Updated on April 3, 2024
7 min read

Peyote (Mescaline) Abuse, Side Effects, and Addiction

Key Takeaways

What Is Peyote?

Lophophora williamsii, commonly known as peyote, is a spineless cactus that contains the hallucinogen mescaline. Mescaline creates strong hallucinations that typically occur one to two hours after consumption.

These psychoactive plants are typically blue, green, and yellow with bits of red. Peyote plants are scarce and can take up to 30 years to mature in the wild.

On the other hand, a cultivated plant can take less than 3 years to become a flowering adult. Many illicit laboratories produce synthetic mescaline to chemically speed up the process. 

Where Can You Find Peyote?

Peyote is native to southern North America. Indigenous people of Northern Mexico and the Southwestern United States consider the peyote cactus sacred and use it often in religious ceremonies.

The peyote cactus also grows in Southern Texas, Peru, as well as the following Mexican states:

  • Chihuahua
  • Coahuila
  • Nuevo León
  • Tamaulipas
  • San Luis Potosi
  • Zacatecas
rear shot of woman feeling good facing a field of yellow flowers

Common Names of Peyote

Street names for the peyote cactus include:

  • Buttons
  • Black button
  • Bad seed
  • Britton
  • Cactus
  • Half moon
  • Hikori
  • Hikuli
  • Hyatari
  • Mesc
  • Musc
  • Moon
  • Nubs
  • P
  • Seni
  • Tops

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What Are the Common Effects of Peyote?

When a person ingests mescaline, the neural circuits in the brain behave differently. They interact with the neurotransmitter serotonin and cause potentially euphoric effects. The hallucinogenic effects of peyote typically last for 10 to 12 hours.

The drug produces several psychoactive effects during the trip, including:

  • Auditory and visual disturbances
  • Synesthesia (i.e., “smelling” colors or “seeing” sounds)
  • Altered perception of space and time
  • Vivid hallucinations
  • Severe mood swings
  • Heightened senses
  • Lost perception of reality
  • The blending of past, present, and future
  • Intense preoccupation with meaningless thoughts or objects

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Is Peyote Addictive?

Researchers speculate that peyote is not associated with physical dependence. However, tolerance to mescaline can develop within 3 to 5 days of repeated use. It may also cause cross-tolerance with other hallucinogens, including LSD and magic mushrooms.

Users may also develop a psychological dependence on the hallucinogenic experience called hallucinogen use disorder. People who suffer from this disorder display similar symptoms to those who have an addiction and may require higher doses to achieve the same high.

What Are the Side Effects and Risks of Peyote?

Taking peyote can result in adverse effects and physical reactions, which may present themselves as:

  • Numbness
  • Tension
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle twitches or weakness
  • Impaired coordination
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Chills and shivering
  • Ataxia (uncoordinated movement)
  • Insomnia
  • Elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature
  • Intense sweating or shivering
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dilated pupils

Combining peyote or mescaline with other stimulant drugs can also accelerate your nervous system. This acceleration can cause extreme physical effects like tachycardia (elevated heart rate) and hypertension (high blood pressure).

Effects of a “Bad Trip”

When consuming peyote, there is also the chance of entering a “bad trip” and experiencing severe adverse reactions such as:

  • Horrifying hallucinations
  • Intense confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Paranoia
  • Extreme agitation
  • Depression
  • Panic
  • Terror

How Can Peyote Use Affect a Person’s Behavior?

Prolonged peyote use may lead to the following behaviors:

  • Taking larger doses of peyote
  • Using peyote more frequently
  • Inability to curb or stop using peyote, despite wanting to quit
  • Craving peyote
  • Dropping responsibilities and social life to use peyote
  • Disregarding social, physical, and mental health problems in favor of continued use
  • Neglecting previous hobbies and desires to use peyote
  • Seeking other drugs with similar psychedelic effects

Repeated mescaline exposure can also cause persistent psychosis, with symptoms of bizarre thinking patterns and paranoia. However, this is an extremely rare side effect of prolonged peyote use.

Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD) 

Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD) is a rare condition affecting approximately 4% of hallucinogen users. This condition causes "flashbacks" and disturbing visual distortions that can interfere with daily life.

HPPD can co-occur with psychosis, causing the following: 

  • Disorganized thoughts
  • Visual disturbances
  • Mood changes
  • Paranoia

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Is It Illegal to Possess Peyote?

Peyote and mescaline are considered Schedule I drugs by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) under the Controlled Substances Act, making peyote illegal to possess.

It is common for dealers to sell PCP, LSD, psilocybin, and other drug mixtures as mescaline due to the plant’s limited growing area and its slow development. Because peyote is a controlled substance that is illegal to distribute and use under federal law, possessing it can cause significant legal repercussions.

Religious Use of Peyote

The Native American Church (NAC) of the Peyote Religion/Peyotism is the most widespread indigenous religion among American Indians in the contiguous United States. They are considered “special exempt persons” from federal regulations.

In 1918, the Native American Church lobbied to protect its right to continue using peyote as a spiritual medicine to heal personal, social, and communal problems. They also use it to treat:

  • Stomach problems
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Diabetes
  • Snake bites

Mescaline use in these indigenous cultures is not recreational, and the hallucinogenic effects one may undergo are considered spiritual visions. Many Native American tribes have used peyote in religious practices throughout the millennia, including the:

  • Huichol
  • Tonkawa
  • Mescalero
  • Navajo 

In 2005, researchers in an archaeological excavation in Texas found specimens of a peyote plant. Their investigation showed the specimens were from between 3780 and 3660 BCE, suggesting that the indigenous use of peyote dates back over 5,000 years.

Now, the U.S. Code, Title 42, Section 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.”

Peyote Medical Tourism 

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 an economic benefit, while others are concerned that tourists are causing the plants to disappear, hugely affecting their culture and way of life.

How Do People Consume Peyote?

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. 

Peyote 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.”

Native American Use

When Native North Americans harvest and use peyote, this is the general process they follow:

  1. Cut the buttons off the root without removing the entire plant. 
  2. Dry the roots for transportation and ingestion. 
  3. Chew the dried peyote buttons, steep them in water to make a psychoactive tea, or grind them into a powder to smoke with a leaf material such as tobacco or marijuana.

How to Help Someone Misusing Peyote

If you or someone you know suffers from dependence on hallucinogens, consider making a three-part approach:

1. Education

Learn to recognize and understand the symptoms of exaggerated drug use. Study the psychedelic effects of peyote and approach your loved one with accurate information. 

2. Differentiation

Learn to differentiate the side effects of the peyote cactus from mental health symptoms related to diagnoses like brief psychotic disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and schizophrenia. 

If your loved one has a co-occurring addiction and other mental health issues, consider a program that treats dual-diagnosis conditions.

3. Communication

Hone in strong emotions like anger, maintaining a calm and steady disposition. Avoid approaching your loved one when they are intoxicated or highly emotional, and speak in encouraging terms. Discuss your fears and the potential consequences of their addiction.

Treatment Options for Peyote Abuse

Treatments to consider may include:

The best treatment option will depend on various factors, including:

  • The severity of peyote abuse
  • Past and current abuse of other drugs or alcohol
  • History of physical and mental illness
  • Financial means

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Updated on April 3, 2024

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