Citation: Village1258. "Unmistakeable Aesthetic: An Experience with Voacanga africana (exp110871)". Erowid.org. Feb 1, 2018. erowid.org/exp/110871
Notes on the Voacanga africana
I have been studying this plant for two and a half months now (as of August 2017) and I have tried it out five times. In December, I will be going to Ghana to try and gather oral history on the plant. This is as much a trip report as a summary of some useful information on the plants traditional background, some of which I will be able to discuss in depth in about a year, hopefully.
The Voacanga africana plant is not mentioned as one of the sacred plants of any Ghanaian people up until the mid 20th century, and is in fact not recognized as particularly useful by most botanists. Rituals involving the Voacanga africana have not been documented. What we do know is the plant's name, or really, its names: ofuruma, bwanawa, and kakapempe. Here is where things get dangerous and possibly confusing. These names, in Akan, refer to a number of different trees, including the Tabernaemontana crassa, tabernaemontana chippi, Voacanga obtusa, Rauwolfia vomitoria, and a few others. I have reached out to a few people to get an explanation of how they approach this when communicating about the plant, but, essentially, its hard to tell what you have. Iboga-like effects may come from a different plant, toxic reactions may come from another species.
Given that the plant makes up a large portion of Ghanaian medicinal plant exports, I am sure there is a way companies have approached this. I will probably have to figure this out in Ghana. But the significance of the names can tell us something about how the plant is used. The word 'kakapempe' means, roughly, easily broken. The words ofuruma and ofunuma both refer to the umbilical cord. In a poem used during the enstoolment (think coronation) of a king, the plant is mentioned as representing part of the core attributes of a leader-namely the king being 'brittle', supposedly meaning in this case tactful, I.e. Able to negotiate and deal with the people and with the ancestors. Meanwhile, the umbilical cord, in this culture, is given a special significance, and is buried. A newborn is seen as existing between the spirit world and the real world; for 8 days after being born, the parents will delay forming an attachment to the baby until it is certain it will remain in this world, after which point it becomes fully human. In both cases, the name given to the tree hints at a connection to the afterlife.
This has all unraveled over the last few months, but I will need to visit Ghana in order to verify some of this information, and to test some of these hypotheses regarding the cultural meaning.
Now for the trip. Prior to taking Voacanga africana, I have tried, in order, the following substances, all with the intent of learning more about my own mind, growing spiritually, and trying to heal from depression and anxiety: caffeine, citalopram, bupropion, alcohol, venlafaxine, marijuana, mugwort, nutmeg, morning glory seeds, psilocybin, LSD, nicotine, dramamine, DXM, salvia divinorum and amanita muscaria. My interest in studying the Voacanga africana comes from my heart for victims of imperialism, who I believe benefit when we listen honestly and openly to their stories, and for the mentally ill, who I believe will benefit greatly from psychedelic therapy.
My first experience on Voacanga was in June. I had previously had a glass of Kratom, and took 10 seeds at home to see if I would react poorly. A faint stimulation occurred. I noticed my vision improving.
A week later, I took 35 seeds, ground up into a tea with lime. Again, I felt a little more energy, but this quickly gave way to a subtle kind of entrancement, where I could see a field of gray static surround a particular object, which became very vivid and bright. I made my way to bed, and saw, in the dark, swirling entopic images. Dreams were vivid, although I do not remember them now.
Two weeks later, I decided to take as many as possible to see what would happen. I had experienced no heart problems or stomach issues on these seeds. For the third experience, I set up a blanket with a set of potted plants and a bowl of water and oil for me to look into. I counted out 100 seeds, and made them into a tea with lime. The taste was revolting. I sat down, feeling a numb sensation in some of my extremities, and waited. I saw the same of visuals, although this time my vision went almost completely black every few minutes. My mind began to buzz, before the visual elements faded and I was left in a sort of self-critical state. Figures and faces appeared on the roof, but I was unclear if it was placebo, as the same thing can happen when I meditate.
Figures and faces appeared on the roof, but I was unclear if it was placebo, as the same thing can happen when I meditate.
I was concerned they had done nothing.
I took 50 more seeds to see if anything would happen. It was only when I sat down to smoke weed that I realized I was wrong about the supposed lack of activity. Typically, my tolerance is so low that more than one or two hits will leave me uncomfortably high and anxious. This time, I smoked two bowls before it occurred to me the THC was having no effect. My body felt very high, but all of the mental effects were deflected. I realized that for the last six hours, I had been in a sort of extremely relaxed, and meditative state which I had been unable to recognize as I was too hung up on whether or not something 'trippy' was happening. That night, I had dreams with an intensely detailed and intricate aesthetic, which all worked out something like fables or morality plays.
For the fourth experiment with Voacanga africana, I wanted to see if it might be oneirogenic rather than strictly psychedelic. I took fifty seeds immediately before going to bed. Again, dreams with this same, unmistakeable aesthetic came about. Here is what I wrote down: 'In both dreams I was preparing for a voyage. In the second one, which I remember best, we were at a great big school, with many stories. There was a fundraiser going on, and the beginnings of a religious ceremony for my brother and some old friends. Some form of embezzlement was going. The dream was complicated, though, because of how much life seemed to be there. It was like real life. In the end, Sophie and I were about to leave when a fire hit the building. My family and the DeEncios moved the religious ceremony, which seemed fake in light of everything that had happened, to another room. At a certain point, I realized that I needed to run, so I jumped out the window. Realizing that the fire would blow up the building, I jumped over the sharp pointed fence. Just then, it exploded and I fell to the ground. A voice appeared in my head, which advised me to pay attention to my own spiritual values and beliefs as at their heart they were beautiful. I asked what they were, and eventually realized it was a voice I had complete control over. At this point, I was in another world again. My fiance was signing us up for directtv, complaining about circyits two and buying a submarine/airplane for the trip to Ghana.
In the first dream, I can recall trying to play a video game, but something awful happened. Because of that, I woke up realizing that I couldn't waste time playing head games with myself.
Essentially, Each dream was vivid, symbolic and ended with a moral.'
Today was my fifth experience. I had been sober the entire day, feeling a little sick at work. It hit me about halfway through work that tonight was the might I would give it another shot.
I got home, counted up 120 seeds, and took them on an empty stomach. I then sat down to read a book. Fairly quickly, within twenty minutes, the words became visually distorted. I found myself very sedate, and incapable, practically, of thinking in depth. Not stupid, though, simply immersed in the present. Typically, I will ruminate and get anxious very easily. Not so at that moment. I laid down and looked around. My neck felt tight, my stomach slightly in pain. I saw webs of grey visual distortions, generally amorphous, cloud my vision, along with faint tracers and after images. Faces of people were visible in just about any ambiguous surface. I started to relax, and felt my body become numb. The feeling was similar to what I felt on DXM, except that music sounded more jumbled and tinny. I didn't realize it, but I dozed off into a kind of lucid state of calm contemplation.
Its been four hours now. I still feel the same sense of calm, a little numbness in my extremities, and a tingling in my spine. I tried to eat, but all the food tasted kind of boring. I may have already mentioned it, but this plant was documented in a study I read somewhere as having CB1 receptor antagonist properties.
I have developed a greater and greater sense of reverence for the Akan healers and the skill it takes to understand these plants. There are thousands of medicinal and sacramental plants in Ghana, and for a long time, Westerners have assumed that Africans are spiritually and culturally unsophisticated. Hopefully, contributing this report will help clarify for some of the readers the dangers associated with Voacanga and the cultural background associated with its use. Dangers being the lack of clear identification of the plant and the fact that Westerners really do not know how it is used in its traditional context.
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