Peyote - The Oldest Hallucinogen

Peyote – The Oldest Hallucinogen

What is Peyote?

Peyote is a hallucinogenic cactus that is usually associated with Native American tribes in North America. It is one of the oldest hallucinogenic drugs in existence and quite rare. Peyote is a variety of cactus that grows in southern Texas and northern Mexico. The plant grows mainly underground, with only the button-like tops of the plant showing above ground. The cactus is spineless and has small, pink flowers when it blooms.

The buttons of the plant contain mescaline, a hallucinogenic substance, as well as other phenethylamine alkaloids that contribute to the mind-altering effects the drug.1 Mescaline is such a strong hallucinogenic drug that it is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance by the United States Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration.

Mescaline acts as a natural protectant of the plant, as it causes adverse reactions in animals who might try to eat the buttons.2 Mescaline is also found in the San Pedro cactus and the Peruvian Torch cactus, both native to Peru.3

There are several ways that people ingest peyote. The buttons of the plant can be eaten fresh, but more often, they are cut off the plant and dried. The buttons can then be chewed, soaked in water to make an infused liquid, or ground into a powder that can be combined with tobacco or cannabis to be smoked.4

Peyote is a drug that is usually associated with Native American tribes in North America. It is one of the oldest hallucinogenic drugs in existence and quite rare.Peyote is a drug that is usually associated with Native American tribes in North America. It is one of the oldest hallucinogenic drugs in existence and quite rare.

Street Names

Common street names for peyote include:

Button

Green Button

Britton

Nubs

Hikuli

Hyatari

Seni

Black Button

Cactus

Half Moon

Tops

Hikori

Shaman

History

Peyote has been used for hundreds of years by the native peoples of North and South America. It is one of the oldest mind-altering substances known to exist. The ancient Aztecs of Mexico used the plant as they considered it to have magical powers. The use of the plant spread to other North American tribes who used it for medicinal purposes and in religious ceremonies. The mescaline in the plant was used in hopes of experiencing something mystical or in opening up channels of communication to the gods.

Use in Religious Ceremonies

In 1918, as the United States began cracking down on drug use, the Native American Church was formed, and the members obtained a special exemption that allowed them to continue to use peyote legally in their religious ceremonies.

Peyote is a central component of religious ceremonies performed by the Native American Church, a specific religious denomination that teaches a combination of Christianity and traditional native American beliefs. Members of the church are allowed to use it legally in their religious ceremonies, under restrictions similar to the use of alcohol (i.e., do not drive or operate heavy machinery, etc.).

Chewing peyote buds and drinking peyote tea are included in overnight ceremonies that have singing, dancing, drumming, scripture reading, prayer, and the sharing of spiritual ideas. Smaller doses are used to open the mind to spiritual ideas. Larger doses may be used to interact with the spiritual world more fully.5

The Native American Church currently has about 250,000 members. The church was formed in Oklahoma in 1918. Current members live primarily in the western United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Creation of Synthetic Mescaline

A synthetic version of mescaline was first made in 1919. Mescaline sulfate is a white powder that can be put into capsules and ingested orally. Because of its dangerous properties, individual states began outlawing peyote possession in the 1930s, and the drug was completely banned in the United States in 1967. 

Both peyote and mescaline were labeled Schedule I controlled substances through the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, but the Native American Church remained exempt from this law.6 The Native American Church was given further support in their use of peyote in religious ceremonies by the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1994 (AIRFA).

Overuse and Endangerment

Peyote is a rare plant, and overharvesting for its psychedelic properties has caused it to become endangered in Mexico. In spite of this, some cities have begun decriminalizing the drug, including Denver, Colorado, and Oakland, California.7

How Does it Work?

Peyote works by interacting with the serotonin neurotransmitters in the brain, altering perception and thought. The dose required to achieve the desired effect varies from person to person, but 10 to 20 grams is the average dose.

