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Peyote cactus plant in natural state.
Peyote cactus plant in natural state.
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Caryophyllales
Family: Cactaceae
Genus: Lophophora
Species: L. williamsii
Binomial name
Lophophora williamsii
(Lem.) J. Coult.

Peyote (Lophophora williamsii) is a small, spineless cactus whose native region extends from the southwestern United States (including the states of Texas and New Mexico) through central Mexico. It has been used for centuries for the psychedelic effects experienced when it is ingested.



The cactus flowers sporadically, producing small pink fruit, similar in appearance to a chili pepper, which can be very delectable and sweet-tasting when eaten. The seeds are small and black, requiring hot and humid conditions to germinate, one of the reasons this tranquil plant is becoming rare in its natural habitat. Numbers are reducing due to harvesting for commercial purposes. Peyote contains a large spectrum of phenethylamine alkaloids, the principal of which is mescaline. All Lophophora species are extremely slow growing, often taking up to thirty years to reach flowering age (at about the size of a golf ball, not including root) in the wild. Human cultivated specimens grow considerably faster, usually taking from six to ten years to go from seedling to mature flowering adult. Due to this slow growth and over-harvesting by collectors, peyote is considered to be in danger of extinction in the wild.

A flowering peyote, in cultivation.
A flowering peyote, in cultivation.

The top of the cactus above ground, also referred to as the crown, consists of disc-shaped buttons that are cut from the roots and dried. When done properly the top of the root will callous over and new buttons will eventually grow. When poor harvesting technique is used, however, the root is damaged and the entire plant dies. These buttons are generally chewed, or boiled in water to produce a psychoactive tea. The resulting infusion is extremely bitter and, in most cases, the user experiences some degree of nausea before the onset of the psychedelic effects. This is considered quite normal according to experienced users and historians.

Medicinal effects

The effective dose for mescaline is about 300 to 500 mg (equivalent to roughly 5 grams of dried peyote) and the effects last about 10 to 12 hours. When combined with appropriate set and setting, peyote is reported to trigger states of deep introspection and insight that have been described as being of a metaphysical or spiritual nature. At times, these can be accompanied by rich visual or auditory effects (see synesthesia). Unless one is embarking on the experience in a ceremonial context conducted by a "Peyotero" with much experience, similar to a shaman or medicine man, it is recommended, for safety reasons, that the user be accompanied at all times by someone who is not likewise intoxicated. This person is referred to by some as a "guide" or "trip sitter". In spite of this, a person who wants to undergo such an experience must observe two points to guarantee a mentally healthy trip: set and setting, i.e., the state of mind and the situation one is living at the session. The works of Timothy Leary explain this further.

Peyote, botanical drawing.
Peyote, botanical drawing.


From earliest recorded time, peyote has been used by indigenous peoples, such as the Huichol peoples of northern Mexico and the Navajo in the southwestern United States, as a part of traditional religious rites. In the late 1800s, the tradition began to spread northward as part of a revival of native spirituality under the auspices of what came to be known as the Native American Church, whose members refer to peyote as "the medicine", and use it to combat alcoholism and other social ills. The Native American Church is one among several religious organizations that use peyote as part of their religious practice.

Peyote seized by police in Arcata, CA
Peyote seized by police in Arcata, CA
chemical structure of mescaline
chemical structure of mescaline

A resurgence of interest in the use of peyote was spawned in the 1970s by accounts of its use in the early works of writer Carlos Castaneda. Don Juan Matus, the pseudonym for Castaneda's instructor in the use of peyote, used the name "Mescalito" to refer to an entity that purportedly can be sensed by those using peyote to gain insight in how to live one's life. Later works of Castaneda asserted that the use of such psychotropic substances was not necessary to achieve heightened awareness and de-emphasized the use of peyote as a general means to achieve this end. Castaneda's writing has been largely discredited as serious anthropological research and is generally considered to be allegorical fiction.



United States federal law (and many state laws) protect the harvest, possession and consumption (but not cultivation) of peyote as part of "bonafide religious ceremonies" (the federal regulation is 42 USC §1996a, "Traditional Indian religious use of the peyote sacrament," exempting only Native American use, while most state laws exempt any general "bonafide religious activity"). These laws notwithstanding, religious or therapeutic use not under the aegis of the Native American Church has often been targeted by local law enforcement agencies, and non-natives attempting to establish spiritual centers based on the consumption of peyote as a sacrament or as medicine, such as the Peyote Foundation in Arizona, have been prosecuted.


Under the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act mescaline is defined as illegal but peyote is specifically exempt. [Controlled Drugs And Substances Act] "17. Mescaline (3,4,5–trimethoxybenzeneethanamine) and any salt thereof, but not peyote (lophophora)"

Some little peyote, in cultivation.
Some little peyote, in cultivation.


Article 32 of the Convention on Psychotropic Substances allows nations to exempt certain traditional uses of peyote from prohibition:

A State on whose territory there are plants growing wild which contain psychotropic substances from among those in Schedule I and which are traditionally used by certain small, clearly determined groups in magical or religious rites, may, at the time of signature, ratification or accession, make reservations concerning these plants, in respect of the provisions of article 7, except for the provisions relating to international trade.

See also

External links

Home | Up | Agaricales | Amanita muscaria | Ayahuasca | Ergot | Morning glory | Nicotiana rustica | Peyote | Psychedelic mushroom | Soma | Tobacco

Drugs & Medication, made by MultiMedia | Free content and software

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.


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