Medicinal Use of Tobacco in the Upper Peruvian Amazon

The negative connotation given to tobacco in contemporary society involves the risk of mistakenly considering this extraordinary medicinal plant almost a parasite to be eradicated. This stigmatization is the result of modern westerners’ ignorance of the correct and ritualized use of this plant, which has been considered sacred throughout the American continent since time immemorial.

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The reductionist mechanisms of positivist-rationalist thought lead to the profanation of the spiritual dimension of all authentic healing acts and, especially in the case of tobacco, transform this remedy into poison. Tobacco, “powerful mediator between men and gods”, can play an essential healing role, particularly in psychotherapeutic processes and in the search for answers to the urgent existential questions of modernity.

The Amazonian ethnic groups maintain a fundamental empirical practice and ancestral knowledge on the proper use of tobacco that remains to this day. Over the past twenty-five years and through our practice as doctors, we have explored the traditional use of tobacco among the peoples of the Peruvian Upper Amazon, including participatory observation, and following the guidelines of the tobacco masters, who are the specialists of native culture. use of tobacco.

As a result of this experience, we have introduced tobacco use into our therapeutic practice, especially applying it to drug addicts residing at the Takiwasi Center, which we co-founded. In this article, we provide our reflection on this top-notch healing plant, as well as the promising therapeutic potential we have discovered.

Tobacco, sacred plant of the Americas
The following claims about tobacco use come from Amazonians, mainly farmers and some curanderos (curanderos). These statements allow us to recognize the diversity of uses and the current importance of tobacco in the culture of this region:

– The spirit, the father of tobacco, is the helicopter, zzuuummmm …! This is how it takes us … (Master healer L. P., Tarapoto).

– You can’t learn medicine if you don’t smoke … (Master healer G.P, Pucallpa).

– No snake comes close to me; That’s why I go [to the farm] to smoke my mapacho. (Farmer, San Martín).

– Rraaannn! He makes you dizzy and it is as if your whole body rises quickly, there the dizziness begins … (Patient on a tobacco diet, San Martín).

– Put the mapacho mixed with water, so that the fly does not follow you … (Paesant, San Martín)

– … that mapacho tar, the one that stays there when you finish smoking, you put it in its little door so it can remove the worm. (Recipe for myiasis provided by “Curiosa”, San Martín)

-I saw him … The father of tobacco is a strong, tall, black man … he wears a white hat and his eyes shine like fire, but he is good, he takes care of us … (Master Healer JC, Tarapoto)

– Souls love tobacco because tobacco has its own method, its strength. He attracts the Maninkari. He is the best life contact for a human being (Narby, 1997: 36).

-The shaman woman opens along her body from yüi, the tobacco juice […] then, her voice comes out of her womb, sings, and her spirit comes to speak to her … because tobacco is pülasü ; has powers. (Perrin, 1992: 35)

These statements illustrate the diverse uses and current importance of tobacco in Amazonian culture, not only in daily activities but also as a sacred and medicinal plant that continues to be as significant in our time as it was thousands of years ago.

In the Amazon, the Nicotiana rustica tobacco plant has accompanied the inhabitants of the Americas since the dawn of time, some eighteen thousand years, according to Hendrik Kelner (2005). It is estimated that it has been cultivated and used in different ways for thousands of years, between six and eight thousand. It even appears to have been the first plant grown regularly in the Americas. It grows easily when the ground has been a little loose, at the edge of roads or near burials, which shows that in some villages there may be a relationship between the plant and the world of the dead.

There are divergent opinions on its origin and denomination. Although some researchers locate its origin in Ecuador and Peru, due to the discovery of wild plants genetically described as ancestors of the current Nicotiana tabacum and Nicotiana rustica, others attribute their origin to Central America and support a subsequent pan-American distribution.

There are sixty-four species of tobacco, 60% of which are found in South America, others in Asia and Africa, but almost unusable. Only a dozen species contain enough nicotine to be effective in humans.

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