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Lophophora williamsii ( ), better known by its common name Peyote, (from the Nahuatl word peyotl), is a small, spineless cactus. It is native to southwestern Texasmarker and through central Mexicomarker. It is found primarily in the Chihuahuan desert and in the states of Tamaulipasmarker and San Luis Potosimarker among scrub, especially where there is limestone.

It is well known for its psychoactive alkaloids, particularly mescaline. It is used world wide as an entheogen, and supplement to various transcendence practices, including meditation, psychonautics, and psychedelic psychotherapy. Peyote has a long history of ritual religious and medicinal use by indigenous Americans. It flowers from March through May, and sometimes as late as September. The flowers are pink, with thigmotactic anthers (like Opuntia).


The cactus flowers sporadically, producing small (edible) pink fruit. The seeds are small and black, requiring hot and humid conditions to germinate. Peyote contains a large spectrum of phenethylamine alkaloids, of which the principal one is mescaline. The mescaline content of Lophophora williamsii is about 0.4% fresh (undried) and 3-6% dried. Peyote is extremely slow growing. Cultivated specimens grow considerably faster, sometimes taking less than three years to go from seedling to mature flowering adult. More rapid growth can be achieved by grafting Peyote onto mature San Pedro root stock.
A flowering peyote, in cultivation.

The top of the cactus that grows above ground, also referred to as the crown, consists of disc-shaped buttons that are cut above the roots and sometimes dried. When done properly, the top of the root will form a callus and the root will not rot. When poor harvesting techniques are used, however, the entire plant dies. Currently in South Texas, peyote grows naturally but has been over-harvested, to the point that the state has listed it as an endangered species. The buttons are generally chewed, or boiled in water to produce a psychoactive tea. Peyote is extremely bitter, and most people are nauseated before they feel the onset of the psychoactive effects.

Distribution and habitat

L. williamsii is native to southern North America, mainly distributed in Mexico. In U.S.A. it grows in the south limit state of Texasmarker. In Mexico it grows in the states of Chihuahuamarker, Coahuilamarker, Nuevo Leónmarker, and Tamaulipasmarker in the north to San Luis Potosimarker and Zacatecasmarker. It is primarily found at elevations of 100 to 1500 m and exceptionally up to 1900 metres in the Chihuahuan desert, but is also present in the more mild climate of the state of Tamaulipasmarker. Its habitat is primarily in desert scrub, particularly thorn scrub in Tamaulipas. It is most common on or near limestone hills.


Dried Lophophora williamsii slices ("Peyote Buttons")
The effective dose for mescaline is 200–500 mg, equivalent to about 5 g of dried peyote. The effects last about 10 to 12 hours. When combined with appropriate set and setting, peyote is reported to trigger states of deep introspection and insight that have been described as being of a metaphysical or spiritual nature. At times, these can be accompanied by rich visual or auditory effects (see synesthesia).

In addition to psychoactive use, Native Americans used the plant for its curative properties. They employed peyote to treat such varied ailments as toothache, pain in childbirth, fever, breast pain, skin diseases, rheumatism, diabetes, colds, and blindness. The U.S. Dispensatory lists peyote under the name Anhalonium, and states it can be used in various preparations for neurasthenia, hysteria and asthma. Screening for antimicrobial activity of peyote extracts in various solvents showed positive microbial inhibition. The principal antibiotic agent, a water-soluble crystalline substance separated from an ethanol extract of the plant, was given the name peyocactin.

In the same study, mice were used for preliminary animal toxicity tests and protection studies to determine the degree of the inhibitory action of peyocactin against normally fatal infections with the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. In every case, the mice that had been given a peyocactin extract survived, while those in the control group died within 60 hours after infection. Peyocactin proved effective against 18 strains of penicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, several other bacteria, and a fungus.

The flesh may also be applied topically to promote milk production (see galactogogue).

Long-term use

A 2005 paper published in Biological Psychiatry outlines research into peyote use conducted by Dr. John Halpern. He found that peyote users scored significantly better than non-users on the "general positive affect" and "psychological well-being" measures of the Rand Mental Health Inventory (RMHI), a standard instrument used to diagnose psychological problems and determine overall mental health. By contrast, alcohol abusers did significantly worse than the comparison group (non-users) in all measures of the RMHI.


Peyote is known to have been used since the middle of the Archaic period in the Americas by the people of the Oshara Tradition in the Southwest. In 2005 researchers used radiocarbon dating and alkaloid analysis to study two specimens of peyote buttons found in archaeological digs from a site called Shumla Cave No. 5 on the Rio Grande in Texasmarker. The results dated the specimens to between 3780 and 3660 BCE. Alkaloid extraction yielded approximately 2% of the alkaloids including mescaline in both samples. This indicates that native North Americans were likely to have used peyote since at least five and a half thousand years ago.Specimens from a burial cave in west central Coahuilamarker, Mexicomarker have been similarly analysed and dated to 810 to 1070 CE.