The hallucinogenic effects of the drug called a “peyote trip” usually peak about 2 hours after ingestion, but can last up to 8 hours. These effects are similar to the hallucinogenic drug LSD but are not usually as potent.8

Peyote is considered a classic psychedelic drug, meaning that it alters serotonin. Other classic psychedelic drugs are LSD and psilocybin, the substance found in “magic mushrooms.” These drugs differ from other hallucinogenic drugs in that other drugs act on the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors of the brain, leading to much more potential for damage than classic psychedelics. NMDA altering hallucinogens include drugs like PCP, Ketamine, and DMT, among others.

Effects

Taking peyote has both psychological and physical effects on the body. The drug is known for the following psychological effects:

Vivid mental images

Elevated sensory experiences, i.e. colors are brighter, hearing is sharper, etc.

Extreme emotions, including joy, exhilaration, anxiety, terror, panic

Impaired attention and concentration

Preoccupation with trivial thoughts or objects

Altered sense of time and space

The perception of seeing music or hearing colors, called synesthesia

Feeling of weightlessness or feeling of being weighted down

Impaired sense of reality

The drug can also lead to the following adverse psychological effects, known as a “bad trip.” These effects include:

Frightening hallucinations

Terror

Confusion

Paranoia

Panic

Agitation

Disorientation

Depression

The following physical effects are associated with taking the drug:

Increased blood pressure and heart rate

Nausea and vomiting

Dizziness

Dilated pupils

Rapid reflexes

Weakness

Decreased appetite

Chills and sweating

Trembling or shivering

Numbness

Muscle twitching

Impaired coordination

Use, Abuse, and Overdose

Rarity of Peyote

Because peyote is rare and highly regulated, cases of misuse and abuse are also rare. Hallucinogen use in the United States has remained stable at 1 to 2% of the adult population. Studies on hallucinogen use do not always include the drug due to its rarity, so actual levels of use in the general population are difficult to pinpoint. 

The use of peyote by Native Americans spiked briefly after the passage of AIRFA in 1994, but this may have been due to an increase in reporting of use rather than an actual increase in use. Currently, the use of peyote by Native Americans sits at just under 10% of the total Native American population.9

Less Than 40 Exposures Reported

The American Association of Poison Control Centers’ National Poison Data System 2017 Annual Report shows only 35 cases of single exposures to peyote/mescaline reported at poison control centers in the United States. The following chart breaks down these exposures by age, intent of ingestion, and outcome of reported cases by severity of reaction:10

This chart shows that overdose cases of peyote/mescaline are extremely rare in the United States, and severe reactions to overdoses are also rare. There have been no deaths directly resulting from peyote use in the United States.

Risky Behavior

The secondary effects of hallucinogens, including peyote/mescaline, could lead to dangerous actions by those under the influence of the drug. These include doing things that the person would not normally do without the effects of the drug, such as jumping out a window or feeling suicidal and acting upon the feeling. People who take hallucinogenic drugs also run the risk of being accidentally poisoned by contaminants or other substances mixed in with the drugs.11

Long-Term Use of Peyote

Peyote is not considered an addictive drug. Most people who take peyote take it infrequently. If a person takes peyote daily, a tolerance to the drug can build after 3 to 6 days of use.12 This tolerance is usually reversed if the person stops taking peyote for a few days.

Long term use of hallucinogens, including peyote and mescaline, may result in one of the following conditions:

Persistent Psychosis

This condition results in periods of paranoia or mood disorders, along with visual disturbances and scattered thinking.

Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD)

This condition happens when a person who has used a hallucinogen faces flashbacks about the hallucinations they experienced while under the influence of the drug. These symptoms persist and may interfere with daily activities. Sometimes symptoms of HPPD can be mistaken for neurological symptoms of a stroke or brain tumor. They may also experience visual disturbances, such as halos, and periods of anxiety or panic attacks.

