Peyote, an ancient, and often misunderstood cactus plant is a small, low-lying cactus that grows wild throughout the Southwestern United States. It also grows in Mexico as well as parts of Central America where it is used during healing ceremonies. For centuries native peoples throughout North and South America have used it.
- Historians have confirmed that peyote was used by the Aztecs and other pre-Columbian cultures “for magical, therapeutic, and religious purposes”.
It contains mescaline, a naturally occurring psychedelic alkaloid of the phenethylamine class. It’s the same chemical found in chocolate, however, hallucinogenic effects that users report are similar to those experienced while on LSD or psilocybin.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, peyote use can cause a rapid increase in both body temperature and heart rate. Users might also experience flushing, profound sweating, and a lack of physical co-ordination (known as ataxia), which in turn can lead to risk-taking and self-destructive behaviors that can result in injury or death.
Typically the bitter, tough ‘buttons’ of the peyote cactus are cut and dried, then the active ingredients are extracted through being chewed or soaked in water, however, some users report using peyote in other forms as well. Alternative ways of using peyote include;
- Grinding the peyote cactus into a snuff-like substance to be snorted
- Creating rectal enemas out of peyote-infused water
- Inserting fine, dried peyote powder vaginally
The dried peyote buttons can also be ground into a fine powder that is mixed with tobacco or cannabis to be smoked. This method of ingestion is common during cultural events such as Native American religious ceremonies
In 1918, The Native American Church was founded in order to protect the rights of Native Americans in response to multiple attempts by the federal government to restrict the use of this drug. Read more about the battle over exceptions to the federal law in certain states.
Under the U.S. Controlled Substance Act it is considered a Schedule 1 drug, which means that recreational use of Peyote is prohibited under U.S. federal law. Drugs in this class include heroin, LSD, and ecstasy, and considered to have a high potential for abuse.
In 1996, Congress acknowledged the fact that this drug’s use is an important part of cultural traditions for many Native American, quoting:
- “The use, possession, or transportation of peyote by an Indian for bona fide traditional ceremonial purposed 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 use can lead to a psychological addiction among people who crave the hallucinogenic effects.
Over time, regular peyote users can develop a tolerance to the mescaline in the peyote cactus.
- Peyote itself is not physically addictive – that means that users do not experience any type of physical detox symptoms when they quit.
Like with all hallucinogens, it’s possible to overdose on peyote, however, a peyote overdose is rarely fatal.
- The real danger of peyote comes from how a user responds to the visual, auditory, and tactile hallucinations they may experience.
When a peyote user has a ‘bad trip’, they could act in ways that places them at risk of serious injury or even death. In fact, there are a number of stories about tourists in Mexico taking peyote as a recreational drug engaging in bizarre behaviors like “trying to bite off their own arm.”