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Ginseng -- A Natural High

This page has been designed specifically to investigate and explore the use of ginseng -- that wonder herb of the Orient -- as a means of attaining enhanced concsiousness and a natural high. Even though I have had a series of cumulative and intense experiences using ginseng, I am surprised by the paucity of information on the Web concerning the root's psychoactive qualities. Is it only me that has these experiences? It is only me that thinks of ginseng as a natural high? To merely mention the possibility that commonly used and healthy substances like ginseng and green tea can get you high is to invite scorn and ridicule -- in my opinion at least. Have we become so puritanical a society that we shun any kind of transcendental consciousness, even if it comes from a healthy source? This website is devoted to exploring this issue. I will share my ginseng experiences, and try to find similar testimonials on the Internet. If anyone has out there has some experiences of their own, or a generalised comment on the issue, I would be delighted to hear it.

First Encounter -- April 15 2004

One of the things I hope to document on this website are the various (and legal) psychadelic properties of common herbs and foods in Asia. I can still remember the surprise and bliss I felt when I first drinking Japanese tea on a daily basis, and out of nowhere came this marijuana-type high! I suddenly realised: you can get high drinking green tea! I suddenly realised, why traditional (and modern) Asian architecture and design is so colorful and trippy. It is because everyone in Asia is permanently high from green tea, and it is influenced everything -- even aesthetics and art! Of course, few people believe my claims about the psychoactive properties of green tea, but I know a high when I see one, so I don't care.

Today I bought and drank one of the strangest beverages I have ever seen before, which I found in a Korean store on Kan-nana-dori on the way to Kansai-rinkai-koen. Kan-nana-dori is one of the ugliest roads in the world, full of belching trucks and lined with depressing apartment blocks (euphemistically called "mansions" in Japan), car yards and empty concrete wastelands. When I saw the Korean shop I decided to take a look, because I like Korean food and want to eat it as much as possible, to get a taste for it. I was especially interested in seeing what Korean drinks I like, and that's when I found the ginseng drink. It was a small bottle with an actual ginseng root floating inside, kind of looking like an alien squid with tentacles dangling down at the bottom. Bizarre -- and I knew I had to have it!

To be honest, it didn't taste too bad -- kind of sweet and salty and earthy at the same time. For the first hour or two, there were no obvious effects. I was hoping that like green tea ginseng might have some pyschadelic effects, but it didn't seem to do anything. Then the high began, very slowly, very gradually. The first clue that something was changing in my consciousness came when I heard two young guys talking in Japanese and I could hear every syllable of what they said, even though my Japanese is pretty bad. But suddenly my mental power seemed to expand, and I could understand Japanese -- it was the coolest feeling in the world, a feeling of triumph! Later, walking the streets of the business district near Tokyo station, undeniable marijuana-like effects began to take place. It is hard to describe these effects to people who have never smoked marijuana or taken LSD, but for those who have, you know what I mean. Now it is a couple of hours since I drank this strange legal (not to mention healthy!) drink and I am thoroughly loving it -- Tokyo is such a cool place when you are off your face! I am listening to some music (Icelandic rock, Danish pop, etc) and it sounds so powerful and raw, I can hear every note and appreciate every tone and cadence. This is a real smart drug, and I can't wait until I go to Kasai-rinkai-koen again, and hunt down that Korean food shop with its strange ginseng root tonics!

I'm not the first to discover that ginseng gets you stoned. Read this woman's ginseng experience at Erowid Experience Vaults. She claims her ginseng high lasted a couple of days. Yippee -- it's not over yet!

History of Ginseng

The first interesting point to be made about ginseng is that it has only in recent years been used as a "pick-me-up" and general all-purpose health tonic. In fact, ginseng was probably first used by humans as food. The species renowned as "Asia's most popular herbal medicine", Panax ginseng, was supposedly discovered over 5000 years ago in the mountains of Manchuria, China. Originally the Manchurians might have exploited it as a food, but they soon came to realise this root held more spiritual powers. According to Suite101.com, "Asians originally revered ginseng for much the same reason Europeans venerated mandrake. The roots of both plants can appear man-shaped. The word ginseng in fact, derives from the Chinese jen shen (like a man) It official name Panax comes from the Greek Panakes (Panacea, meaning a remedy for all ills.

Ginseng will cure your ails

Names can tell you a lot: in ginseng's case, it means it is (almost) a panacea, a tonic herb, or an adaptogen that helps to improve overall health and restore the body to balance, and helps the body to heal by itself. According to the modern ads and pharmaceutical companies, ginseng has been used for centuries to boost energy, sharpen the mind, reduce stress, treat impotence, and extend life. Other traditional uses include: to enhance the immune system, control blood pressure, regulate blood sugar levels, and stengthen the cardiovascular system. But this is not quite true -- in ancient Chinese medicine, ginseng had a totally different, less sexy role. Allow me to elaborate!

