Lophophora williamsii, commonly known as peyote, is a spineless cactus that is native to Southern North America and one of the oldest known psychedelic drugs. The word "peyote" is a Spanish word derived from the Nahuatl term "peyotl." It has small bumps, or “buttons,” that grow on the side of it. These “buttons” contain mescaline, a psychedelic amphetamine. Indigenous people of Northern Mexico and the Southwestern United States consider the cactus divine and used it often in religious ceremonies.
The peyote cactus grows in Texas, the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosi, and Zacatecas. Also, other mescaline-producing cacti grow in some areas in Peru. There are also illicit laboratories that produce mescaline via chemical synthesis.
Peyote and mescaline are both considered Schedule I drugs by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) under the Controlled Substances Act. However, the Native American Church was formed in 1918 to protect their right to continue using peyote.
Now 42 U.S. Code § 1996a. states: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the use, possession, or transportation of peyote by an Indian for bona fide traditional ceremonial purposes in connection with the practice of a traditional Indian religion is lawful, and shall not be prohibited by the United States or any State.”
Because of the plant’s limited growing area and it’s slow development, it is common for dealers to sell PCP, LSD, psilocybin, and other drug mixtures as mescaline.
To use peyote, someone must cut the buttons off of the root. The roots are then dried for transportation and ingestion. The dried buttons can be chewed, steeped in water to make a psychedelic brew, or ground into a powder and smoked with a leaf material such as tobacco or marijuana.
Mescaline sulfate, the pure form of mescaline manufactured in laboratories, is a white crystalline material. People can inject it in liquid form. However, this is an unpopular method of delivery. It is usually dried into a powder and turned into a capsule or tablet which users ingest orally. Users typically take 300 to 500 mg for a single dose — equivalent to three to six “buttons.”
The effects of peyote typically set in within 1 to 2 hours after ingestion and last for 10 to 12 hours. The drug produces several psychoactive effects during the trip, including:
Several adverse side effects may present themselves during a peyote trip including:
There is also the chance of entering a “bad trip” and experiencing severe adverse reactions such as:
There are numerous risk factors in illicit peyote use. Peyote plants are scarce and can take up to 13 years to mature. Besides, it is challenging to create in a lab chemical synthesis is a difficult task that requires exact science. Therefore, it is problematic to obtain, especially in the United States, and much of the peyote and mescaline sold on the streets is actually a different drug or mixture of substances that can cause disastrous effects.
Also, peyote is known to cause severe and potentially harmful fluctuations in blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing patterns. If a user has a history of substance abuse or pre-existing mental health issues, the drug may cause psychotic episodes.
In 2005 researchers used carbon dating and alkaloid analysis on two mescal buttons found in an archaeological excavation in Texas and found the specimens to be from between 3780 and 3660 BCE. This suggests that Native Americans have been using peyote buttons for over 5,000 years.
Many indigenous peoples, including the Huichol, Tonkawa, Mescalero, and Navajo have used peyote in religious practices throughout the millennia. The Native American Church (NAC), also referred to as Peyote Religion or Peyotism, is the most widespread indigenous religion among American Indians in the contiguous United States.
In their ceremonies, members of the Native American Church use peyote as a means to heal personal, social, and communal problems. It is never used recreationally, and the hallucinogenic effects one may undergo are considered spiritual visions.
In the last 50 years, tourists from the United States and Europe have become increasingly interested in peyote. Villages such as Real de Catorce, a small town in the mountains of San Luis Potosi in northern Mexico, offer peyote ceremonies for tourists.
This practice has become a hot topic among indigenous Mexican people. Some see it as a way to boost the economy, while others are concerned that tourists cause the plants to disappear, which will hugely affect their culture and way of life.
Researchers speculate that peyote is not associated with physical dependence. However, tolerance to mescaline can develop within 3-6 days of repeated use. It also may cause a cross-tolerance with other drugs including LSD and magic mushrooms.
Additionally, users may develop a psychological dependence on the hallucinogenic experience. This is known as hallucinogen use disorder. People who suffer from this disorder display similar symptoms to those who suffer from addiction. They include:
Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD) is also a rare condition that affects approximately four percent of hallucinogen users. This condition causes "flashbacks" and disturbing visual distortions that can interfere with daily life.
Fortunately, there are several different options for those struggling with peyote abuse. If you or someone you know is suffering, contact a specialist to review your treatment options. These may include:
The best treatment option will depend on a variety of factors, including the severity of peyote abuse, past and current abuse of other drugs or alcohol, history of physical and mental illness, and financial means.
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Dinis-Oliveira, Ricardo Jorge et al. “Pharmacokinetic and Pharmacodynamic Aspects of Peyote and Mescaline: Clinical and Forensic Repercussions.” Current molecular pharmacology vol. 12,3 (2019): 184-194, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30318013/
NIDA. "Hallucinogens." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 22 Apr. 2019, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/hallucinogens
Drugs of Abuse. U.S. Dept. of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, 2017. 71, https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/drug_of_abuse.pdf
“42 U.S. Code § 1996a - Traditional Indian Religious Use of Peyote.” Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School, https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/42/1996a