Peyote has been used since the middle of the Archaic period in the Americas by the people of the Oshara Tradition in the Southwest for shamanistic rituals, religious ceremonies, healing, divination and vision quests. From earliest recorded time, peyote has been used by indigenous peoples, such as the Huichol of northern Mexico and by various Native American tribes, native to or relocated to the Southern Plains states of present-day Oklahoma and Texas. American Indians in more widespread regions to the north began to use peyote in religious practices, as part of a revival of native spirituality in the 19th century. Members of the Native American Church refer to peyote as “the sacred medicine”, and use it to combat spiritual, physical, and other social ills. Concerned about the drug’s psychoactive effects, between the 1880s and 1930s, U.S. authorities attempted to ban Native American religious rituals involving peyote. Today the Native American Church is one among several religious organizations to use peyote as part of its religious practice.
Dr. John Raleigh Briggs (1851-1907) was the first person to draw scientific attention of the Western scientific world to peyote. Arthur Heffter conducted self-experiments on its effects in 1897.
Other mescaline-containing cacti such as the San Pedro cactus have a long history of use in South America, from Peru to Ecuador.
Mescaline or 3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine, is a naturally occurring psychedelic alkaloid of the phenethylamine class, used mainly as an entheogen. Mescaline occurs naturally in the peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii), the San Pedro cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi) and the Peruvian Torch cactus (Echinopsis peruviana), and in a number of other plants of the Cactaceae family. It is also found in small amounts in certain samples of the Fabaceae (bean) family, including Acacia berlandieri.
Mescaline was made illegal in 1970 by the United States’ Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. The substance was prohibited internationally by the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances and is listed as a Schedule I hallucinogen by the CSA. Peyote use is legal only for certain religious groups, such as the Native American Church, and in scientific and medical research.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993 allowed the use of peyote in religious ceremony but in 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that the RFRA was unconstitutional when applied against states. In a following case, the Court ruled that the Government had not carried the burden under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of demonstrating a compelling interest that allowed no exception to the ban on the use of peyote to accommodate a sincere religious practice. While the federal government may not restrict use of mescaline in ceremony, it currently stands that individual states do have a right to restrict its use.
Peyote cacti and mescaline have been in use by Mexican and South American shamans in religious ceremonies, communions, vision quests, healing and divination for over 3,000 years. In Western culture, peyote was used recreationally in the 1960s by the “hippie” movement in order to expand consciousness, stimulate musical and artistic creativity, and to explore free love. In modern Western society, individuals ingest peyote recreationally to induce hallucinations, or “trips”, claiming that the hallucinogenic experiences of peyote provide moving, spiritual enlightenment, endow divine wisdom, clarity and insight, and facilitate deep, emotional and psychological self-exploration.
In traditional mescaline preparations the top of the peyote cactus is cut at, leaving the large tap roots exposed to grow new heads. These heads are then dried to make disk-shaped buttons. Users chew the buttons or soak them in water for an intoxicating drink in order to feel the effects. However, the taste of the peyote cactus is bitter, so users often grind the cactus into a powder and pour it in capsules to avoid having to taste it. The usual human dosage of mescaline is 200-500 milligrams of mescaline sulfate or 178-356 milligrams of mescaline hydrochloride. The average 3-inch (76 mm) button contains about 25 mg of mescaline.
Psychoactive and hallucinogenic drugs can cause subjective changes in perception, thought, emotion, and consciousness. Unlike stimulants or opioids, hallucinogens such as mescaline do not merely amplify familiar states of mind, but rather induce experiences that are qualitatively different from those of ordinary consciousness. These experiences are often compared to non-ordinary forms of consciousness such as trance, meditation, and dreams.
The criteria for establishing that a drug is hallucinogenic is that in proportion to other effects, changes in thought, perception, and mood should predominate; intellectual or memory impairment should be minimal; stupor, narcosis, or excessive stimulation should not be an integral effect; autonomic nervous system side effects should be minimal; and addictive craving should be absent.
