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J R Coll Physicians Lond. 1999 Jul-Aug;33(4):368-76.

The poisons and narcotics of the Amazonian Indians.

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  • 1Royal College of Physicians, London.


The indigenous tribes of the Amazonian rainforest have discovered a vast array of poisons and narcotics from the plant species which surround them. Examples are given from the author's personal experience of a variety of arrow poisons, fish poisons and narcotics used by six different tribes. There is a great variety of different plant species used for each category and no two tribes studied employ exactly the same array of plant species. This makes it important to survey a wide range of tribes and to document this information before it is too late as these people are fast losing their traditional culture. Several of the substances used by Amazonian Indians, such as curare and coca, have entered into western medicine and others such as rotenone, an ingredient of their fish poison, has become a useful insecticide. Further useful chemicals are likely to be discovered from ethnobotanical work among indigenous peoples and it is vital that any commercial gain from their knowledge be of direct benefit to these people in accordance with the rules of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

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