Last updated on January 8th, 2019
One study claimed that Senegalia Berlandieri, a shrub found in some southwestern US states (e.g. Texas) and Mexico, contains mescaline, nicotine and five amphetamine type drugs, including methamphetamine.
Oh, and a couple of mere PEA alkaloids and other central nervous system stimulants. Here’s the study.
Quite a shrub!
Also known as Acacia Berlandieri, this controversial ingredient is found in some of the supplement industry’s more “hardcore” fat burners, such as Lipodrene from Hi-Tech Pharmaceuticals.
Other aliases of Senegalia berlandieri:
- Acacia berlandieri
- Berlandier Acacia
- Guajillo Acacia
Formulators are including it in weight management supplements on the premise that the PEA (phenthylamine) alkaloids and similar compounds can increase catecholamine (dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline) activity and thus increase fat metabolism.
…but what of those other compounds? Isn’t mescaline like LSD?
And aren’t amphetamines quite dangerous, not to mention illegal…everywhere?
Yes, in fact methamphetamine is “meth”, one of the most addictive, life-destroying, breaking badass drugs of all time.
Just Some of the Most Illegal Drugs of All Time
The study in which the lead scientists claim to have isolated four types of amphetamines is an interesting one to say the least.
Undertaken in 1997 it would have been one of the most stand-out discoveries of the decade, at least in the context of pharmaceutical research, if not for the inexplicable deafening silence it stirred.
To give that statement some weight, here’s a list of five amphetamine alkaloids they claim to have found in senegalia berlandieri (acacia berlandieri):
Number 2, methamphetamine, is known as ‘meth’ or ‘speed’ and needs no introduction I’m sure.
Number 4 on the list, 4-methoxyamphetamine, is also called PMA, or para-methoxyamphetamine. It’s a potent antidepressant with psychedelic properties that has been used to cut with ecstasy (E), and even passed off as ecstasy by dealers.
One of its street names is ‘Death’, because some people have kicked the bucket after using it, thinking it was E.
Suffice to say, these are Schedule I (USA), Class A (UK) drugs.
However, and bear with me here, finding 5 potent amphetamines in a shrub is not the weirdest thing about that research.
The weirdest thing is that, up until that scientific paper emerged, those five amphetamines had never been seen in nature before. They were, everybody believed, man-made substances.
There is precedent for this: N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) was synthesized in the 1930s before it was found in nature over twenty years after.
As Dr. Alexander Shulgin once commented, that discovery (DMT) raised some considerable commentary, whereas this discovery of no less than five illicit synthetic drugs in nature didn’t even raise an eyebrow from the scientists who made it.
By the way, Acacia rigidula, which was once claimed to be a source of the also controversial BMPEA (beta-Methylphenethylamine), was reported in 1998, a year after the senegalia berlandieri study, to contain many of the same alkaloids.
And yes, it was the same scientists from the 1997 senegalia berlandieri study that were at the wheel of the acacia rigidula study in 1998.
So, acacia extracts contain a number of amphetamine-like compounds, previously thought to be entirely man-made and synthesized in a lab, often illegally. They also contain mescaline and nicotine on top of some other potent alkaloids of the phenethylamine group.
Trace Amounts and Tiny Yields
Perhaps the most telling finding from those studies was the quantities of said amphetamines within the plant extracts themselves.
The first thing to note is the number of alkaloids found in these acacia shrubs.
- about 40 alkaloids were found in total
The second thing to note is which alkaloids are the most prevalent:
- N-methylphenethylamine (NMPEA), tyramine and phenethylamine (PEA) are the most abundant alkaloids in acacia extracts.
The third thing to note is the total alkaloid content in the dried leaves.
- total alkaloid content is between 0.28% and 0.66% (Chemotaxonomy of Plants, R. Hegnauer, 1994 translated from German)
The fourth thing to note is that the…
- “trace amounts” of the five amphetamines were previously thought to be of synthetic origin only.
