Peyote Drug: History, Effects, Addiction Signs, And Treatment Options

Last Updated: April 13, 2021

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Peyote cactus, and its hallucinogenic ingredient mescaline, has historically been used in a Native American religious peyote ceremony while also being used recreationally both within and outside the Native American community. Its hallucinogenic properties can cause severe hallucinations, and its psychoactive effects can result in dangers to the user. Its consistent use can also cause other risky behavior such as abusing other drugs.

Read along further to find out about peyote drug, is Peyote legal, mescaline effects and signs of abuse, how long does Peyote last, and treatment options for its addiction.

What is Peyote Drug?

Peyote plant or Lophophora Williamsii is a spineless cactus plant whose parts or button-like protrusions contain an active principle called mescaline, a potent hallucinogen. A spineless cactus that is native to Mexico and Texas has been used for thousands of years for spiritual purposes in a peyote ceremony. It is a part of the traditional and religious ceremonies of people in Northern Mexico. It has served the same purpose for Native Americans for the last 5500 years.

What Does Peyote Look Like?

Peyote looks like small button-shaped protrusions that are found on the tops of cactus plants. They are also called peyote buttons based on their appearance. These buttons are usually dried and chewed, or mixed in water to make a hallucinogenic drink. They are also ground into a powder and taken in capsules or smoked with tobacco and cannabis.

Where Does It Grow?

The peyote cactus plant grows predominantly in Mexico and the southern parts of the U.S., specifically the southwestern areas of the U.S., including the Great Sonoran Desert. It is found primarily in the Sierra Madre Occidental, the Chihuahuan Desert and in the states of Nayarit, Coahuila, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, and San Luis Potosí.

A cluster of mescaline peyote cacti.

History Of Peyote Drug

Peyote holds an important value in the Native American culture. Its ceremonial and religious use dates back to more than 5000 years in Native American history. In Mexico, it is considered to be a religious deity in Huichol culture, and they associate it with spiritual enlightenment. Research carried out about the use of this plant dates back to 5700 years.

Archaeological investigations in northeast Mexico and Trans-Pecos, Texas, have shown that native Americans recognized and valued its psychotropic properties as long as 5700 years ago.

In another study, the chronology of mescaline use was traced back to at least 5000 years ago where it was found in the fast-growing San Pedro cactus that towers above the mountainous desert scrub of the Andes, and the slow-growing, ground-hugging cactus (Lophophora williamsii) native to Mexico and the southwestern United States.

Is Peyote Drug Legal in the U.S.?

Under the Controlled Substance Act, Peyote is considered a controlled substance. Due to its psychoactive effects when consumed, this plant had been added to the list of Schedule I substances. Any substance listed as a Schedule I substance is subject to production, possession, and consumption restrictions.

Therefore, it is illegal for anyone to plant, distribute, or possess the drug; people associated with the Native American Church are legally allowed to consume the drug in some states due to its role in Native American religious ceremonies. For example, its sellers in Texas are required to first register with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and with the Texas Department of Public Safety, where they must report the amount of this cactus they harvest from the wild and renew their license every year.

Prohibition in 1970

The use of Peyote drug was utterly prohibited in 1970 when Congress passed the Controlled Substance Act. The Native American Church was granted exclusion in this Act; however, there still remained the issue of Federal regulation.

Regularization For Religious Use

In the year 1976, huge progress was made for Peyote’s legalization by Alan Birnbaum, who founded the Native American Church of New York. He filed a suit against the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) after his appeal for legalization was declined by the DEA. The matter was then escalated to the Supreme Court, and Alan Birnbaum won the case subsequently. Since then, Peyote’s religious use has been regularized for the Native American Church and its associated members.

In 1994, an amendment to the American Indian Religious Act clearly declared this plant’s legal status. This happened chiefly due to the religious significance of the plant in the Native American culture.

Legalization For The Native American Church

However, lately, non-Native American organizations such as The Peyote Foundation and the Peyote Way Church of God (based in Arizona) have earned similar rights to obtain and use Peyote in religious rites and rituals. This was based on the proposition that, in U.S. law, the exemption from prosecution was granted mainly because of the faithful, spiritual and emotional and attachment of the people with the Peyote cactus.