Ginseng strengthens yang energies

Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) consider the Asian ginseng to be an energy tonic, stimulating and heat producing, increasing yang energies. It is employed in a number of degenerative and "wasting" diseases where chi or vital energy is deficient. It is contraindicated in conditions such as colds and flu. The red variety is considered by traditional herbalists to be more potent and stimulating than white. Some scientific tests appear to confirm this notion.

The ancient Chinese used ginseng to balance the body's chi, those natural negative and positive energies that are represented by the body's various organs and functions. If taken regularly ginseng was said to substantially increase your inner strength and prolong your life span.

The first known ginseng treatise was written by Li Yenwen, the father of Li Shizhen (author of Bencao Gangmu, published in 1596 A.D.). Excerpts from the ginseng treatise were included in the Bencao Gangmu, including this passage about the nature, functions, and use of ginseng, that illustrates the gentle quality of the herb (17): Used fresh, ginseng displays a cool nature. When it is used after preparation [steamed, red ginseng], its nature is warm. The slight sweet taste strengthens the yang; the somewhat bitter taste strengthens the yin. Nature [xing] controls the genesis of things: their origin is in heaven; tastes control the completion of things; their origin is in the earth. Nature and taste, genesis and completion are realizations of yin and yang. The cool nature of fresh ginseng expresses the yang influence of spring, namely, of genesis and development. This is the yang of heaven. It has the nature of rising. Sweet is a taste that has been formed through transformation of moisture and earth. These are the yang influences of earth. They have the nature of floating. The somewhat bitter taste has been formed through reciprocal interaction of fire and earth. These are the yin influences of earth. They have the nature of descending in the body.

Taste and nature are both equally weak in ginseng. Whatever has a weak nature descends in the body when fresh, and rises when prepared. Whatever has a weak taste rises in the body when fresh and descends when prepared. In case of illness in which the earth [spleen] shows a depletion and the fire [heart] shows vigor, the weak cool nature of fresh ginseng is suited to diminish the blazing of the fire and to replenish the earth. This could be called a pure use of ginseng's nature.

In the case of illness characterized by depletion in the earth and weakness in the lung, the sweet taste and warm nature of prepared ginseng is suited to replenish the earth and to generate the metal [associated with lung]. This could be called a pure use of ginseng's taste....

Bai Feixia wrote: 'When one takes ginseng as a paste after a cyclic preparation [usually, steaming and drying with alcohol], this herb is able to restore the original qi into a utopian condition.' Whenever one suffers-after an illness-from qi depletion and from a depletion in the lung combined with cough, ginseng is appropriate. When a qi depletion exists together with fire, one should take ginseng together with ophiopogon.
Ginseng Enhances Perception

By speeding up the nervous reflexes, this herb increases analytical and overall mental performance, while diminishing fatigue.

Ginseng's health benefits

Some of Asia's little wonder herb's health benefits include: it is an effective treatment for colds, coughs, rheumatism, neuralgia, gout, diabetes, anemia insomnia, stress, headache, backache and double vision. Women will find it helpful in normalizing menstruation and easing childbirth. In an experiment study in Eastern Europe, ginseng was used effectively as a mouth was against Periodontal Disease which is a progressive destruction of the supporting structures of the teeth. Ginseng also counteracts the effects of physical and emotional stress, enhances memory, counteracts fatigue without caffeine, and improves stamina. Ginseng stimulates the immune system by spuring the production of the body's own virus-fighting chemicals, helps reduce cholesterol levels in the blood, has anti-clotting effects, reducing risk of arterial blood clots, helps control diabetes by reducing blood sugar levels, is known as an antioxidant, preventing the cumulative cell damage researchers believe cumulates in cancer, protects the liver from the effects of drug, alcohol and toxins, minimizes cell damage from radiation, and increases intestinal absorption of nutrients. Ginseng is said to be good at preventing hangovers. I have to admit, since I started taking ginseng, my hangovers have become less severe.

Use of Ginseng to Get High

In the latter part of the 20th century, ginseng was promoted to Westerners as a health product that could improve cardiovascular functions, mental acuity, and sexual performance, prevent serious diseases (such as cancer), and help treat chronic ailments (such as diabetes). It was recommended to be taken on a daily basis much as one would use a multi-vitamin, which was the closest Western equivalent, conceptually, to ginseng at the time. In fact, a number of multi-vitamin products added a small amount of ginseng to their formulation in order to promote this very concept.

