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Harvesting and ingesting plants with psychoactive properties is illegal, carrying severe criminal penalties. This article only puts forth hypothetical situations and ideas where, in a post-SHTF situation where law and order no longer exist, psychoactive wild plants and mushrooms might be utilized by affected populations based on their effects and historical human uses.
Potential Post-Collapse Uses of Wild Psychoactive Plants & Mushrooms
In a societal collapse, history tells us that people still retain an appetite for two things: intoxication and spirituality. Depending on who you ask, certain plants and mushrooms can help with both—if you know how to identify and use them. Assuming things have deteriorated so much that little to no semblance of law and order remains, a total post-societal collapse situation means you’ll no longer be restricted in terms of what you can sell, barter, or put into your own body. This has positives and negatives.
Whether you use them for post-SHTF spiritual journeying or as a barter item, there is an undeniable post-SHTF advantage to knowing how to ID psychoactive and/or psychedelic wild plants.
This article will describe a number of species, all native to the United States. It will show how to identify them, what they have historically been used by humans, and some of their risks and effects, including potentially negative side effects. All of these substances become riskier, physically and psychologically, at higher doses, when effects become more profound and all-encompassing. This is where the risk of feeling overwhelmed and spiraling into a negative experience becomes more likely.
Some of these plants have effects that aren’t particularly pleasant regardless, and while many are totally non-toxic physiologically, they can cause psychological disturbance. As a non-plant example, LSD has no toxic effect on the body—there is no known dose at which the substance itself will harm you, but you might do something risky or self-destructive due to the psychoactive effects.
Other psychoactive plants, such as the delirium-inducing datura, are dangerous physiologically and can result in cardiac failure, hyperthermia, and other acute health issues. As is the case with all alkaloid-containing substances, everyone reacts differently to each, and effects are usually related to the imbiber’s current mood and psychological state. With all-powerful psychedelic drugs, however, there is believed to be a chance of causing a psychotic break in people with psychological conditions, which may be undiagnosed, or that the user may be unaware of.
Also with all psychedelics, people with existing health issues should stay away. Physical changes in heart rate and blood pressure, while not damaging to healthy people, could cause adverse reactions in those with health conditions.
Hawaiian Baby Woodrose Seeds (Argyreia nervosa)
Closely related to Morning Glory, Hawaiian Baby Woodrose is a vine that is native to India but has been introduced in Hawaii and elsewhere. It is a fast-growing climber with large, heart-shaped leaves and beautiful purple flowers. The seeds contain LSA, which is a psychoactive alkaloid that is chemically, and in its effects, very similar to LSD. It can take well over a year for plants to produce seeds.
Hawaiian Baby Woodrose Spiritual Use by Humans
The seeds were used by the Huna people, a group of central Asian tribes, for shamanic journeying and Ayurvedic healing. Ground seeds were mixed with water, left to steep, and then the brew was consumed.
Hawaiian Baby Woodrose Effects & Risks
About an hour after consuming the seeds, effects generally begin to manifest. A feeling of bodily heaviness occurs, usually leading to a feeling of relaxation or even lethargy. These feelings are often accompanied by giggliness and a sense of giddy engagement with the world around you, are the first effects. LSD-like psychedelic visuals usually begin after these initial effects—items morphing in a spiral or fractal-like patterns, trails of light, increased sensitivity and awareness of sounds are all common. These visuals and giddiness are often accompanied by a sense of renewed insight.
However, negative effects can occur as well. As with all psychedelic substances, one can become overwhelmed by the alterations in perception, causing a sense of panic that spirals into a “bad trip.” When this occurs, the mental and visual changes take on a dark, macabre, and/or upsetting form. Anxiety can occur, and at higher doses is more likely to become severe and develop into panic. The substance also commonly causes gas, nausea, and some vomiting.
Hawaiian Baby Woodrose SHTF Uses
In a post-collapse society, it’s possible that Hawaiian baby Woodrose seeds could be bartered to people seeking recreational escape or spiritual experience. As will be a thread throughout this article, recreational intoxication—although I would never recommend anyone use a psychedelic for this purpose—remains a popular form of escape during hard times. While homemade alcohol would almost certainly be consumed widely, for those seeking an experience far-removed from the drunkenness that booze provides, psychedelic substances could carry a special value.
The sense of insight and engagement that LSA-containing Hawaiian baby Woodrose seeds can provide could also serve to re-energize one’s sense of purpose and morale during dismal post-SHTF times. This can go both ways, of course—take too much or have a “bad trip,” and you could be less far worse off than you were before.