Different Peyote Laws In Different States

States, where Peyote drug use is not as much leniently allowed, includes Minnesota, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. In these states, there is a minimum requirement of its enthusiasts actually being members of a renowned and dedicated religious organization or body such as The American Indian Church in Minnesota or the Native American Church.

In a few states, people can legally join a Peyote meeting or ceremony if the organization running that ceremony is associated with the Native American Church.

The Criteria for Allowing the Use of Mescaline Among Different States with Different Laws are Elaborated in the Following Table:

 

State Sincere Religious Intent With a licensed

religious organization

Within an

NAC ceremony

Required NAC membership Required Native

American descent

On reservations only Incarcerated persons

not exempt

AZ Yes
CO Yes
ID Yes Yes Yes
IA Yes
KS Yes Yes Yes
MN Yes
NV Yes
NM Yes
OK Yes
OR Yes
SD Yes
TX Yes Yes
WI Yes
WY Yes

Can One Use Peyote If They Join A Native American Church?

Texas laws are very strict in this affair. A person must not only be a member of the Native American Church, but they also should have at least twenty-five percent Native American genes in their blood.

Under U.S. law, when the Native American Church obtains Peyote for their ceremonial use, their supplier must be a licensed and registered person. If anyone intends to supply it to the Native American Church, their supplier will be subject to complete registration and compliance with the laws of the state in order to qualify for such.

Is Peyote Legal in Canada?

In Canada, consumption of Peyote is illegal, as is in the USA. However, if intended for religious purposes, Canadian law allows consuming this drug. The Canadian law also permits the possession of these plants and their seeds for religious purposes.

Even though mescaline (an alkaloid found in Peyote cactus) is listed under the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act as a Schedule III controlled substance, the plant itself is free from this classification.

How is Peyote Used?

This drug is usually used in religious ceremonies by removing the disc-shaped buttons from the top of the plant and either chewing them or using them to make a special tea.

Traditional Use: In a Peyote Ceremony

Peyote drug has been used by native Americans for thousands of years in religious ceremonies and to treat certain physical ailments. A healer or roadman, who is similar to a priest or a minister, assists in a peyote ceremony where members use the plant to facilitate communication with the Great Spirit or Creator.

Since it is a hallucinogen, it can cause profound distractions in a person’s perception of reality, including seeing and hearing things that may seem real but are actually not. This causes the users to experience a mystical, transcendental state and dysphoric symptoms.

According to this study, the plant has also been used as a treatment for alcoholism within the NAC community. These effects are often intensified when the drug is combined with other substances such as alcohol and stimulants. The effects and side effects depend on the amount and frequency of ingestion. The rate of serious emotional disturbances and side effects was found to be low in American Indian religious uses in a peyote ceremony, probably because the feelings evoked by the drug were channeled by church belief and practice.

Shamanic drums before peyote ceremony.

Medical Use

Hallucinogens affect the brain’s neural circuits involving the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps play a role in mood, sensory perception, sleep, hunger, body temperature, sexual behavior, and muscle control. For this reason, Peyote drug has been used medically and is studied as possible treatments for mental health conditions associated with perceptual distortions such as schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, and dementia.

It is also used in addiction treatment programs and social and behavioral interventions that help treat addiction and other repetitive actions. Experts believe, in this situation, that the social group’s intervention is actually the more important aspect of overcoming the addiction and that mescaline may merely, to an extent, be a placebo.

However, the visions induced by this drug are manipulated to show the negative effects that the abused drug can have. This is performed in the hope that it will deter the addict as well as bring them a sense of enlightenment and control over their issue. Mescaline allows for increased honesty, self-awareness, and integrity, meaning those undergoing therapy can improve personally as well as in their behavior. It is often considered to have similar benefits to meditation.

Common Peyote Effects

Though it is not considered an addictive drug, the feelings of euphoria produced by it could cause a person to develop a psychological dependence on the substance.

