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Full Review
Shamanic Snuffs or Entheogenic Errhines
by Jonathan Ott
Book Reviews
Reviewed by Jon Hanna, 6/20/2006

My first impression of this book was the smell of its leather cover—gorgeous, and quite appropriate that a book on snuffs would engage the reader in such a manner. Indeed, the slipcase, the binding, the luxurious paper (which contributed its own crisp smell), the line drawings by Elmer W. Smith, the excellent typography, and even a woven burgundy place-holding ribbon, all make this offering a class act and the most beautifully-produced book that Ott has published to date. Indeed, I suspect that it is the most beautifully-produced book in my entire library. Although the price is high, this limited edition is certainly a quality presentation.

The book’s introduction—nay “Inspiration”—kicks off with a description of snuff use from Columbus and explains that, while current fashion is to smoke tobacco, in the past, snuffing it was more prevalent. Ott points out in the context of visionary tryptamines, that it was the snuffs that led to an understanding of the proposed “ayahuasca effect”—something that has been given much more focus in recent years. As well, he notes: “[I]t would scarcely be fair of me to approach the subject of the shamanic snuffs whilst religiously keeping my nose clean, so to speak. Accordingly, punctuated by sniting and perfunctory emunctories, I have placed my proboscis at the service of pharmacology, exploiting one area of my anatomy at least, in which I can justifiably claim to be better-endowed than most! The long and the short of it is that I’ve embarked yet again upon an ambitious program of psychonautic bioassays…” And it just gets better and better from that point, with Ott’s unique brand of humorous prose shining a piercingly clear light through the darkness, like Rudolph’s nose on Christmas Eve.

The first three chapters of Snuffs are historical accounts, relating the traditional ethnobotany and the chemistry of Anadenanthera snuffs, Virola snuffs, and Nicotiana snuffs, over hundreds of years of use. The proliferation of ethnographic terms and data-dense writing style can make these chapters a bit hard to read. Nevertheless, they are goldmines of information, relating countless specifics regarding the active plants, sundry additives to the snuffs, who took them, how they took them, when they took them, and more.

Easier reading is found within the fourth chapter, “Lesser-Known Snuff Sources,” which provides quick glimpses into numerous other plants that have at one time or another been consumed through the nose. Tidbits are presented related to Acokanthera oppositifolia, Acorus calamus, Anacyclus pyrethrum, Annona senegalensis, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, Artemisia sp., Asparagus africanus, Banisteriopsis caapi, Cannabis sp., Capsicum sp., Datura sp., Dimorphandra parviflora, Erythroxylum coca, Fomes fomentarius, Ilex guayusa, Ipomoea sp., Justica pectoralis, Maquira sclerophylla, Pagamea macrophylla, Piper sp., Salvia sp., Securidaca longipedunculata, Senecio sp., Suæda ægyptiaca, Tagetes sp., Tanæcium nocturnum, Terminalia splendida, Tinospora bakis, Trichocereus pachanoi, Tricholine sp., Veratrum californicum, and Zanthoxylum zanthoxyloides. Ott also describes plants that have been traditionally used as hound- and horse-snuffs—a “visionary veterinary vademecum.”

I suspect that the primary reason that most contemporary psychonauts will want to obtain this book, however, is to glean the practical-use data that are provided in chapter five, “Shamanic-Snuff Psychonautica.” It is herein that Ott provides the highly valuable details from his own rigorous experiments with 5-MeO-DMT, Virola resin, bufotenine, nicotine, and the concurrent administration of harmine and/or harmaline in some cases (compounds that appear to dramatically increase the potency of 5-MeO-DMT and bufotenine, even when taken intranasally or sublingually).

With each of the experiments reported on, Ott abbreviates the compounds: 5-MeO-DMT becomes “M,” bufotenine becomes “B,” and nicotine becomes “N,” with the corresponding “N” [intranasal], “S” [sublingual], “O” [oral], “V” [vaporized], and “R” [intrarectal] being used to denote the method of consumption. (As “M” is street vernacular for both mescaline and MDMA, hopefully its use here to denote 5-MeO-DMT won’t add another such confusing term into common use.) Ott also includes a description of the isolation and purification procedure that he used on Anadenanthera colubrina var. Cebíl seeds to obtain bufotenine, a procedure that doesn’t appear to be overly complicated—something that a kitchen chemist with access to some labware and solvents might be able to perform.

