Peyote: Definition And Effects

Peyote is an endangered cactus native to northern Mexico and the Southwestern United States which contains the hallucinogenic substance mescaline.

Hallucinogenic and healing plants have been used by native tribes for thousands of years. One of them is the peyote, an endangered cactus native to northern Mexico, which nowadays we can find everywhere around the world although its use is regulated differently depending on each country. 

What is peyote?

Peyote is a round shaped cactus that grows in the Northern part of Mexico and the Southern United States. Its scientific name is Lophophora williamsii, and it has hallucinogenic effects produced by mescaline, a potent alkaloid found in peyote. Mescaline also has medicinal uses although in much smaller doses. 

The cactus grows to 5 centimeters in height and can be found in the desert shrubland, hidden under the bushes in an attempt to keep safe from predators. The plant is divided into 5 to 13 sections or "buttons," varying in color from green to blue and grey. The bulbous fruits of the cactus do not have spines but are covered with white fluff, and the light pink flowers bloom between March and May. 

Although consuming peyote is not addictive and it doesn't have any dangerous side effects,  the hallucinations are so intense and longlasting (up to 12 hours) that people taking peyote might experience physical and mental discomfort, also known as "bad trips." 

Before the European colonization began, the Native Americans used peyote as part of their rituals, a practice which quickly earned popularity across the United States. Nowadays, members of the Native American Church, a Native American religion that teaches a combination of traditional Native American beliefs and Christianity, with sacramental use of the peyote, call it "The Medicine" and they use it to cure alcoholism. 

Etymologically speaking,  the word peyote is Náhuatl or Aztec-derived, and some sources claim it means something similar to "stimulate" or "distrurb". Other experts, however, state that the origin is the náhuatl word  “peyotl” which means "silky" or "cocoon." 

What does peyote do?

Mescaline, one of the alkaloid compounds found in peyote, is a powerful hallucinogenic agent with longlasting effects. One way of consumming it is to ingest one or more "buttons" of the cactus. Its effects have been thoroughly described by many users which has enabled us to compile a comprehensive list of psychedelic effects. 

1. Altered perception of time and space 

Half an hour after ingestion most people begin to feel some form of physiological distress, followed by a bizarre feeling of altered perception. Users might experience brightly colored "shapes and dots" as a result of the mescaline affecting the central nervous system (CNS). 

2. Physiological effects

The physiological distress mentioned above could manifest itself as difficulty breathing,  nausea, tense muscles in the neck and face. The unpleasant symptoms can last up to 1-2 hours. 

3. Altered state of consciousness 

After the initial stage, the user experiences a state of altered consciousness which can differ in each session. Effects vary from total relaxation to extreme paranoia, which can favor a risky situation. The hallucinogenic effects heighten in the following 3 hours. 

Objects may appear bigger or smaller; one might see brightly colored shapes and people, or items and beings that do not exist. This state can last between 6-12 hours. 

Once this has passed, the effects of the plant will gradually fade away until you reach your initial state. The Navajos, Native American people, use payote in rituals  where they let themselves get carried away by the effects of mescaline and use the comedown stage for meditation and relaxation. According to Navajos, payote facilitates inner peace. 

4. Possible overdose 

A high dose of mescaline could cause dangerous arrhythmias and ultimately cardiac arrest. Should this occur, a dose of 20ml Diazepam or other relaxing medicine should balance out the effects, however, the best course of action is seeing a doctor. The exact number of "buttons" ingested that increase the risk of overdose has not yet been established.

Peyote legality 

Payote is a regulated substance, and the limitations of the law depend on each country.  

1. The United States and Mexico

In the United States and Mexico, the two origin countries of peyote, its use is legal for members of the Native American Church under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.  Because of the plant's sacred status, however, it cannot be transported or cultivated. Users are allowed to be in possession of the plant as long as it is for personal use in their own homes or for decorative purposes. 

2. Other countries 

In Canada, although extracted mescaline is illegal, fresh peyote and other mescaline-containing cacti are not regulated. The situation is similar in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, where it tends to be legal to grow peyote but not to prepare it for use. In Spain for example, you can only purchase peyote seeds.