This drug has several physical and mental effects on its users; some of these peyote effects are discussed below:

Physical Effects

The physical peyote effects include the following:

  • Fever (sweating and chills)
  • Nausea
  • Numbness
  • Muscle twitching
  • Dilation of pupils
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased energy levels
  • Muscle weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Impaired motor skills and coordination
  • Flushed skin
  • Headaches

Mental Effects

Possible negative effects that peyote drug has on the brain and mental effects include the following:

  • Euphoria
  • Relaxation
  • Increased levels of emotions and feelings
  • Altered Mind
  • Different perception of time
  • Synesthesia (mixing senses)
  • Distorted vision
  • Altered perception of time and space
  • Synesthesia
  • Mood swings
  • Paranoia
  • Temporary psychosis
  • Difficulties in focusing on tasks and surroundings

Also, mescaline is dangerous because of:

  • Adverse reactions to “bad trips” that may result in self-harm or other violent acts
  • Mescaline causes disturbances in neurotransmitter actions on the body.
  • Cognitive impairment is the cause of many other problems, and under the influence, a person might not be able to avoid dangers and accidents and might harm themselves without realizing it.
  • Unrealistic feelings of joy, exhilaration or depression, and despair. Mixing past with present and loss of sense of reality is a part of the effects.

Long Term Peyote Effects and Dangers

Peyote’s addiction potential is very low, and although heavy users might develop tolerance, addiction is barely noticeable. What is considered dangerous is a hallucinogen persisting perception disorder which causes people to experience flashbacks of the peyote trips long after the effects have worn out.

More research is needed to find out about the long-term dangers of peyote drug and the effects of mescaline when it is abused. According to a recent study, there was no evidence found of psychological or cognitive deficits among Native Americans who used mescaline in religious settings. However, these findings cannot be generalized for illicit use of this drug.

Some of the Long-Term Peyote Effects Include the Following:

  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Visual distortion
  • Color enhancement

Hallucinogen-Induced Persisting Perception Disorder

Temporary psychosis is a common condition caused by mescaline addiction which can result in paranoia, visuals, and distorted thinking. It can also become a permanent mental issue.

Studies have shown that mescaline users may experience Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder which is a condition characterized by sudden hallucinations and flashbacks. Flashbacks refer to sudden repetitions of past trips—making the previous addict experience the same feelings they felt during a particular trip. Not only do flashbacks bring back unwanted memories from bad trips, but they may also cause the person to relapse. This can be stressful for the user, especially when there are no patterns of recurrence. Flashbacks can lead to madness and fatal accidents. Imagine seeing stuff and hearing colors while driving – a year after the last mescaline trip!

Young man having hallucinations.

Bad Trips and Flashbacks

Bad mescaline trips are another risk and long-term effect. The type and severity of the trip depend mainly on the product, the environment, and the user’s well-being. Bad trips can cause stress, depression, fear, and death. Bad trips may occur at different times, and there is no way to determine when they will happen. Additionally, there is no definite and proven method to alter the trip to make it a good one. Bad trips result in extreme feelings, anxiety, fear, depression, and the like. People who take Peyote drug for recreational purposes may resort to harmful measures whenever a bad trip occurs. Even in cases when a mescaline user has finally decided to stop using the drug, flashbacks may occur days, weeks, months, or years after the last dose.

Suicide or Death

People who use Peyote drug are at risk of feeling extreme emotions during bad trips that may lead to fatality, with suicide among the highest particular causes. Hallucinogens are proven to cause mental and psychological conditions such as schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and the like. The first signs of danger are the inability to function normally without the drug and the insistent use of mescaline to experience its effects even in the face of risks and warnings.

Mescaline Addiction Signs

It’s important to recognize peyote addiction as soon as possible because mescaline can be dangerous and can lead to life-threatening consequences. After ingestion of mescaline, the person feels nauseous initially. Then the mental effects kick in, causing a change in perceptions and either elevation or depression of mood. Physical effects such as increased heart rate and blood pressure, numbness, and weakness can appear during this time. The person is then taken to an alternative reality which can be pleasant or terrifying depending on the person’s personality.

