Peyote, or Lophophora williamsil, is unassuming at first glance. It’s small and spineless, unlike other cacti. But inside the small buttons that grow from the plant lies something called mescaline.

Mescaline is a hallucinogen that has made peyote both the center of religious rituals and legal disputes. Peyote originated in the Americas.

Did You Know?
Archaeologists have dated remains of dried peyote buttons to as far back as 3780 BC. The indigenous groups of northern Mexico are believed to be among the first to utilize peyote in their mythology and religious practices. They may have brought peyote to the tribes living in what are now the plains of the United States.

Peyote is normally prepared by cutting the buttons from the plant and drying them. They can then be eaten raw or soaked in water to make a psychoactive tea. Some modern spiritual practitioners consume it in this way. The buttons can also be ground into a fine powder and then smoked with tobacco or marijuana. This powder is sometimes put in capsules to avoid the bitter taste.

Mescaline is the active component within peyote. It can be drawn out and made into pills or liquid. A synthetic form of mescaline can also be created in a lab.

The psychological effects of peyote include vivid hallucinations. Users often claim they can “see music” or “hear colors.” They may have visions and altered views of space and time. Colors may appear brighter, sounds more distinct, and vision enhanced.

Users may also feel profound joy or extreme terror, and have dramatic emotional experiences. As with LSD, some people may have a negative experience with peyote, or a “bad trip.”

Physical effects of peyote often include numbness and tension. It can also cause an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. Users may experience:

  • nausea
  • elevated body temperature
  • chills
  • sweating or shivering
Peyote 101

Among indigenous populations, peyote is believed to have medical properties as well. It’s been said to aid in the treatment of everything from toothaches to diabetes. But there is an overwhelming lack of scientific research on these purported benefits.

The long-term effects of peyote are also poorly understood. Researchers have found no link between long-term peyote use and psychological or mental defects. However, frequent users may experience flashbacks.

Peyote isn’t thought to be addictive. Scientists have not found evidence of psychological or physical addiction. However, users can build a tolerance with frequent peyote use. When this happens, they need more and more of the mescaline to have the same effects over time.

Just how many people abuse peyote and mescaline as recreational drugs is unknown. In surveys of drug use, these substances are normally excluded. According to one survey from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 7.8 percent of high school seniors in 2008 reported using hallucinogens other than LSD, a group that would include peyote and psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”).

Under U.S. federal law, recreational use of peyote is illegal. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, it has no real medical uses and the highest risk of abuse. Ceremonial or religious use is permitted under certain conditions. Members of the Native American Church, a recognized religious institution, are an exception to the ban. Tribal members can use ceremonial peyote without fear of federal penalties.

States may have their own specific peyote laws. But they’re required to adhere to the federal regulations, limiting legitimate religious use of peyote.

Religious use of peyote is still common among certain indigenous groups. The Native American Church, the Huichol Indians of Mexico, and other Native Americans consider the plant and its effects sacred. Users have taken peyote to encourage visions and spiritual experiences for centuries.

The Takeaway

While peyote may not have current proven medical uses, the history and culture surrounding its use is fascinating and continues to be studied. This substance is more of a recreational drug than an herbal therapy.