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by Christian Rätsch
Originally published in The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants
Citation:   Rätsch C. Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants. Park Street Press. 2005. pg. 832.
Other names Diterpene, diterpènes, diterpenoids, diterpenos

Diterpenes are not alkaloids but non-nitrogenous natural substances composed of four isoprene groups. They are related to the monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes and belong to the terpene group. Diterpenes occur in numerous plants and several essential oils.

Some diterpenes regulate plant growth. Termites, sponges (Spongia spongens L.), and coelentrates contain bioactive diterpenes that have inhibiting effects upon certain bacteria (Buchbauer et al. 1990, 28). There are even sweet-tasting diterpenes, such as the natural sweetening agents in Stevia rebaudiana (Bert.) Hemsl., the leaves of which are used to sweeten maté (cf. Ilex paraguariensis).

The first psychoactive diterpene to be discovered was salvinorin A. It is very likely that there are other psychoactive diterpenes that have not yet been isolated, pharmacologically tested, or chemically described. Some psychoactive alkaloids are diterpene derivatives. Aconitine, the primary active constituent of monkshood (cf. Aconitum ferox, Aconitum napellus), is a diterpene alkaloid. Diterpene alkaloids also occur in Delphinium and Spiracaea.

Diterpenes in Psychoactive Plants
(from Buchbauer et al. 1990*; Reid 1979; supplemented)

Stock PlantKnown Diterpenes
Coleus blumeibicyclic diterpenes
Coleus spp.forskolin, labdanes, coleones
Crocus sativuscrocetine (as glycosides)
Helichrysum spp. (cf. Helichrysum foetidum)various
Jatropha grossidentatajatrophone
Lagochilus inebrianslagochiline (diterpene alcohol)
Leonotis leonurusvarious
Leonurus sibricusvarious
Nicotiana sylvestris Spegazz.2,7,11-duvatrien-4,6-diol
Nicotiana tobacumlabdanes or duvanes
Nicotiana tomentosiformis Goodspeedlabdanes
Nicotiana spp. 
Petunia patagonica (Spegazz.) Millan (cf. Petunia violacea)various
Piper auritumtrans-phytol
Salvia divinorumsalvinorin A, salvinorin B (clerodanes)2
Scoparia dulcisLabdanediterpenes
Taxus baccata L. (cf. witches' ointments)taxines, taxol
Taxus brevifolia Nutt.Taxines
Taxus canadensis Marsh.Taxines
Taxus cuspidate Sieb. Et Zucc.Taxines
Taxus wallichianaTaxines

References #
  1. Buchbauer G, Spreizer H, Keiner G. "Biologische Wirkungen von Diterpenen". Pharmazie in Unserer Zeit. 1991;19(1):28-37.1
  2. Reid WW. "The diterpenes of the Nicotiana Species and N. tobacum cultivars". in The Biology and Taxonomy of the Solanaceae, ed. J. G. Hawkes, R. N. Lester, and A. Skelding. Academic Press. 1979. pp. 273-78
Notes #
  1. In the text, a reference is made to Buchbauer et al. 1990 twice. However, a reference for Buchbauer et al. 1991 is included in the books bibliography, but nothing is included for Buchbauer et al. 1990. The bibliographic info for Buchbauer et al. 1991 has been included. - J Case
  2. Since Ratsch's book has been published, salvinorin C and salvinorin D have been isolated from Salvia divinorum. These are also diterpenes. - J Case
Revision History #
  • 1.0 - 2005 - Rätsch - Original published in The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Drugs.
  • 1.0 - Apr 22, 2008 - Erowid - Excerpt transcribed by Justin Case, html'd and published on