Backyard High

Purchase one of these plants at Wal-Mart and you just might get high…

Back in the early 70s when I was a beginner juggernaut, there were a plethora of weird rumors about commonly found items that could be smoked to get high. Surely many of us have tried smoking just about anything you can put in a pipe. I remember the buzz about banana peels. I bought a bunch of bananas—being short of pot back then—and dried the peels in various ways before smoking the final product in even more various ways—all with no effect. Another rumor was that Coleus blumei—one of the most common ornamental houseplants found in North America—could be smoked for a sweet high.

Now I guarantee you can walk into any Wal-Mart or Fred Meyers in the northern hemisphere and buy a Coleus blumei houseplant. Its colorful leaves, combined with ease of cultivation make it a favorite houseplant for millions of folks annually. Originally native to Southeast Asia, it was imported into the United States as an ornamental in the early 19th century. Today it is one of the most widely distributed houseplants and can probably be found in every city on this planet.

Interestingly, it was the Mexican Mazatecs who were first documented utilizing Coleus blumei for its shamanic value. In 1962 when ethnobotanists were examining Mazatec use of another shamanic plant—Salvia divinorum—they also discovered the Indigenous peoples used Coleus blumei. The Mazatecs would smoke Coleus when Salvia was scarce. The Mazatecs considered the plants to be relatives—Salvia being the “female” and Coleus being the “male.” Later botanists learned that Coleus blumei and Salvia divinorum are in fact botanically related as both are in the mint family.

Coleus is exceptionally easy to grow. It does best in strong, indirect light in a warm, rich, loose, well-drained soil with ample water. These plants can also be fed a fair amount of nitrogen fertilizer to stimulate foliage growth. Coleus grows to about 80 cm in height with a thick crown of lovely red-green leaves. It is not frost tolerant, and looks best when cut annually or so and rerooted.

After my banana peel mis-experience more than twenty years ago, I did try Coleus, smoking a fair amount of it to little or no effect. Like many people I concluded that smoking Coleus was just another rumor. However it was a persistent rumor and there have always been continual reports from other juggernauts that Coleus is psychoactive. I have two friends who swear it works, though only offering a mild experience.

Then in the early 1990s, a number of studies examining the biochemistry of Coleus blumei vindicated the rumors. It was discovered that the Coleus plant contains a number of diterpenes or compounds similar to salvinorin A, which is the main psychoactive component of Salvia divinorum. Coleus also contains an enzyme that affects intracellular neurotransmitter receptors. At the very least this is highlysuggestive of psychoactive substances. In truth we really don’t know yet. Furthermore, in one study conducted in the mid-1990s about one third of the volunteers perceived the experience as psychoactive, while two thirds did not. It might also be important to note that no one had a bad experience.

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