But, as scientists are now discovering with substances like psilocybin-containing “magic” mushrooms and MDMA, or “ecstasy,” certain psychedelic substances have the power to clear away mental cobwebs and help with symptoms of depression, PTSD, and other very severe psychological issues…as long as they are taken in the right amounts, and in the right context.
Big Laughing Gym Mushrooms (Gymnopilus junonius/spectabilis/others)
This mushroom grows on logs and stumps in the eastern United States, with similar species growing in regions throughout the country. Species that grow in the east are the psychedelic variety.
Big laughing gyms contain psychoactive compounds similar to the “magic” commonly sold on the black market to psychonauts, recreational trippers, and curious youths. These are considered generally poisonous due to a substance called gymnopilins, which are said to be neurotoxic.
Caps are yellowish to orange, turning browner as they age, and range from about 6 centimeters to 20 centimeters across in size. They are smooth, with small scales. Stems are thick and club-like and have a delicate ring or “ring zone,” or discoloration, where the ring once sat on the stem. The flesh often bruises blue. Spores are rust-colored. It smells anise or almond-like and tastes bitter, and you can chew a small piece and then spit it out to test, without worrying about being affected.
The honey mushroom is an edible lookalike, but there are lots of species that would be extremely easy to mix up if you aren’t an experienced forager with a detailed knowledge of big laughing gym’s characteristics.
Big Laughing Gym Spiritual Use by Humans
While I haven’t seen much documentation specific to this mushroom species being used spiritually, psilocybin-containing mushrooms are thought to have been used for spiritual and shamanic uses as far back as 6,000-9,000 BCE. This is most evidenced by mushrooms motifs in ancient cave paintings and, later, statues and even temples devoted to the worship of mushroom deities.
Big Laughing Gym Effects & Risks
The risks of ingesting psilocybin-containing mushrooms like big laughing gym are the same as any psychedelic—primarily, you might freak out and enter a horrifying psychedelic nightmare instead of receiving the sense of inspiration, enlightenment, perceived contact with mysterious entities, giddiness, intriguing visuals, sensitivity to sound and music, and general mirth that most users of these substances seek.
That’s the real risk with this substance. It won’t harm your liver, kidneys, or even your brain in a physical sense, but the experience can become dark and terrifying, and/or lead to a situation where you do something foolish and get yourself hurt.
Big Laughing Gym SHTF Uses
As a spiritual tool, big laughing gym is a bit of a gamble, as concentrations of psychedelic compounds are low and, in some specimens, might be practically negligible. However, eat enough of them, and you can have a profound spiritual experience—given you identify the correct mushroom.
However, even so, I could imagine a post-SHTF situation where knowing a few poisonous mushrooms or plants could be helpful.
For example, say a member of your tribe goes rogue and begins harming others or stealing supplies. Poisoning them by sprinkling a poison, psychedelic, or deliriant into their food or drink might make them easier to subdue, abandon, or do away with completely. Of course, this could only possibly be acceptable under the most extreme imaginable circumstances, but then again, we’re talking about hypothetical situations in a complete collapse of society, so you never know.
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
The sassafras tree is easy to identify from its unique leaves. Most specimens have leaves that come in three shapes: one teardrop or oval-shaped, one with three lobes, and one shaped just like a mitten. This “mitten” shape makes it very easy to learn how to identify sassafras instantly. One can also pull off a stem, scratch away the outer bark, and sniff or taste it. It will smell and taste like root beer.
Sassafras Spiritual Use by Humans
When it was still made with actual roots, sassafras roots were the basis for root beer. However, active alkaloids in the root bark can also be used to synthesize MDMA. Not surprisingly, smoking the root bark is said to produce psychedelic effects not far off from a low-grade ecstasy trip.
Native tribes are said to have smoked the root bark for shamanic purposes. However, the entire plant was used for all kinds of medicinal applications, from making a sore throat gargle to an anti-fever preventative, anti-diarrheal, anti-parasitic, a wash for sores, and a leaf poultice for cuts and stings.
Sassafras Effects & Risks
Safrole oil, the oil that gives sassafras its pungency, is considered a carcinogen, and you’ll often see warnings about this in articles discussing sassafras consumption. However, I am of the opinion that this risk is overblown as long as the substance is consumed, whether through teas or tinctures or other applications, in relatively small quantities.
We are surrounded with an array of substances considered carcinogens, from the by-products of plastic breakdown to meat and potatoes cooked at high heat. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to minimize our exposure to environmental carcinogens, but I doubt that occasional safrole oil is anything to be too scared of. Other health risks are minimal.
