Pituri an Indigenous Australian Narcotic

Pituri an Indigenous Australian Narcotic







Nicotine has been a major part of Aboriginal society for thousands of years just as it has been a part of other societies throughout the world..

High nicotine content is found in pituri a shrub related to the native tobacco plant. This native plant grows right across Australia from Queensland to Western Australia.

Aboriginal people have traditionally chewed these wild tobacco plants (Nicotiana spp.)

Nicotine is the active constituent in Australia’s various Nicotiana species. Both nicotine and nornicotine, a drug four times as toxic as nicotine, are usually present in Duboisia hopwoodii.



A preparation of the leaves and stems called pituri appears to have had a long history of use in traditional Aboriginal society.

Pituri grows extensively in central Australia but the most highly prized pituri is grown in southwest Queensland.

For thousands of years Indigenous Australians have used this social drug which when chewed pituri leaves produce a narcotic effect.

Fresh or dried leaves are broken up, mixed with ash and chewed to form a cigarette-like roll. The mix is then chewed and held in the mouth for long periods of time.


In the past large quantities were traded to the far north around the Gulf of Carpentaria and to the south around Port Augusts in South Australia.

Aboriginal people had an elaborate system of trade throughout the continent. Trade routes were established that crisscrossed the countryside from Cape York in north Queensland down to the South Australian coast, northwest to the Kimberley and the Daly River and south again to Perth.

People travelled long distances to trade and to get goods that they wanted. One trader might spread out in front of him a set of beautifully carved and decorated boomerangs. Another might offer a bag of dried pituri.


Marji Hill

Author: First People Then And Now: Introducing Indigenous Australians

Art work: Marji Hill




Barlow, Alex and Hill, Marji  The Macmillan Encyclopaedia Australia’s Aboriginal Peoples. Both Yarra, Vic, Macmillan Education, 2000.