Friday, February 06, 2009

Tabernaemontana divaricata



One of the many great botanical ironies of the 21st Century.

If you frequent plant nurseries, keep your eyes out for this plant, also called Carnation of India and Crepe Jasmine.

This plant thrives in part sun, part shade, and performs well as a large house plant in front of a bright window. It blooms prolific white flowers through most of the year, and can tolerate dry soil conditions if necessary.

Tabernaemontana divaricata is an important medicinal plant to the rural folk of western India where it is native. There, the leaves, blooms, and extracts have been used since ancient times to heal nervous disorders, headaches, and infections among many other ailments. Western science has found that this plant produces over 66 different alkaloids, which are nitrogen-based molecules that bind to key receptors in the animal nervous system that drive nervous function.

One may ask why any plant would produce substances that mimic the action of endogenous animal neurotransmitters... this is an important question, with an even more important answer, but don't bother asking it, because most people in America don't give a crap and are happy to remain ignorant about these matters.

You, dear reader, are different, though, simply because you are reading this.

Because you are reading this, you now know that Tabernaemontana divaricata also produces the illegal alkaloid Ibogaine. You have probably never heard of Ibogaine as a drug because it is not very common in the States (it's not alcohol-based). Ibogaine is a tryptamine alkaloid that doubles as an opiate receptor agonist. In other words, it can trick the human nervous system into thinking it has an opium fix. The handy part of all this concerns the use of Ibogaine as a treatment for heroine addiction. A daring few researchers have spent decades examining the effects of Ibogaine on opiate-addicts with encouraging results. Ibogaine's action is multi-faceted: on one level, it helps ease opiate dependence, on another level, the tryptamine action of Ibogaine sends the "patient" into a mild, yet euphoric state of mind for an extended period of time during which most patients experience a period of life recollection and cognitive "cleansing" that enables a stronger recovery. And all this, with ONE application of Ibogaine. Not repeat use necessary, and no new addiction required.

So, why would such a potentially useful plant alkaloid be illegal in the United States? Because Ibogaine as a "drug" is named after the plant it was discovered in, Tabernathe Iboga, an evergreen shrub from Africa. This plant is illegal to cultivate in the United States under the Controlled Substances Act. In fact, if you read the C.S.A., you find that many "drug" producing plants from Africa are illegal (damn Africans...). However, the world possesses tens of thousands of "known" plant species that produce "drugs". I wonder why Congress made the ones from Africa and Asia illegal, and not the ones from, say, Texas, like Datura innoxia, Argemone mexicana, Sophora secundiflora, and Peyote (oh wait, that Red Skin cactus is illegal too, good thing too, America can't have its citizens thinking like Injuns).

And along comes Tabernaemontana divaricata. Actually, this plant has existed for a long time. "White" Europeans (the same ones that write "White" history) only discovered the plant roughly 150 years ago. Back in the late 1960's, when the Controlled Substances Act was written, no one in Congress knew that Tabernaemontana divaricata produces the alkaloid Ibogaine. There just weren't enough black people using it. And so, today, the African Ibogaine-producing plant is illegal, and the Indian version is a good buy at Home Depot.