Smoking sassafras root bark is said to induce mild euphoria and a warm body feeling, as well as mild visual hallucinations such as increased “twinkling” effect from lights. It is also said to make one more sensitive to sound, music, and emotions.
Sassafras SHTF Uses
As native tribes did, one could use many parts of the plant medicinally for all kinds of infections, colds, fevers, and to help treat wounds and skin problems. As a barter item, one could trade sassafras concoctions designed for healing, but one could also create a post-SHTF root beer to consume and trade as well.
Sassafras also has culinary uses and can be applied to add some extra variety to dishes. Sweet and spicy all at once, it adds flavor to meats, can be used as a soup thickener, and can be added as a flavoring spice to meat, fish, or vegetables.
Spiritually and recreationally, sassafras’ inner root bark could be dried and powdered for much the same purpose as any psychoactive drug: to boost morale, seek spiritual meaning in a dreary post-collapse world, or to trade with others for items that you need to survive. Since MDMA is now being explored as a legitimate treatment for PTSD, it’s not hard to imagine the value that the mindful use of a psychoactive plant like sassafras could have in a presumably traumatic post-collapse world. The risk of a “bad trip” is generally lower with MDMA due to the nature of the experience. This is doubly true with sassafras, as the active ingredient is safrole oil rather than actual, pure MDMA. In addition, concentrations are relatively low compared to the psychoactive components in some of the other plants on this list.
Peyote (Lophophora williamsii)
Peyote is the quintessential psychedelic cactus, native to southwestern Texas and Mexico. Appearing as a fleshy little four to seven-centimeter “button” with a whitish flower that sprouts from the center, it looks somewhat like a pin cushion. It also has several ribs, separating each specimen into distinctive sections.
This cactus takes a dozen years or more to grow to maturity, so harvesting one is a big deal, and over-harvesting is easy to do. For the same reasons, cultivating peyote for personal consumption or distribution is impractical.
Peyote Spiritual Use by Humans
The main active alkaloid in peyote is mescaline, a psychedelic drug that also occurs naturally in other cacti, including San Pedro and Peruvian torch. Peyote has been used for thousands of years by native tribes, both for medicinal and spiritual uses. Medicinally, it is thought to have been used to treat ailments as diverse as toothaches and fevers to pain from childbirth. Spiritually, it has been used in guided shamanic journeying, and to achieve direct contact with the divine.
Peyote Effects & Risks
Peyote is infamous for causing vomiting after ingestion. During spiritual rituals, this process is often considered an important aspect of the “purging” of current energies, making way for the new, positive spiritual energies believed to be introduced by the cactus. Because of this, there have been reports of esophageal damage in alcoholics, though this isn’t a risk for healthy people.
Aside from that, the risks are the same as with most psychedelics…those with existing mental or physical health problems should stay away, as psychedelic substances could exacerbate them or trigger further issues.
As far as the “trip,” it is said to create a giddy sense of connection with the divine. This takes the form of a sense of increased insight and rejuvenation. However, a negative psychedelic experience with peyote will do the opposite. Paranoia, terror, and depression can take hold, potentially to an extreme degree.
Peyote SHTF Uses
Due to its rarity and the time required to reach maturity, peyote could conceivably be used as a higher-value barter item than other psychoactive plants. Medicinally, it may be valuable in that there might not be as many options in a desert environment for accessing natural medicine.
Even if you don’t think you’d be interested in exploring the spiritual or recreational effects of psychoactive plants and mushrooms in a post-collapse society, you can bet that other people will. And in a world where recreation is no longer as easy as turning on Netflix or grabbing a bottle of wine from the store, knowing some of these natural substances could give you a unique advantage in your group of post-collapse survivalists can bring huge peace of mind.
In addition, in a grim world where it’s hard to retain a sense of morale, meaning, and connection with the divine, the spiritual value of psychoactive plants and fungi is hard to overstate. When times are hard, many people turn to God—whatever their idea of “God” may be. This seeking of divine meaning is a part of the fabric of the human condition, so while some will surely remain atheists or agnostics regardless, others will be desperate for new ways to remind themselves that a loving, merciful universal force is still looking out for them.
And hey, aside from all of that, it’s a fun thought experiment to imagine how these plants might be used—and how those who know how to identify and prepare them might be advantaged—in a total SHTF scenario.
Eric is a nature-loving writer, experience junkie, and former Boy Scout who never forgot that time-honored Scout Motto: Be prepared. Aside from camping and survival, he loves writing about travel, history, and anything he finds strange and unique!
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