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Natural Products

Periodic Graphics

Periodic Graphics: Common stimulants from plants

Chemical educator and Compound Interest blogger Andy Brunning describes some well-known stimulants that plants make and why they make them.

by Andy Brunning, special to C&EN
February 27, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 8


An infographic highlighting stimulants produced by plants. The top section explains that these compounds are often produced by the plant as a defense mechanism. Three classes of stimulants are then highlighted.
Purinergic stimulants, such as caffeine, cause stimulant effects by blocking receptors for purine neurotransmitters.
Cholinergic stimulants, such as nicotine, cause stimulant effects by activating nicotinic or muscarinic receptors.
Monoaminergic stimulants, such as cocaine, affect monoamine neurotransmitters in varying ways to produce stimulant effects.

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References used to create this graphic:

Oliver-Bever, B. “Why Do Plants Produce Drugs? Which Is Their Function in the Plants?Q. J. Crude Drug Res. (1970). DOI: 10.3109/13880207009066221.

Spinella, Marcello. The Psychopharmacology of Herbal Medicine: Plant Drugs That Alter Mind, Brain, and Behavior. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.

Wiart, Christophe. “Plants Affecting the Central Nervous System.” In Ethnopharmacology of Medicinal Plants: Asia and the Pacific, 57–153. Totowa, NJ: Humana Press, 2006.

A collaboration between C&EN and Andy Brunning, author of the popular graphics blog Compound Interest

To see more of Brunning’s work, go to To see all of C&EN’s Periodic Graphics, visit



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