Peyote (Mescaline)

Hey Alice!

My friends and I did shrooms the other night and they mentioned "peyote." I was wondering, what is "peyote"? What does it do to you? And what are the side effects? Thanks!

Dear Reader,

Peyote is a small spineless cactus (Lophophora williamsii) that’s been used for medicinal and religious practices in indigenous Native American communities for nearly 5700 years. So, what’s peyote got to do with shrooms? The peyote plant contains mescaline (3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine), which is an ingredient that produces hallucinatory effects similar to lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and psilocybin (shrooms). Typically, it’s consumed by cutting and drying the crown of the peyote plant and then either chewing it, soaking it in water to produce a hallucinogenic liquid, or boiling it for hours to make a tea (for a less bitter taste). It’s wise to note that the U.S. government classifies both peyote and mescaline as Schedule I (one) Controlled Substances — meaning they’re illegal to consume and there’s limited scientific research on them. However, peyote continues to play a prominent role within indigenous Native American societies (in what’s now Mexico and the Southwestern US) and it’s legally permitted for use by the Native American Church.

So, what does it do? Mescaline, like other hallucinogens, can distort your perception of reality and cause you see or hear things that aren’t real. For example, users of mescaline may report an altered sense of time, amplified colors and senses (sound, sight, touch, smell), and even “geometrization” in which three-dimensional objects look flattened. Compared to LSD, peyote tends to be significantly less potent — meaning the effects are weaker for the amount consumed. With peyote, a 20 to 500 milligram dose usually leads to hallucinations which can take up to 3 hours to reach their peak and can last up to 12 hours after ingesting the drug. As with any hallucinogen, the use or “trip” may vary from time to time and for each person.

For native populations, peyote is far more than a recreational psychedelic substance — it’s a means of medical treatment, religious ritual, community support, and female reverence. Peyote is used as an antidote for a host of ailments including fire burns, skin diseases, head colds, toothaches, and pneumonia. Also, it’s central to a traditional healing ceremony to help identify the cause of an individual’s illness. For this practice, a healer leads community members through a ceremony of singing and dancing around a fire. As part of the ritual, community members consume peyote for the purposes of unity, reflection, and prayer. Using peyote is considered a selfless effort to diagnose the ill individual, rather than for personal benefit. Women are often at the forefront of these gatherings given their role in the community and the belief that peyote is connected to the reproductive anatomy. They often facilitate the ceremonies and help relay messages from their gods to the community through artistic expression such as singing and embroidery. Further, since peyote is viewed as a metaphor of the uterus, it’s used throughout the lifecycle to encourage menstruation and pregnancy.

To answer your question about side effects, deaths directly related to mescaline use are uncommon. Any injuries or deaths are more likely to be a result of accidents that occur because of the distorted perception that’s the drug's major effect. That being said, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the possible short-term effects of peyote use include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased body temperature
  • Excessive sweating and flushing
  • Ataxia (uncoordinated body movements)
  • Fetal abnormalities (though more research is needed on possible effects on the fetus)

While existing studies found that peyote poses little risk of dependance, further research on the psychological and cognitive effects tends to be limited. Research on peyote’s effects on Native Americans didn’t find cognitive or psychological impairment, but these findings can’t necessarily be generalized to those who use peyote recreationally (rather than strictly in religious ceremonies). Other studies have examined potential beneficial effects of hallucinogens for medical purposes. There’s some early evidence that drugs such as peyote may help those struggling to overcome addiction and substance abuse, but further research is needed.

It's wise to learn more about this substance, both its history and its impact on the body, when informing your decision to use it. When deciding to try peyote or mescaline, it’s recommended to consider the safety of the space you use in and to find someone not using the drug to be there for help, if needed. For more information on hallucinogenic drugs, check out the Go Ask Alice! LSD, PCP, & Other Hallucinogens category in the Alcohol & Other Drug archives.

Last updated Feb 05, 2021
Originally published Jan 17, 2003

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