The subjective “open-eye visuals” associated with peyote are not true hallucinations, as they are consistent with actual experience and merely intensify and alter existing stimuli (objects and sounds), not the appearance of non-existent fanciful objects or actions that the user believes are real; seeing non-existent persons or objects is a feature of true hallucinations, and believing that the hallucinations are real is a defining feature of delusions, which is not a typical effect of mescaline.
Peyote users experience color as distinctly brilliant and intense. The mescaline in peyote produces recurring visual patterns observed during the experience that include stripes, checkerboards, angular spikes, multicolored dots, and very simple fractals, which can turn very complex. Like LSD, mescaline induces distortions of form and kaleidoscopic experiences which manifest more clearly closed eyes and in low lighting conditions; all of these visual descriptions are purely subjective.
Peyote users experience synesthesia, associating colors with sounds. An unusual but unique characteristic of mescaline use is the “geometricization” of three-dimensional objects; objects can appear flattened and distorted, similar to Cubist paintings.
Additionally, peyote elicits a pattern of sympathetic arousal, with the peripheral nervous system being a major target for this drug. Effects of mescaline typically last for 12-18 hours.
The term “psychedelic” can be interchanged with “psychotomimetic” and “hallucinogen”, and thus can refer to a large number of drugs such as classical psychedelics, dissociatives and deliriants.
Widely recognized classic hallucinogens include Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), and herbal and fungal sources such as ayahuasca, the Peruvian Torch cactus, ibogaine, N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and the San Pedro cactus.
Enactogens induce distinct emotional and social effects, including feelings of empathy, love, and emotional closeness to others. These substances include MDMA (the active component in Ecstacy) and cannabinoids, such as Marijuana.
Dissociative drugs produce analgesia (pain relief), amnesia and catalepsy at anesthetic doses. They also produce a sense of detachment from one’s environment. Dissociation of sensory input can induce derealization, a perception of the outside world as being unreal or dream-like, and depersonalization, which produces feeling detached from one’s body; feeling unreal; feeling able to observe one’s actions but not actively take control; and being unable to recognize one’s self in the mirror while maintaining rational awareness that the image in the mirror is the same person. Dissociate drugs include Ketamine, dextromethorphan (DMX), nitrous oxide; muscimol, the Aminita muscaria (fly agaric) mushroom, and Salvia divinorum.
Deliriants are a unique class of dissociatives that are sometimes called true hallucinogens because they cause hallucinations in the proper sense: a user may have conversations with people who aren’t there, or become angry at a ‘person’ mimicking their actions, not realizing it is their own reflection in a mirror. They are termed deliriants because their effects are similar to the experiences of delirious fevers. Deliriants have effects similar to somnambulism (sleepwalking), during which one does not remember the experience, while dissociatives have effects similar to lucid dreaming, the state in which one is consciously aware of being in a dream. Common deliriants include plants such as Deadly Nightshade, Mandrake, Henbane and Datura; pharmaceutical drugs with deliriant effects include Benadryl, Dramamine and hydroxyzine.
Peyote, and thus mescaline, does not produce a physical dependence or addiction, though it is thought to be potentially habit forming in psychedelics enthusiasts. A user’s tolerance increases over extended periods of usage, lasting for about three days, causes cross-tolerance with some other psychedelics such as LSD, DMT, and psilocybin. THC, and muscimol, most likely do not produce cross tolerance with each other or with the LSD-mescaline-psilocybin-DMT group.
Ingesting the hallucinogenic buttons from a peyote cactus carries no risk of addiction or physical dependence; therefore, no recognizable withdrawal symptoms have been witnessed, experienced or documented.
Considering the human dose of peyote is around 200-500mg orally. One would have to try very hard to experience an overdose or take a fatal dose of peyote. There have been no verified human deaths from peyote.