any of the active ingredients could lead to trouble.
So yeah, you can get it today, but like many other psychedelics, interacting with one such as yopo, with such a spiritual and sacred history behind it as well as the intense effects it offers, without the help and guidance of a trusted shaman could lead to a dangerous situation. Stay safe out there and think before you sniff.
Yopo is a native South American and Caribbean tree that grows seeds or beans that can be used to create a hallucinogenic snuff. Yopo history and use have been dated back nearly 4,000 years ago, making it an extremely important part of human history. To make yopo snuff, you need to collect and roast the beans of the plant, remove their husk, and grind them into a powder that is then turned into a paste or dough with the help of some lime and calcium. After the dough dries, it is then crushed into another fine powder and snorted, although there’s been some archaeological evidence that suggests yopo and its sister plant have been smoked as well.
South American and Caribbean tribes use yopo in spiritual healing ceremonies to seek inner healing and to communicate with the nature around them. Yopo contains a variety of chemical compounds, most notably the active hallucinogenic ingredients DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, and bufotenin. It’s a fast-acting plant that puts users in an intense trance where they experience a sense of deep inner peace. The yopo plant is mostly legal around the world, but its active ingredients are not, so think twice before you consider importing it to your hometown.
Oh, and the leaves are toxic to cattle, so if you do manage to get your hands on some yopo, try not to feed it to your cow. [Editors note, this is the weirdest disclaimer we will ever publish, probably.]