Researchers aren’t Sure Peyote Leads to Persistent Psychosis

These conditions are rare and usually occur in people who have a history of mental health conditions. In fact, it is not clear if the use of hallucinogens actually causes persistent psychosis or if a pre-existing mental health disorder is responsible.13

Also, these conditions typically occur in people who use drugs that fall more broadly into the category of hallucinogens, rather than those who use classic psychedelic drugs. Two studies that used data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) support this fact.

The first study analyzed responses from over 135,000 people who took part in the survey between 2008 and 2011. The second study reviewed responses from 190,000 people who participated in the survey between 2008 and 2012. Both studies concluded that people who reported taking classic psychedelic drugs were not at an increased risk of developing psychosis or other adverse mental health disorders.14

Treatment for the Effects of Peyote Use

While the above conditions rarely occur with the use of peyote, the potential for their development does exist. Persistent psychosis requires an in-depth mental health evaluation to determine the root cause of the psychosis, as drug use may be secondary to mental health disorder. This article will not go into detail regarding treatment for psychosis, but evaluation and treatment may be similar to that for schizophrenia and other chronic mental health disorders.

Recent research has concluded that people who suffer from HPPD may benefit from using one of the following medications:

Lamotrigine

This medication, used for seizure disorders, was found to be more effective than other drugs in relieving the symptoms of HPPD in a 2012 study. 

Clonazepam

This tranquilizer was found to be an effective medication for the treatment of HPPD in a 2015 study.15

Symptoms of HPPD can also be managed by avoiding illicit drug use, reducing or avoiding stress, and treating any related mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety.

Peyote is an Ancient Spiritual Drug, but it is Illegal for Most People

Peyote is an ancient drug used to reveal the mysteries of the spiritual world. That being said, the drug is not legal across the United States and is not a drug that can be safely used for recreational purposes. People should avoid using peyote unless they are members of the Native American Church. Anyone who overdoses on peyote or experiences HPPD symptoms as a result of peyote use should seek help from medical professionals.


Resources

  1. Chandler, Nathan. “Peyote Is Endangered, Spiritually Sacred and Becoming Legal.HowStuffWorks Science, HowStuffWorks, 31 July 2019. 
  2. Ibid.
  3. “Peyote.” CESAR Center for Substance Abuse Research, University of Maryland, 29 Oct. 2013, http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/peyote.asp.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Beyer, Catherine. “Why Can the Native American Church Still Use Peyote?Learn Religions, Learn Religions, 24 Mar. 2019. 
  6. What Is Mescaline/Peyote?” In The Know Zone, Education Specialty Publishing LLC, 2011, http://www.intheknowzone.com/substance-abuse-topics/hallucinogens/what-is-mescaline-peyote.html.
  7. Chandler, Nathan. “Peyote Is Endangered, Spiritually Sacred and Becoming Legal.HowStuffWorks Science, HowStuffWorks, 31 July 2019. 
  8. “Peyote.” CESAR Center for Substance Abuse Research, University of Maryland, 29 Oct. 2013, http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/peyote.asp.
  9. Prue, Bob. “Prevalence of Reported Peyote Use 1985–2010 Effects of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1994.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd (10.1111), 31 Aug. 2013. 
  10. Gummin DD, Mowry JB, Spyker DA, Brooks DE, Osterthaler KM, et al. 2017 Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ National Poison Data System (NPDS): 35th Annual Report. Clin Toxicol (Phila). 2018 Dec 21:1-203. PubMed PMID: 30576252.
  11. Hallucinogens.National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institute of Health, Apr. 2019. 
  12. “Peyote.” CESAR Center for Substance Abuse Research, University of Maryland, 29 Oct. 2013, http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/peyote.asp.
  13. T, Buddy, and Steven Gans. “Peyote: Everything You’ve Been Afraid to Ask.Verywell Mind, Dotdash, 14 Aug. 2019.
  14. Cormier, Zoe. “No Link Found between Psychedelics and Psychosis.Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 4 Mar. 2015.
  15. Burgess, Lana. “HPPD: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment.Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 16 Mar. 2018.