The herb was eventually being consumed by millions of Americans. Unfortunately, a very small number of consumers began using the herb in unusual ways (unusual applications of a Chinese herb similarly occurred, but on a much bigger scale, with ma-huang; see: Safety issues affecting Chinese herbs: The case of ma-huang). The result of the misuses of the herb was reports of adverse effects. In 1979, a Los Angeles physician, Ron Siegel, published a clinical note in the Journal of the American Medical Association (6) about a "ginseng abuse syndrome." In an evaluation of 133 people in the Los Angeles area who had been taking ginseng frequently (for one month to two years), it was found that 14 (10%) reported symptoms that were then depicted as being part of this syndrome (though a larger number reported one or more symptoms, falling short of the abuse syndrome). Typical symptoms were nervousness, irritability, insomnia, skin eruptions, and morning diarrhea.

In fact, the study by Siegel, which was uncontrolled, had numerous flaws (7). All of the people reporting these "adverse reactions" were consuming caffeine (mainly coffee), which has these exact side effects (except skin eruptions). Those who were in the study all reported that they experienced an energizing effect of ginseng, which implies that this was the primary reason for persistent use of the herb. Further, Siegel had later admitted that several of the cases of ginseng abuse syndrome were from people who were using ginseng in an attempt to get "high" and were sometimes administering unreasonable amounts (up to 15 grams per day). In China, ginseng is reputed to calm the disturbed spirit, being a typical remedy for anxiety, irritability, and insomnia.

Potent Brew: Chiba Japan 2006.

One of the pleasures of travelling is that you get to try all the strange foods and drinks folk offer you on the journey. Some travellers decline these kind offerings (be it rice-fed rat jerky in Vietnam, dogburgers in Seoul South Korea, or insect snacks in Mexico.) It's their life, but I think they miss out on valuable life experiences by being so squeamish. It is good to widen your palate, and you can stumble upon plenty of natural highs if you open-minded (stomached) enough. Last night (February 18 2006) I discovered a brilliant little potency here in Japan. I didn't think much of it at the time, but now a day after consuming it, it is taking me into a realm of beauty and tranquility, like a delayed release Sigur Ros song -- deeper and deeper, higher and higher...

I am not completely sure if it contained any ginseng, but anyway, here's the story:

Last night I was invited by my friend M. to stay over at her house, which is in a little surf town called Ohara in Chiba Prefecture about an hour east of Tokyo. I met M.'s parents and her friend O., and before too long the parents were telling me that I am welcome to stay with them anytime and that I am like part of the family and stuff. It is kind of becoming a habit for me to get adopted by families in Japan and showered with all sorts of privileges and accommodation rights and travel opportunities. Actually this is the third Japanese family which has taken me under their wing in the past year, and invited me to stay in their home. This is a really cool development because I would love to be able to think, that I could go anywhere in the world, and have a home away from there. Well, I am not quite there yet, but I have at least three home bases in Japan, all in equally cool locations.

Happily, it soon became apparent that I shared a passion with M.'s father -- and that is a passion for hard, reckless drinking! We headed out to a yakitori grilled meat restaurant near Ohara, and as soon as the meat landed raw and ready to be roasted on the table, the old man virtually threatened to drink me under the table. He produced a pungent little glass of something which smelt like a Korean barbeque, and shoved it in front of me. The challenge had been made. Of course I had to drink it.

The drink is called shokuzenshu (literally, "alcohol to be drunk before eating"). I wish I could say I downed it in one shot -- I was able to sip all of it over a 10-minute time frame, between chugs of beer. It was a very spicy number indeed, very pungent, and very strong both herbally and alcoholically. It was hard to place the exact taste, but there were definitely traces of garlic, ginger, mushrooms and onion in the mix. I am not sure if ginseng also played a part -- its possible given the overall Korean vibe of the drink. Anyway, I drank the drink, and I didn't notice any effects apart from a sudden warming of my chest, which I attributed to the alcohol. It is only now in retrospect, looking back on the past 24 hours, I can see it was starting to work a subtle effect on me, which became more pronounced as time went by.

Some of the effects: a tremendous rise in libido, sexual performance, and run-of-the-mill lust. Not that I sexually performed during the night, but if I had the chance, I would have done admirably. Strangely it also seemed to make me more charismatic. M.'s friend was all over me as the night progressed, trying to hold my hand and asking me about my taste in women. If I didn't have a girlfriend already, I could have got myself a new one. It was a very good night and great flirtatious fun. (Maybe this effect came from the garlic and onions.)

An almost miraculous boost in stamina. I only slept a couple of hours last night, but I can honestly say I am not tired and in fact still have plenty of reserves of energy.

Finally but not least importantly, there is a kind of serenity and emotional lability, an almost spiritual appreciation of beauty. (Maybe this comes from the mushrooms.)

I am not sure where exactly ginseng comes into this equation, but anyway it is a story I thought well worth telling, so I told it.

Contact the author Rob Sullivan at coderot@tgmail.com. Anticopyright July 2004/September 2008.

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