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 Oklahomamarker and Texasmarker. Its usage was also recorded among various Southwestern Athabaskan-language tribal groups. The Tonkawa, the Mescalero and Lipan Apache were the source or first practitioners of peyote religion in the regions north of present-day Mexico. They were also the principal group to introduce peyote to newly arrived migrants, such as the Comanche and Kiowa from the Northern Plains. Documented evidence of the religious, ceremonial, and healing uses of peyote dates back over 2,000 years.

Under the auspices of what came to be known as the Native American Church, in the 19th century, American Indians in more widespread regions to the north began to use peyote in religious practices, as part of a revival of native spirituality. Its members 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, including the Ghost Dance. Today the Native American Church is one among several religious organizations to use peyote as part of its religious practice.

Peyote and its associated religion are fairly recent arrivals among the Navajo in the Southwestern United States, and can be firmly dated to the early 20th century. Traditional Navajo belief or ceremonial practice did not mention the use of peyote before its introduction by the neighboring Utes. The Navajo Nation now has the most members of the Native American Church. According to some estimates, 20 percent or more of the Navajo population are practitioners.

Dr. John Raleigh Briggs (1851-1907) was the first to draw scientific attention of the western scientific world to peyote. Arthur Heffter conducted self experiments on its effects in 1897. Similarly, pioneering Norwegianmarker ethnographer Carl Sofus Lumholtz studied and wrote about the use of peyote among the Indians of Mexico. Lumholtz also reported that, lacking other intoxicants, Texas Rangers captured by Union forces during the American Civil War soaked peyote buttons in water and became "intoxicated with the liquid" (p.358) His 1902 account seems to have been the first documentation of peyote use by non-native Americans.

In the 1970s, the early writings of Carlos Castaneda sparked a resurgence of interest in using peyote as a psychoactive drug.. In these works, now widely regarded as wholly or mainly fictional, Don Juan Matus, said to be Castaneda's teacher in the use of peyote, named "Mescalito" as an entity that purportedly could be sensed by those using peyote to gain insight in how to live well. This was possible only if Mescalito 'accepted' the user. In later works, Castaneda asserted that the use of such psychotropic substances was not necessary to achieve heightened awareness, although, he reported, his teacher advised that its use was beneficial in helping to free some people's minds.


United States

United States federal law (and many state laws) protects the harvest, possession, consumption and cultivation of peyote as part of "bonafide religious ceremonies" (the federal statute is 42 USC §1996a, "Traditional Indian religious use of the peyote sacrament," exempting only Native American use, while some state laws exempt any general "bonafide religious activity"). American jurisdictions enacted these specific statutory exemptions in reaction to the U.S.marker Supreme Courtmarker's decision in Employment Division v. Smith, , which held that laws prohibiting the use of peyote that do not specifically exempt religious use nevertheless do not violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Peyote is listed by the United States DEA as a Schedule I controlled substance.

Although many American jurisdictions specifically allow religious use of peyote, religious or therapeutic use not under the aegis of the Native American Church has often been targeted by local law enforcement agencies, and non-Natives attempting to establish spiritual centers based on the consumption of peyote as a sacrament or as medicine, such as the Peyote Foundation in Arizonamarker, have been prosecuted. Those with Native American blood are allowed to consume and cultivate Peyote in all 50 states while non-native Peyote use is only protected in five states : Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Oregon. Native Americans have subsequently been allowed to answer "no" on armed forces application question "Have you ever used illegal drugs"? with respect to peyote.


Mescaline is listed as a Schedule III controlled substance under the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, but peyote is specifically exempt. [702105]


Article 32 of the Convention on Psychotropic Substances allows nations to exempt certain traditional uses of peyote from prohibition:
A State on whose territory there are plants growing wild which contain psychotropic substances from among those in Schedule I and which are traditionally used by certain small, clearly determined groups in magical or religious rites, may, at the time of signature, ratification or accession, make reservations concerning these plants, in respect of the provisions of article 7, except for the provisions relating to international trade.
However, this exemption would apply only if the peyote cactus were ever explicitly added to the Schedules of the Psychotropic Convention. Currently the Convention applies only to chemicals. Peyote and other psychedelic plants are neither listed nor regulated by the Convention. See Convention on Psychotropic Substances#Psychedelic plants and fungi.

