Lophophora williamsii, commonly known as Peyote, is a cactus with psychedelic properties due to its high concentration of Mescaline. It’s a fairly small and spineless cactus with a height that ranges from two to seven centimeters, and a diameter between four to twelve centimeters. Peyote is native to Mexico and Southwestern Texas in the Chihuahuan Desert, Coahuila, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, and San Luis Potosí.
Table of Contents
Archaeological studies show Peyote use by native North Americans dating back to over 5,500 years ago. Native American tribes based in Texas, Oklahoma, and Mexico used Peyote as a tool for spiritual enlightenment and healing. The Chichimeca and Tarahumara would even use Peyote to ease the pain associated with long distance migrations by foot.
What is Peyote
Peyote, or Lophophora williamsii, is a Mescaline-containing cactus native to Mexico and Southwestern Texas. It grows very slowly, taking up to thirteen years to go from seedling to full maturation. This slow growth mixed with its recent popularity within the psychedelic community has caused Peyote to be at risk according to the NatureServe conservation standards. Under proper growing conditions Peyote will flower once fully matured. After flowering, they will sometimes develop a pink edible fruit as well.
While Peyote contains a wide range of phenylethylamine alkaloids, Mescaline is the primary active ingredient which gives it psychedelic properties. When ingested Mescaline creates a hallucinogenic effect similar to psilocybin and LSD that lasts between four and eight hours. This hallucinogenic effect causes closed and open-eyed visuals, a distorted sense of time, and an altered thought process.
Other Names for peyote
The name Peyote comes from the Aztec word peyōtl which means “Divine Messenger.” Other names for Peyote include Mescaline, Mescalito, and Buttons. The names Mescaline and Mescalito come directly from the primary psychoactive alkaloid contained in Peyote. Buttons is the term for the tops of the Peyote cactus which is typically the portion that is harvested, dried, then consumed.
The scientific name for Peyote is Lophophora williamsii. The Lophophora genus is comprised of the following species:
- Williamsi var. Caespitosa
There have been three other species proposed to be included in this genus but DNA tests have not been performed to confirm they are unique species. The defining characteristics of the Lophophora genus is the unique button-like appearance with trichomes covering the entire cactus and they have no spine.
It is fairly easy to identify a Peyote cactus due to its unique appearance. The easiest way to identify them is through their relatively small size, button-like appearance, and hairy exterior. Between the months of March and May they will have a flower with white petals if they are fully matured. They will typically be found in southwestern Texas and Mexico growing low to the ground in the shade of various shrubs.
Forms & Ways of Consumption
As mentioned earlier, Mescaline is the primary phenylethylamine alkaloid. The Mescaline Peyote is typically taken by consuming the tops of the cactus. It is either dried out then ate or ground up into a slushy liquid then drank. Fresh Peyote has approximately 0.4% Mescaline and when dried it contains 3-6%. Nowadays fresh Peyote is typically only consumed during Native American ceremonies. The average person will usually consume it dried because it has a bitter taste so most people feel the less they have to consume to feel the effects the better. We do not suggest anyone take Peyote on their own due to the variability of alkaloid content and the potential for miss identification.
Peyote has a long standing history as a tool used in spiritual ceremonies and healing. In 2005, two specimens of Peyote buttons were found in an archaeological dig site on the Rio Grande in Texas. Using radiocarbon dating, they were able to determine that these specimens were from somewhere between 3780 BCE and 3660 BCE. This led researchers to believe Native American tribes used Peyote for over 5,500 years making it the oldest psychedelic people have used.
Peyote usage in indigenous people originated with the Tonkawa and Mescalero tribes in Texas and New Mexico. While it originated with these tribes, the Chichimeca, Tarahumara, Cora, and Huichol tribes also commonly used Peyote. These tribes primarily used Peyote for spiritual ceremonies, but its use did not stop there. They would also use it as a topical analgesic to relieve pain in wounds, burns, irritated joints, and foot pain associated with walking long distances. The Huichol tribe would even use it to help with pains associated with pregnancy and breastfeeding.
In the 19th century when the Native American Church became established Peyote saw more widespread use throughout northern regions in religious practices. U.S. authorities attempted to ban the use of Peyote in Native American religious ceremonies during the turn of the 19th century. This attempt did not succeed as the Native American Church still uses Peyote as part of its religious practices to this day.
Important Events, Findings, Studies
Dr. John Raleigh Briggs conducted the first study of Peyote in North American pharmacology. He published an account of his personal use of the cactus titled Muscale Buttons’—Physiological Effects—Personal Experience in The Medical Register. In this article he described how the cactus caused his pulse rate to jump, his head to ache, and the distress consuming Peyote created. After publishing this article there was a distinct shift in the way scientists studied Peyote from traditional botany to chemistry.
