COMMON NAMES: Rapa dos Indios (‘Indian Snuff’)
Maquira sclerophylia is an enormous forest tree that can grow up to thirty meters in height. The leaves are thick and heavy, ovate and marginally inrolled about 8-12 inches in length and 3-6 inches in width. The fruit is cinnamon colored, fragrant, and globe-like. The plant is a member of the fig family, and is found in the tropical areas of South America (Hofmann et al. 1992, 49).
TRADITIONAL USES: Rapa Dos Indios, which means “Indian snuff”, is believed to have been made from the fruit and bark of Maquira sclerophylla (known also as Olmedioperebea sclerophylia). In the Pariana region of the central Amazon in Brazil, the indigenous peoples once prepared a psychotropic snuff of the dried fruits for use in religious festivals. The snuff was taken in tribal ceremonials, but encroachment of other societies has obliterated its use (Hofmann et al. 1992, 49).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: The method of preparation of the traditional snuff made from Maquira sclerophylia is reportedly only remembered by very elderly members of tribes of the regions in which the tree is found.
MEDICINAL USES: Since so little is known about this plant, we do not have any information at present about possible medical uses, although a bark extract injected in rats induced CNS-stimulation followed by decreased activity and muscle relaxation for about 30 minutes (Voogelbreinder 2009, 250). If you have any further information on the medicinal uses of this plant, please leave a comment or send us an e-mail!
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: The preliminary chemical investigations made so far have not indicated what the active principle of Maquira sclerophylia may be, though the tree is known to contain cardiac glycosides. The cardiac glycosides are an important class of naturally occurring chemicals whose actions include both beneficial and toxic effects on the heart. Plants containing cardiac steroids have been used as poisons and heart drugs at least since 1500 B.C. Throughout history these plants or their extracts have been variously used as arrow poisons, emetics, diuretics, and heart tonics. Cardiac steroids are widely used in the modern treatment of congestive heart failure and for treatment of atrial fibrillation and flutter. Yet their toxicity remains a serious problem. The tree is also known to contain coumarins, steroids, phenols and terpenes. No alkaloids have been isolated. The related species Maquira calophylla features a caustic latex, and the bark has been found to contain furocoumarins (De Carvalho & Lapa 1990).
The snuff made of Maquira sclerophylla is said to stimulate the central nervous system, causing euphoria and visions. However, no laboratory or pharmacological studies on humans have yet been conducted on this substance (Hofmann et al. 1992).
An experiment on mice and rats resulted in amphetamine-like effects. This was folllowed by “motor incoordination, decreased exploratory activity, ataxia and muscle relaxation” lasting around thirty minutes. The substance does not appear to be orally active. In further tests on rats, guinea-pigs and dogs, the animals were injected with a purified extract of the plant, and presented with a biphasic change in carotid blood pressure. Hypertension lasted up to thirty minutes. Guinea-pigs and dogs were more strongly affected than rats and died of heart attack. These effects resemble those of digitalis-like drugs (De Carvalho & Lapa 1990).
De Carvalho, J.E., Lapa, A.J., Pharmacology of an Indian-snuff obtained from Amazonian Maquira sclerophylla. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 1990; 30(1): 43-54.
Hofmann, A., Ratsch, C., Schultes, R., Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers. Rochester: Healing Arts Press, 1992.
Voogelbreinder, Snu, Garden of Eden: The Shamanic Use of Psychoactive Flora and Fauna, and the Study of Consciousness. Snu Voogelbreinder, 2009.