The main “bombshell” of this book—if it can be described as such, since the information has been floating around for some years now—is that bufotenine is indeed visionary. Ott redacted his own previous comment in Pharmacotheon (based on the literature rather than first-hand experience) where he had stated “bufotenine is not active orally at 100 mg doses.” He now reports that this dose orally is “most decidedly active, albeit mild.” Intranasal doses are more active than oral doses, and Ott found bufotenine to be even more potent via vaporization, particularly when inhaled through the nose. Despite the fact that Ott admits to his own mis-characterization of bufotenine’s activity in a couple of his past books, he nevertheless takes aim at one particular article by others that made the same mistake that he did, in what Ott clearly feels was a grander fashion. However, as Ott earlier remarked in Pharmacotheon, “Since the symptoms of cardiopulmonary distress described following the administration of bufotenine can hardly be pleasurable, and few among us would wish to see our faces the livid color of an eggplant, it is doubtful anyone would intentionally administer this drug,” and as the folks who wrote the article that Ott criticizes cite Pharmacotheon as one of their sources, it shouldn’t seem too surprising if they would have shied away from personal bioassays after reading what Ott had to say! Indeed, it seems highly doubtful that Ott himself would have ventured into the realm of bufotenine bioassay, if it wasn’t for the fact that some Anadenanthera seeds that had traditionally been used for snuff—and which Ott himself found to be visionary—tested out as having virtually nothing but bufotenine in them. It is quite understandable that the authors whom Ott takes to task would not have similarly stumbled onto this finding via bioassay, since their primary interest was toad secretions, which contain numerous more deadly bufo toxins, along with the bufotenine. Nevertheless, Ott is to be commended for his further investigations into an area that many would not have trod, due to the preponderance of evidence from past studies of bufotenine’s activity seeming to indicate that it might be a dangerous path to walk.

During his psychonautical exploration, Ott also discovered that a previous report in the Shulgins’ book TIHKAL of 5-MeO-DMT being inactive orally (based on a sole bioassay of 35 mg), may have been due to that individual’s biochemistry, rather than an inherent lack of oral activity for the compound. Ott found 30 mg of the free-base (encapsulated) to indeed be active—on a similar level to 10 mg taken intranasally or sublingually.

I was a little disappointed that this book didn’t cover the pharmacology of DMT via sublingual or intranasal ingestion. I’ve heard a few reports related to DMT ingested in this manner, but seen nothing published anywhere. Jonathan pointed out to me that his was a book that focuses on shamanic snuffs and not general tryptamine pharmacology, and that DMT does not figure in the composition of the traditional snuffs, except as an occasional trace or minor secondary product. While this is true, I suspect that an aside which detailed DMT pharmacology would have been welcomed by most readers.

In the pharmacology data that was presented on those tryptamines that do figure heavily as active components in traditional snuffs, threshold doses were found via sublingual and intranasal ingestion. But there wasn’t any mention of “fully active” doses without the addition of a MAOI. Following the publication of this book, I heard about people who dramatically increased the threshold sublingual doses that Ott mentioned for 5-MeO-DMT, and who were unable to obtain what they considered to be “fully active doses.” They did get some noticeable effects, but nothing at all like those from smoking or oral ingestion with a MAOI. There would be, no doubt, more debate surrounding what constitutes a “fully active” dose than there would be surrounding what constitutes a “threshold dose” for any given compound. Still, it is reasonable to think that even a threshold dose for one individual may be quite different in milligram amounts than it would be for another individual (as exemplified by the report of no oral activity for 35 mg of 5-MeO-DMT that was put forth in TIHKAL being challenged by Ott’s own report of activity at 30 mg). Hence, Ott’s threshold doses should only be seen as guidelines—amounts that worked for him (‘though it should be noted that he claims to have a relatively high tolerance to tryptamines, before one jumps headlong to any conclusions based on the TIHKAL/5-MeO-DMT dose comparison). But it is also worth noting that just because a “visionary threshold dose” is reached, this doesn’t necessarily mean that larger sublingual or intranasal doses will be “fully active” in the same manner as via smoking or oral consumption concurrent with a MAOI. Obviously more data points are needed on this topic. Those who chose to enter into the fray are encouraged to follow the strict methodology that Ott describes in his book to ensure that the material remains under one’s tongue: dry the mouth before applying the crystals, then recline with one’s head propped-up and the tongue elevated to block the throat, and keep any saliva in the mouth for about 45 minutes. Who said taking drugs wasn’t hard work?!

The book ends with a poem, “Arboreal Afflatus Taíno Talking Tree,” and contains a comprehensive bibliography and detailed index. I heartily recommend Snuffs as a valuable reference book for anyone interested in the history and pharmacology of the traditional snuffs. It is a beautiful, well-written, and informative compendium, and an inspiration for those choosing to pursue further psychonautical investigations. A German version of this book is planned as well. Contact Entheobotanica directly regarding shipping and handling charges for your country of origin before placing any orders.

Shamanic Snuffs Or Entheogenic Errhines: 6.25” X 9.25” limited edition of 1026 copies, hand-bound in leather, with cloth-bound slipcase, signed and numbered. 160 pp., 1 color and 11 black-and-white illustrations, with index.

Originally Published In : The Entheogen Review, 2002

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