Eventually Dr. Briggs’ article caught the attention of the chemist Frank Augustus Thompson. Thompson convinced Dr. Briggs to send him a cigar box filled with Peyote buttons so he could further study the cactus. In July of 1887 Thompson prepared the first alcoholic extract of the cactus revealing multiple phenylethylamine alkaloids. This extraction led to Arthur Heffter, who we go into more detail on in our Mescaline guide, being the first person to extract and consume Mescaline.
With the help of carbon dating the latest studies indicate that peyote use dates back at least 5,700 years ago. Scientists were able to test these specimens for mescaline content. They were able to determine that these specimens still contained 2% mescaline making this the oldest psychedelic that we are aware of.
Besides these specific specimens, we know that native people used peyote for centuries before the Catholic missionaries and Spanish Conquistadors arrived in the Americas during the 16th century. The Huichol of northern Mexico, and the Athabaskan-language tribal groups, Tonkawa, Mescalero and Lipan Apache are cited as the first practitioners of a peyote religion.
Laws and Legal Status
The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act lists Peyote as a Schedule 1 hallucinogen making it an illegal substance in the United States. In 1978 an exemption to this ruling was made for the use of Peyote by the Native American Church in bona fide religious ceremonies by the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. The American Indian Religious Freedom Act Amendments of 1994 further expands this exemption by protecting the harvest, possession, consumption and cultivation of Peyote for bona fide religious ceremonies.
Article 32 of the Convention on Psychotropic Substances passed by the United Nations in 1971 does not list or regulate Peyote.
In Canada, Peyote is specifically exempt from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act making possession of the plant entirely legal.
The primary alkaloid found in Peyote is Mescaline, however this is not the only alkaloid in the cactus. Extensive studies on the chemistry of peyote discovered over sixty different alkaloids with structures from the phenylethylamine and tetrahydroisoquinoline groups. Aside from Mescaline, other alkaloids are only found in miniscule amounts in the Peyote cactus so they have a very limited effect on the psychedelic experience when consuming the cactus.
Before we can discuss whether or not Peyote is toxic, we first need to define what makes a substance toxic. Toxicity is defined based on the levels of exposure required for a substance to cause harm to a human or animal. The level of toxicity is measured based on the dose required to cause harm to a human. Even water can be toxic in too high of a dose and lethal snake venom can be non-toxic in a small enough dose. LD50 is a common measurement of toxicity, which measures the lethal dose for half of the tested organisms.
The toxicity of Peyote as a whole has yet to be studied, but there are preliminary trials on the toxicity of Mescaline. Unfortunately, Mescaline has not been studied for toxicity in humans either. We can however use a study for an oral dose in rats which established an LD50 of 880mg/Kg which for an average adult of 150 pounds would be 60 grams of pure Mescaline. Since humans and rats have different metabolisms these measures are not completely accurate, but they do give us a general idea of the toxicity of Mescaline.
Other species of Lophophora have a very different composition of alkaloids than Peyote. For example, Lophophora diffusa has a high concentration of pellotine and a low concentration of Mescaline. Rudolf Grym’s book Rod/Die Gattung Lophophora documents the alkaloid compositions of the various Lophophora species. He was able to determine Lophophora jourdaniana has the highest concentration of Mescaline but also has high portions of Pellotine and Anhalonidine. Lophophora diffusa, Lophophora fricii, and Lophophora koehresii all have very low amounts of Mescaline and exceptionally high amounts of Pellotine. Lophophora fricii also has a high amount of Anhalonidine.
As with any substances you ingest, interactions with other substances you take will always be a concern. However, stimulants are the main type of drug that can cause adverse effects when mixed with Peyote. Since they both speed up the nervous system, using both of these substances at the same time can cause a dangerously high heart rate and blood pressure. The table below shows other potential interactions:
Generally people view Peyote as a benign substance, but it has caused fatal reactions through bleeding in the throat. The only report of a fatal reaction occurred when an alcoholic man ingested Peyote tea for a Native American religious ceremony. After consuming the tea he developed respiratory distress then collapsed. He died shortly after at the hospital where resuscitation efforts failed. The autopsy report showed four separate lacerations one centimeter in length where the stomach meets the esophagus, 45 milliliters of gastric luminal blood, duo-denal blood, and a pulmonary hemo-aspiration. Mescaline intoxication was the certified cause of death.
Improper storage of Peyote can also cause a safety concern. If you store Peyote buttons in water to try and keep them fresh, botulism can occur when ingested. Botulism is a toxic bacteria that can cause paralysis that starts in the face and spreads from there. Once it spreads to the breathing muscles it can cause respiratory failure and can even be fatal.