Its addiction can manifest in the form of physical, behavioral, and social signs, all of which are discussed in detail below:

Physical Signs

Some of the physiological changes that peyote drug causes include the following:

  • High body temperature
  • Sweating
  • Dilated pupils
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Impaired coordination
  • Muscle weakness
  • Problems with appetite
  • Insomnia

Behavioral Signs

Mescaline addiction can also cause a person to show some behavioral signs such as:

  • Failure to keep up with responsibilities and general negligence
  • Relationship issues with friends, family, or colleagues
  • Legal and\or financial issues
  • Disinterest, especially in previous passions and hobbies

Social Signs

Some of the social signs of peyote addiction can include:

  • Neglecting appearance
  • Avoiding social occasions
  • Surrounding themselves with people who take drugs
  • Mixing drugs
  • Getting involved in cults
  • Being too interested in religion and spirituality
  • Losing touch with reality
  • Losing their family or job due to peyote abuse
  • An abnormal interest in spirituality, God, and self-perception

All these dangers can lead to risky behavior and can be hazardous to the people around the user. That’s why recognizing mescaline addiction is crucial simply because it can save lives.

Peyote Addiction Risk Groups

It is no longer surprising that Peyote is one of the most consumed hallucinogens in the country. From 2007 to 2008, the Monitoring the Future Survey recorded a 2.8% increase, from 5% to 7.8%, in the number of high school seniors who have used hallucinogens, including Peyote. Some of the risk groups for falling into mescaline addiction include the following:

  • Personal history of substance abuse
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Having easy access to Peyote
  • Being of younger age. According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 1.1 million persons aged 12 or older had used hallucinogens, including mescaline, for the first time in the past year.
  • 50-60-year-old white males. This may be due to the drug’s use in therapy and religious ceremonies.
  • Personal or family history of mental illnesses.

How Long Does Peyote Last?

The chemical structure of mescaline resembles that of dopamine and norepinephrine, and the drug acts on their receptors in the brain and produces effects by disturbing normal neurotransmitter activity. Its effects last for 1-2 hours and disappear after 10-12 hours. According to research, the average half-life mescaline is 6 hours.

Peyote mechanism of action causes it to metabolize into trimethoxyphenyl acetic acid by oxidative deamination, but several minor metabolites with possible clinical and forensic repercussions have also been reported. The time that mescaline stays in the body depends on every person’s size, metabolism, hydration level, physical activity, age, body mass, other health conditions, and the amount that was ingested. On average, it can be detected in the human body from two days to up to three months.

According to Estimates, the Approximate Range of Time During Which Peyote Can be Found in Different Mediums is as Under:

  • Blood: up to 24 hours
  • Saliva: 1 to 10 days
  • Urine: 2 to 3 days
  • Hair follicles: up to three months

Peyote Addiction Treatment

People struggling with peyote addiction have several options for help, treatment, and recovery. Mescaline addiction must be treated using professional techniques and strategies so that each patient can be treated based on factors such as the severity of use, its concurrent use with alcohol or other drugs, history of mental illnesses, physical health, and financial means.

During professional addiction treatment, patients are provided with either inpatient or outpatient treatment options:

  • Inpatient Rehabs allow patients to focus solely on the treatment without having to go through the pressures of daily life. In-house addiction facilities provide for a complete medical and psychological rehabilitation of the patient. Reliable treatment processes include specialized therapies focused on cognitive-behavioral areas and other psychological therapies that will help the user stay clean even during flashbacks.
  • Outpatient programs are relatively less intensive where the clients can continue to live at their homes and take part in structured and scheduled treatment sessions multiple times a week. These outpatient visits may be offered in different settings such as specialized addiction clinics, treatment facilities, hospitals, or a physician’s office.

The treatment of mescaline addiction is also focused on the psychological aspects of addiction: triggers of addiction, self-perception, and perspectives. Holistic approaches and yoga can be very helpful, especially for people who have an interest in alternative practices. Many rehabilitation facilities offer suitable programs for this kind of addiction.

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Published on: November 5th, 2015

Updated on: April 13th, 2021

About Author

Peter J. Grinspoon, MD

Dr. Peter Grinspoon is an experienced physician with long-term clinical practice experience. As a former analgesic addict, Dr. Grinspoon knows precisely how important it is to provide patients with effective treatment and support. Medical writing for him is the way to communicate with people and inform them about their health.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.