Let’s put some numbers to that:
- It would take 1000mg (1 gram) of dried leaves to yield 6.6mg of total alkaloids (at 0.66%)
- It would take 1000mg (1 gram) of dried leaves to yield 2.8mg of total alkaloids (at 0.28%)
- It would require ~ 34 grams (34,000mg) of dried leaves to yield 225mg of total alkaloids (at 0.66%)
- It would require ~ 80 grams (80,000mg) of dried leaves to yield 225mg of total alkaloids (at 0.28%)
I use the 225mg alkaloids measurement because that’s what some supplement manufacturers claim to be including in their fat burner pills.
Even at maximum yield they would need 34 grams of dried leaf powder in the capsules. That’s more than your average scoop of protein. Try swallowing that pill !
There are two major takeaway points from the little exercise above:
- Supplements probably contain synthetic PEA/Amphetamine-like alkaloids as it would be too time consuming, expensive and impractical to include dried leaf acacia extract.
- Even if the acacia shrubs really do contain meth, mescaline, nicotine and PMA, the quantity would be too tiny to have any effect.
Given that no follow-up research on acacia shrubs has found any traces of these Schedule I, Class A drugs, it’s probably fair to assume the 1997 and 1998 research was somehow contaminated.
I had to laugh at this one from Dr. Shulgin:
“Might a contaminated round-bottomed flask have been purchased at a garage sale outside an abandoned meth-lab and served as the source of these “man-made” compounds? Unlikely, even in Texas.”
Even in Texas!
Dangerous Amphetamines – Probably Not
So that leaves us a little more hopeful that our fat burner does NOT contain anything that will get you banned from sports, or worse, banned from freedom.
Also, there are anecdotal reports of people having taken products that supposedly contain either acacia extract and then passing clean drug tests.
If we cycle back to the first takeaway point above – that supplements probably contain synthetic alkaloids – the picture becomes a little clearer.
Synthetic PEA Alkaloids – Probably
It’s beyond the scope of most companies to produce from dried leaf extracts the quantities they claim to be including in the tablets. And not only that, the bulk weight alone would be inhibitive.
If they somehow managed to reduce the extract to pure alkaloids then they would still have to process the bulk dried leaves in the lab. The very thought of all the Texas shrub harvesting that would be necessary is enough to make me smile.
The more efficient, economical and less absurd method is of course to synthesize the compounds. But that causes legal issues, given the FDA’s crackdown on synthetic analogues of drugs finding their into products.
A cheeky solution often availed of by manufacturers is to add the synthetic stuff, but label it as “senegalia berlandieri” extract or “acacia rigidula” extract.
As is the case with the latter, the FDA found that the BMPEA claimed to be a natural alkaloid was in fact synthetic.
Senegalia berlandieri might follow suit.
Senegalia Berlandieri – Will It Last?
The problem with Acacia rigidula was that the FDA could not find BMPEA in the plant. That’s what they said anyway.
It leads you to think one of three things: (1) the FDA is incompetent; (2) the FDA is conspiring against the supplement companies, or (3) the supplement companies are cheeky beggars that put synthetic alkaloids in fat burners and mask them on the label as natural extracts.
What might save Senegalia berlandieri from getting banned is if its reported alkaloid content fits with the alkaloids found in the supplements.
Whether or not the actual alkaloids in the supplement capsules/tubs are synthesized in a lab or painstakingly extracted from dried shrub leaves, as long as each synthetic has a natural twin, they might be cleared by authorities.
I say ‘might’ because it hasn’t gone the industry’s way thus far, even though they are fighting tooth and nail to counter what they say is “bullying” behaviour from the FDA.
Furthermore, unless the particular alkaloids found in nature have been used/approved as herbal medicines or dietary supplements before, it may prove difficult to get them approved.
A good example of one such stimulant is the alkaloid found in Eria Jarensis orchids, that of N,N-Dimethylphenethylamine.