Popular culture

Many authors, especially those of the Beat Generation, wrote about their experiences with peyote, or were otherwise influenced by the plant. Allen Ginsberg's poem Howl was partly inspired by his use of Peyote on October 17, 1954 in his apartment at 755 Pine Street in San Francisco, when he had a vision of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel and the Medical Arts buildings being transformed into the ancient Phoenician god Moloch. . Michael McClure wrote his great "Peyote Poem" after experimenting with peyote and other psychadelic drugs.

Author Aldous Huxley published The Doors of Perception in 1953, which describes his experience with mescaline. Jim Morrison, lead singer of the band The Doors was known to experiment with peyote, and got the band's name from Huxley's novel. In the movie The Doors, Jim Morrison and the band go to Death Valleymarker and have a spiritual experience with peyote.

Ken Kesey, while working as a night watchman at a psychiatric ward, was inspired to write his novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest one night while he was on the job under the influence of peyote: he thought up Chief Bromden, who would turn out to be the central character in the novel, described by Tom Wolfe, in his novel The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, as "a full-blown Indian -- Chief Broom -- the solution, the whole mothering key, to the novel". Wolfe indicates Kesey was part of a medical test group being administered LSD, not mescaline. The rest of the account beyond the substance used is correct, according to Wolfe. Kesey himself, however, always maintained it was in fact peyote, e.g. stating in his book Kesey's Garage Sale, " was after choking down eight of the little (peyote) cactus plants that I wrote the first three pages (of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest)". Another example is from William S. Burroughs' semi-autobiographical novel Queer. The protagonist and his unrequited lover are setting out to search the Amazon jungle for yage, another psychedelic drug, prompting the protagonist to recount his idiosyncratic struggles with the peyote experience. Nevertheless, his first account of a peyote experience can be found in his seminal work Junky, as by the end of the novel the protagonist-narrator describes a detailed episode of undergoing the effect of the plant in sundry locations in Mexico citymarker. Also, an image of the plant, and by extension its possible usage, can be seen in the gonzo fist symbol attributed to Hunter S. Thompson. Hunter S. Thompson also recounts experiences with mescaline, most notably in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Aldous Huxley's Doors of Perception gives a detailed account of his experience while on mescaline.

The image of the peyote plant has made its way into other media as well. The Eagles song "Bitter Creek" contains the line, "Oh peyote/She tried to show me/You know there ain't no cause to weep/at Bitter Creek." In the movie Zoolander, hippie model Hansel talks about his psychedelic experience with peyote, falling off Mount Vesuviusmarker, and later realizing he had never even been to such a place. In the movie Young Guns the band of outlaws led by Billy the Kid while hiding from a pursuing posse consumed a peyote drink prepared by their Mexican companion. They then proceeded through a hostile Indian village under the influence. The Indians all looked at them a bit bemused and Billy asks "Hey, Chavez, how come they ain't killing us?" to which Dirty Steve answers, "Because we're in the spirit world..., They can't see us." Peyote was also ingested by Beavis in the film Beavis and Butthead Do America in which Beavis had a "trip" with music by White Zombie.

See also


  1. .
  2. .
  4. Dr. John Halpern, "Psychological and Cognitive Effects of Long-Term Peyote Use Among Native Americans"], Biological Psychiatry, MedPage Today
  5. Lumholtz, Carl, Unknown Mexico, New York: Scribners, 1902
  6. Jan G. Bruhn and Bo Holmstedt, "Early peyote research: an interdisciplinary study", Economic Botany, Volume 28, Number 4, October 1973, accessed 15 Nov 2009
  7. Daniel Perrine, "Visions of the Night: Western Medicine Meets Peyote, 1887-1899", in The Heffter Review of Psychedelic Research, Vol. 2, 2001, p.42, accessed 15 Nov 2009
  8. Lumholtz, Carl, Unknown Mexico, New York: Scribners (1902)
  9. "Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression." Edited by Bill Morgan and Nancy J. Peters
  10. Charters, Ann. "Michael McClure." The Portable Beat Reader, 1992. Print.

Further reading

  • Calabrese, Joseph D. "The Therapeutic Use of Peyote in the Native American Church" Chapter 3 in Vol. 1 of Psychedelic Medicine: New Evidence for Hallucinogens as Treatments Michael J. Winkelman and Thomas B. Roberts (editors) (2007). Westport, CT: Praeger/Greenwood.
  • Feeney, Kevin. "The Legal Basis for Religious Peyote Use." Chapter 13 in Vol 1 of Psychedelic Medicine: New Evidence for Hallucinogens as Treatments Michael J. Winkelman and Thomas B. Roberts (editors) (2007). Westport, CT: Praeger/Greenwood.

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