Instructions for purifying alkaloids from Tricocereus cacti. This is a
general method for concentrating alkaloids, with emphasis on mescaline, but
which may be adapted to other plants and alkaloids. It requires that the
alkaloids be relatively basic and that the base form be less soluble in water.
So it would work well for DMT, but not psilocybin or caffeine for example.
The principle of alkaloid purification is to obtain from a plant only that
fraction which is basic. This is achieved by a double layer extraction, relying
on the principle that amines (as opposed to most of the other compounds in a
plant) are soluble in acidic (the salt form) but insoluble in basic (the basic
form) aqueous solution. However, the basic form is soluble in non-polar organic
solvents whereas the acidic/salt form is not. Thus, by varying the pH, alkaloids
can be taken from aqueous solution to organic solution or vice-versa, leaving
behind other materials.
Some chemicals and equipment are important for successful extraction of
alkaloids from cactus. The chemicals include methanol, dichloromethane or
chloroform, sodium hydroxide and hydrochloric acid. The equipment includes a
distillation apparatus, a separating funnel, and various beakers and containers,
pH tester, and filter. Alternatives can be found for each of these.
Slice and dry the cactus. I haven't worked out the best way to do this; no
matter how I do it, I am always afraid that I am destroying the alkaloids.
In general, what seems to work is to slice it thinly, and run hot air over
it overnight. The more water which can be removed from the cactus at this
stage, the easier the process will be. [Another possibility might be to use
a drying agent such as Calcium Chloride see the "Drying
and Preservation" section of the Magic Mushroom Growers Guide for
Pulverise the dried cactus. I have tried using a blender, and it seems to
work moderately well. The cactus is tough so you will have to be patient.
The finer the grinding, the better the extraction.
Extract dried cactus with methanol. Ideally this is done hot using
solvent-extraction apparatus (soxhlet). Various makeshift methods may
suffice for a hot extraction, but I have generally merely soaked the stuff
for up to a week, cold. Ideally this step should be done three times, and
the extracts concentrated. I have done it once for a week, and then washed
out the absorbed methanol with fresh methanol once or twice over an hour or
two. What you should end up with, after filtering out the bulk of the
cactus, is a green methanol extract. Ethanol or acetone could be substituted
for methanol, but neither of these is quite as effective. It is generally
desirable to use several times the weight of the dried cactus for the
methanol extraction, or at least enough to cover it well in a container.
Remove the methanol to leave just an extract residue. This is best done
using vacuum distillation, but can be done using atmospheric distillation,
to recover the solvent. If you don't mind losing several litres of methanol,
you can merely boil the stuff into the atmosphere; just avoid starting a
fire. Always no matter what use boiling chips (porcelain) to
promote even boiling. Methanol superboils easily, as I have found :-(. Once
most of the methanol is removed, you will be left with a hundred ml or so of
watery, methanoly, green slime. If it weren't for the methanol and the bad
taste, this could be consumed at this point. In general, I would say that it
may be worth your while going to the next stage if you can manage it.
Add dilute hydrochloric acid. Sulfuric acid, etc. could be used instead,
but I like to use HCl and NaOH, because the product is NaCl, which is of no
consequence if it contaminates anything. HCl is not as oxidising as H2SO4.
The HCl should be less than 1M, but not weaker than 0.1M (pH 0-1). Add a few
times the reduced volume of liquid - e.g. take the stuff to 400 ml from 100
ml, etc. One good idea is to let the bulk cactus residue (post methanol)
dry, and then soak it for a few hours in the acid you are going to use to
add at this point. This will extract the last of the alkaloids.
Unfortunately, cactus being what it is, will swell enormously, and removing
the HCl is tricky. I have resorted to large quantities of HCl and a kind of
press to squeeze out the acid from the bulk residue. This acid should then
be filtered, and added to the methanol extract residue as above.
(optional) The stuff at this point will be a bit of a mess. Adding
activated charcoal and boiling gently for 10 minutes will help to congeal
the chlorophyll etc. which is gumming up the stuff. Do not add too much
charcoal - less than a gram should be plenty. Too much will absorb
alkaloids. Don't use burnt wood, burnt toast, etc - get the proper stuff
from the local pharmacist. Performing this step will make the next stages
Filter the HCl extract. This will remove a proportion of the gunge. This
will be easier if charcoal was used. The more gunge that can be removed at
this stage, the better. Washing the residue with fresh HCl before
discarding, and adding this to the rest will ensure no loss of yield.
Carefully basify the HCl solution with NaOH. I tend to use around a 5M
solution for this, which is OK as long as you stir as it reacts. Take it
well above pH 7. You should get white clouds of alkaloids forming in the
solution, and the whole will become turbid as some of the acid soluble
components precipitate. Ammonia or KOH should work for this purpose as well.
I have had some difficulty with ammonia not being quite basic enough in
Add dichloromethane (or chloroform); be generous with the quantities if
possible. Ideally, one would like to extract into CH2Cl2
3 times with equal volumes, but the amount of solvents gets huge. Ether is
not all that good with mescaline extraction, I believe, even though it is
easier to separate from water. CH2Cl2 is handy because
it has a very low boiling point. It is at this point in the whole operation
that the most care and patience is necessary. A separating funnel is really
a must - one could plausibly separate the layers with a very tall thin jar
and a syringe, but this would be difficult. Ideally, the basic solution and
the CH2Cl2 will separate into 2 nice layers, the lower
one (organic) containing the alkaloids. Unfortunately, while this is not
difficult with most plants, it is very difficult with cactus extracts
because the cacti contain so much resinous junk and natural surfactents (to
retain water). The best way I have found to separate the layers once you
have shaken them together is to add plenty of salt (NaCl) to the water/base
layer. This is excellent for breaking the emulsions which form. Be prepared
to use large quantities of salt.
