The Chemistry of the Blue Lotus

The Blue Lotus (Nymphaea caerulea) contains a number of psychoactive alkaloids, namely apomorphine, aporphine, and nuciferine.

Apomorphine is now recognized as the oldest anti-parkinsonian drug on the market. Though still under-used, it is increasingly prescribed in Europe for patients with advanced Parkinson’s disease (PD) with motor fluctuations. However, its history is far from being limited to movement disorders. This history of apo-morphine, travels from its earliest empirical use, to its synthesis, pharmacological development, and numerous indications in human and veterinary medicines. From shamanic rituals in ancient Egypt and Mesoamerica, to the treatment of erectile dysfunction. from being discarded as a pharmacological tool to becoming an essential anti-parkinsonian drug, the path of apomorphine in the therapeutic armamentarium has been tortuous and punctuated by set backs and ground breaking discoveries. Throughout history, three main clinical indications stood out: emetic (gastric emptying, respiratory disorders, aversive conditioning), sedative (mental disorders, clinical anaesthesia, alcoholism), and anti-parkinsonian (fluctuations). New indications may arise in the future, both in PD (palliative care, nonmotor symptoms, withdrawal of oral dopaminergic medication), and outside PD, with promising work in neuroprotection or addiction. [35]

Though apomorphine is known as a synthetic product, anthropologists, ethnobotanists and pharmacologists have tracked down an early use of it in ancient civilizations, with striking cross-cultural similarities in Nymphaea cults between Mesoamerica and Egypt, where mind-altering plants were part of the religious and healing systems.[36]

The white waterlily figures prominently in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican iconography. Abundant clues to its entheogenic properties are found in poems, ceramics, carved stone reliefs and frescoes, where it is constantly associated with representations of mythical beings, mushrooms, human anatomy and death symbols. During the Classic Mayan period, Nymphaea ampla was associated with fertility and presumably used by a priestly caste to induce shamanic ecstasies and hallucinations. The Dresden Codex features the Water lily Jaguar, god of the Mayan netherworld, frequently associated with libations, drinking vessels and hallucinogenic enemas. More recently, a recreational use of fresh, raw rhizomes of Nymphaea ampla was reported in the seventies in some areas of Chiapas, Mexico and aporphine alkaloids (apomorphine-like alkaloids, nupharine, nupharadine) were subsequently isolated from its rhizomes and roots. [35] [36]

The Dresden Codex features the Water Lily Jaguar, God of the Mayan Netherworld
The Dresden Codex features the Water Lily Jaguar, God of the Mayan Netherworld

Nuciferine is an alkaloid found within the plants Nymphaea caerulea and Nelumbo nucifera. Nuciferine possesses, anti-inflamatory, anti-hyperlipidemia, anti-hypotensive, anti-arrhythmic, and insulin secretagogue activities.

Nuciferine has an enriched pharmacological profile, with affinities for a number of serotonergic and dopaminergic receptors. Nuciferine and its derivatives might lead to a new family of atypical antipsychotic compounds. Furthermore, a recent identified mechanism of action related to its anti-inflammatory activity, suggest this molecule might also play a role in the treatment of depression and posttraumatic stress disorder. Nuciferine was already reported to have antipsychotic properties, comparable to chlorpromazine.

Nuciferine has also earlier been isolated from the Indian lotus, the Nelumbo nucifera, a plant used in an Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia for the treatment of certain mental disorders. In the Chinese pharmacopoeia, the preparation Tangzhiqing tablet also contains nuciferine.[38]

The Blue Lotus has also been found to contain a number of antioxidants. As part of an ongoing search for antioxidants from medicinal plants, 20 constituents were isolated from the Nymphaea caerulea flowers.[37]

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