Peyote causes a psychedelic experience with closed and open eyed visuals, distortion in the perception of time, and an altered thought process. The primary active ingredient, Mescaline, is the main cause of these effects.
Most people begin to feel the effects of Peyote within thirty minutes to an hour after ingestion. The initial effects are fairly stressful resulting in nausea, discomfort, sweating, and chills. These symptoms can last up to two hours, but will eventually subside. Once these symptoms subside you will feel numbness throughout the body along with various psychological effects. A typical Peyote experience will last between eight and twelve hours after ingestion.
Common Side Effects
According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research, common side effects of Peyote include:
- Increased blood pressure and heart rate
- Loss of appetite
- Increased body temperature
- Impaired motor coordination
- Dilated pupils
- Heightened senses
- The perception of seeing music and hearing colors referred to as Synesthesia
- Loss of your sense of reality
As with most psychedelics, a tolerance to the primary active ingredient in Peyote, Mescaline, will build up rapidly and will be noticeable even after your first use. This means that after repeated use in a short window of time, users will require higher doses to experience the same effects. This tolerance will also build up from the use of LSD, Psilocybin, and all other serotonergic substances. This effect is called a cross tolerance. To avoid a cross tolerance when using Peyote, or any psychedelic, a general rule of thumb in the psychedelic community is to space out your trips by at least a week. Of course, this rule of thumb is largely dependent on the individual.
As with every other psychedelic, Peyote can cause HPPD (Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder). This disorder usually manifests as “visual snow,” which is when you see visual particles in the air blurring your sight. In extreme cases, HPPD can result in full blown hallucinations for prolonged periods of time.
There is a chance that Peyote can cause PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder) during challenging trips. This is why a large portion of the psychedelic community believes it is in your best interest to have an experienced tripsitter who can guide and calm you if you begin having difficulties during a trip.
Peyote is not considered an addictive substance.
A Global Drug Survey conducted in 2014 showed that Peyote was taken by 6.4% of survey respondents in Mexico. Peyote did not show up on the top 20 drug use in any other country. Despite it’s relative unpopularity as a recreational substance, it has still seen use in modern day for other purposes. In Thailand they hold competitions for growing various Lophophora species for decor. It has also become a popular pain relief cream in countries where the cactus is legal.
Thailand holds an annual fair for buying, selling, and growing succulents and cacti. As a part of this fair they have a beauty contest for plants where about three hundred plant shops and countless individuals compete. Despite there being no cash prizes, this contest is extremely popular for both locals and tourists. They are judged based on the size, shape, and color of the plants as well as their overall health making for a great competition.
The contestants in these competitions put a huge effort into growing the most beautiful cactus and succulents. They grow them into different shapes and colors by crossing different strains of a species to achieve a wonderful array of specimens seen throughout the competition. These cacti are only used for decor to keep this competition aimed at individuals who just love growing cacti. Each year thousands of people come out to enjoy and participate in this unique festival.
Pain Relief Creams
Preliminary studies have shown Peyote has great potential as an antibiotic. A preliminary trial was conducted in mice infected with a staph infection that is resistant to penicillin. All of the control group mice succumbed to the infection within 60 hours. Every mouse given a treatment with peyote survived the staph infection. This gives great promise in the ability for peyote to act as an antibiotic.
Despite this promising evidence, in 2016 the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection released a statement reminding the public that Peyote is a prohibited item. Residents of the United States were attempting to bring back creams and ointments made out of Peyote which provoked this response from the CBP. To this day, it is still a prohibited substance due to a lack of further evidence of its antibacterial and pain relief properties.
Does Peyote Go Bad?
Once dried Peyote lasts an extremely long time, potentially even thousands of years. A fresh Peyote plant will rot in the same way common fruits and vegetables do.
What Does Peyote Taste Like?
Peyote has a strong bitter taste that can cause some people to gag and in extreme cases vomit.
How to Store Peyote ?
Proper storage of Peyote includes drying the cactus then storing in a cold, dark, and dry location. When stored properly the cactus can last for thousands of years and still contain Mescaline.
Contributor | Cort Honey
This Peyote guide is for educational purposes only. While it is our belief that choosing to consume psychedelics is an inalienable human right, many psychedelic substances are currently illegal in the United States.
Our substance guides provide the public with the most accurate and reliable information about psychedelic substances that currently exist. We have compiled research, scientific studies as well as experiences and thoughts from the psychedelic community. We do not include all the scientific research and studies. Rather, we curate each our guides to reflect the most relevant insight backed by the most credible evidence. That being said, we are just at the beginning of studying these substances. Everyday we are learning something new. Knowledge is power! Have a bite. If you have relevant information or updates concerning the research and studies of psychedelic substances, please reach out to [email protected]. We appreciate your contribution.