Separate dichloromethane layer from mixture and put aside. Repeat steps
9-10 a few times: once is insufficient, three is good, four is excessive.
Combine all the dichloromethane extracts together. This should be a slightly
green solution. It will contain a bit of water, most likely.
Backwash the dichloromethane once with a solution of salt and NaOH
(dilute). This will clean up the last of the junk from the organic solution.
Separate the layers as before and discard all aqueous material.
Distill off the dichloromethane (or allow to escape to the atmosphere if
you are rich and don't like the ozone layer). I have found that once you are
down to maybe 20 ml of residue, the best option is to place the remainder in
a petri dish (or some flat dish you are going to store it on) and hitting it
with a hairdryer to remove any last CH2Cl2 and water.
You should be left with a small quantity of moderately pure alkaloids. This
can be easily consumed by dissolving in vodka, e.g., or should be stable for
extended periods if refrigerated, frozen, kept airtight and away from
moisture. Do not expect more than a 50% yield the first time you try this:
theoretically if everything is done properly, the yield should approach
100%, but this is rarely the case.
Subject: Re: Extracting alkaloids from Tricocereus cacti.
I've had a quick scan through that post, and it seems he's been pretty
complete in his description. I can add the following information:
The initial extraction is very important. You only have as much alkaloid
to play with as you extract at this point. Similarly, the more gunk you
extract at this stage, the more you'll have to eliminate. Methanol is used
because it's not too polar or non-polar, and it penetrates cell walls and
membranes quite effectively. Acetone would be as effective, but it seems to
pull much more gunk out along with it, and for this reason should probably
be avoided. Also note that the better your mechanical mulching process is,
the more effective the extraction will be. Also, note that a hot solvent
extraction under reflux conditions, or using a soxhlet would be more
effective, but bear in mind that some alkaloids may decompose with heat -
it's probably worthwhile checking the physical characteristics of the
alkaloid in question in your handy Merck index or CRC handbook.
With respect to the degree of acidity and basicity necessary for the
extraction, this can only really be found by trial and error. Insufficient
difference from neutrality will cause insufficient separation, extremes of
pH (particulary too basic) may cause alkaloids to be degraded or other nasty
things to happen. Also note that other compounds present may act as buffers
- be sure to stir well, and measure the pH using indicator paper or somesuch.
The final product is a free base. Usually it's unneccessary to go further
than this. Forming a salt can be tricky, and would also be wasteful. If
you're ingesting the product orally, then it'll salt adequately with the HCl
in your stomach. If you're concerned with oxidation by the air, well, use
your better judgement (are you really going to wait that long before eating
the stuff). Of course, if it's DMT and you're going to smoke it, forming the
salt is a waste of time.
Extraction of Cactus Alkaloids - Second Method
Fresh cacti, w/ a water content of 90-95%, are difficult to handle; the juice
is not easily separated from the fibers, and the presence of mucilaginous
substances causes trouble during extraction. Thus, it is preferable to dry the
plants immediately after they are collected, in order to avoid losses and
deterioration. The plants should be cleaned, the spines extracted with nippers,
and the remaining material cut in thin slices and dried in the sun or better in
a low-temperature drier (40-60oC). The dried substance is easy to grind, and the
powder can be stored if neccessary.
The powdered material (10kg) was exhaustively extracted in a percolator with
hot, acidulated [0.3% acetic acid] 96% ethanol, the extract filtered and
concentrated in vacuo to 500 mL. water was added (2.5L) and concentrated again
to 2.3L. The solution was filtered to separate oils, resins, chlorophyll, etc
and washed twice w/500mL of chloroform. The aqueous solution was neutralized
with solid potassium carbonate, and an excess of 20g was added. A precipitate
containing only calcium carbonate was eliminated, and the solution extracted
four times with the same volume of cholorform (2.3L). The combined [chloroform]
extracts, after having been dried [allowed to stand over] with anhydrous
sodium sulfate were concentrated to 780mL and filtered. The solution was
extracted twice with 150 mL of 3% aqueous HCl and once with 100 mL water. The
aqueous solution was washed with ether repeatedly and filtered. This is the
purified aqueous solution of total alkaloids. [This would be a good place to
slowly evaporate the water and consume the residue, for further purification of
the alkaoids, see below...By the time all the water is removed, there should be
no excess HCl around.]
This soln. is alkalinized agin with dry potassium carbonate an extracted 5
times with 500 mL of ether. This extract, containing the ether soluable
alkaloids, was concentrated to 500 mL. this is A (trichocereine) [this is
mostly the more lipid soluable, inactive, dimethyl-mescaline, aka trichocercine]
The aqueous solution [still basic] is extracted three times with 500
mL chloroform, and the extract concentrated to 200 mL; this is soln B
(mescaline) [this could be taken to dryness to give mescaline base, probably
Soln B was extracted twice with 40 mL of 5% aq. HCl and once with 20 mL
water. The aqueous extract was then washed with 20 mL chloroform and 20 mL
ether. After alkalinization with potassium carbonate, the solution was extracted
with chloroform and the [chloroform] extract evaporated to dryness. It
weighed 4g. After neutralization with alcholic hydrochloric acid, the crude
hydrochloide was dissolved in 30 mL. of absolute [ethyl] alcohol and the
filtered solution overlayed with 30 mL of ether. The hydrchloride crystallized.
re-xtalized from alcohol, the pure salt melted and 181-182oC.
L. Reti Journal of the American Chemical Society, 1951, p 1767
This document from the Journal of the American Chemical Society