That one has been used as a flavouring agent and obtained GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) status years ago. You can read more about it here.
Senegalia Berlandieri – Is It Safe?
I can’t give you a definitive answer here. You might be sensitive to stimulants like this or you might have a high tolerance.
Much depends on your overall use of stimulants and how “naive” you are to them. A stim-noob should probably not dive in without at least trying out some of the less controversial compounds.
The research on humans with these stimulants is virtually non-existent, and no-one can tell you an optimum dose, especially since people range widely in body mass and health status.
My best advice with anything like this is always much the same: if you must try it then start small to assess your dose. Pills don’t always allow you to if they are the one-capsule-per-day type but pre-workouts definitely can be quarter/half dosed.
Most of the time with fat burner pills there is more than one capsule/pill to take per serving. Try taking one single pill for the first day and see how you feel.
Used appropriately, these stimulants aren’t dangerous, but appropriate use varies from one individual to another, and manufacturers’ recommended dosages are anything but tailored to the individual.
You have to find what works for you, and keep your experimental side locked down.
Senegalia Berlandieri – Acacia – Closing Remarks
Without getting too political, or discussing the finer points of the law, I do think government food/drug agencies like the FDA take a frustratingly simplistic approach when it comes to this kind of thing.
I’m not one way or another about stimulants per se. I think they have their benefits and drawbacks – like a lot of ingredients – but it’s the hypocrisy and virtue signalling sanctimony that pisses me off.
Since ephedrine was banned in the US (circa 2005) there has been a plethora of stimulants and other compounds that have gone the same way since. AMP Citrate, DMAA, DMBA and BMPEA to name the important ones.
Customers in some other countries didn’t even get to try those stimulants because they were stomped on so quickly by the authorities.
What really rubs people the wrong way is that all of this is done under some duplicitous nanny-state guise of caring for our health and safety.
Meanwhile, big pharmaceutical companies cook up a much riskier chemical, run a couple of studies to “prove” the compound is safe for human use, then turn a monstrous profit by giving doctors kickbacks for prescribing it. Then the government slaps a “controlled substance” label on it, making anyone who acquires it by any other means a criminal.
It’s difficult for them to control these natural plant extracts in the same way, so they go with health and safety as their reason for taking action.
None of these stimulants are a blip on the safety radar compared to some prescription medication available.
On the other hand, I strongly believe supplement manufacturers need to be held accountable for what they are putting in their products. Some of them put their ingredients through scientific placebo controlled, peer reviewed scientific studies but it isn’t often the case.
I’m not sure what the legalities are with respect to conducting human clinical trials on these stimulant compounds, but positive results would surely give the FDA and other agencies nowhere to turn.
It’s said that BMPEA (of the Acacia Rigidula debacle) didn’t cause a single (reported) health and safety incident during its availability. When you think that millions of scoops of the stuff have been used, that’s rather remarkable.
And yet, these anecdotal records are nothing to political yes-men without the scientific proof to back them up.
Knowing that clinical drug trials can be designed to sway the results one way or another, I’m more inclined to trust the supplement manufacturers that have something to lose over the big-pharma corporation with an unlimited budget and an army of lawyers.
The major problem the supplement companies face is the extraction process. It’s almost obvious that they would opt to synthesize the same chemical in the lab rather than go though the lengthy and expensive process of extraction, but that might end up being their only choice if they want to sell the compounds legally.
In the end, however, it’s the demand that drives the sales, not the other way around. People want hardcore stimulants in their supplements, and the companies are always looking for the next big thing to satisfy that demand.
Provided they display on the label everything that is in the product, it shouldn’t be a problem. It’s when they start adding off-label ingredients that I stop feeling sorry for the supplement manufacturer.
Senegalia Berlandieri (or Acacia Berlandieri) is like the other stimulants that have come and gone, and I’ll give the same advice I always give:
Under-dose it at the beginning to get used to it. Cycle it like caffeine. And don’t use other stimulants/caffeine sources during the cycle.
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