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Peyote cactus plant in natural state.
Peyote cactus plant in natural state.
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Caryophyllales
Family: Cactaceae
Genus: Lophophora
Species: L. williamsii
Binomial name
Lophophora williamsii
(Lem.) J. Coult.

Lophophora williamsii (pronounced /loʊˈfɒfərə wɪlˈjæmsiaɪ/), better known by its common name Peyote, (from the Nahuatl word peyotl), is a small, spineless cactus[1]. It is native to southwestern Texas and through central Mexico. It is found primarily in the Chihuahuan desert and in the states of Tamaulipas and San Luis Potosi 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).


File:Flowering peyote cactus.jpg

A flowering peyote, in cultivation.

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[2] (undried) and 3-6% dried.[2] 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[3].

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.[4] 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. [How to reference and link to summary or text] 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 Texas. In Mexico it grows in the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas in the north to San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas[5]. 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 Tamaulipas. Its habitat is primarily in desert scrub, particularly thorn scrub in Tamaulipas. It is most common on or near limestone hills.[6]

Medicinal effects


Dried Lophophora williamsii slices ("Peyote Buttons")

File:Mescaline chemical structure.png

Chemical structure of mescaline, the primary psychoactive compound in peyote

The effective dose for mescaline is 200–500 mg, equivalent to about 5 g of dried peyote.[7] The effects last about 10 to 12 hours.[8] 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.[9]

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.[9]

The flesh may also be applied topically to promote milk production (see galactogogue).[How to reference and link to summary or text]

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 control group (non-users) in all measures of the RMHI. [10]

Historical Uses

From earliest recorded time, peyote has been used by indigenous peoples, such as the Huichol of northern Mexico and the Navajo in the southwestern United States, as a part of traditional religious rites.[How to reference and link to summary or text] In the late 1800s, the tradition began to spread northward as part of a revival of native spirituality under the auspices of what came to be known as the Native American Church, whose members refer to peyote as "the medicine", and use it to combat alcoholism and other social ills. The Native American Church is one among several religious organizations that use peyote as part of their religious practice.

Peyote seized by police in Arcata, CA

chemical structure of mescaline

A resurgence of interest in the use of peyote was spawned in the 1970s by accounts of its use in the early works of writer Carlos Castaneda. Don Juan Matus, the pseudonym for Castaneda's instructor in the use of peyote, used the name "Mescalito" to refer to an entity that purportedly can be sensed by those using peyote to gain insight in how to live one's life. Later works of Castaneda asserted that the use of such psychotropic substances was not necessary to achieve heightened awareness and de-emphasized the use of peyote as a general means to achieve this end. Castaneda's writing has been largely discredited as serious anthropological research and is generally considered to be allegorical fiction.



United States federal law (and many state laws) protect the harvest, possession and consumption (but not cultivation) of peyote as part of "bonafide religious ceremonies" (the federal regulation is 42 USC §1996a, "Traditional Indian religious use of the peyote sacrament," exempting only Native American use, while most state laws exempt any general "bonafide religious activity"). These laws notwithstanding, 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 Arizona, have been prosecuted.


Under the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act mescaline is defined as illegal but peyote is specifically exempt. [Controlled Drugs And Substances Act] "17. Mescaline (3,4,5–trimethoxybenzeneethanamine) and any salt thereof, but not peyote (lophophora)"

Some little peyote, in cultivation.


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. Supreme Court's decision in Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990) , 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 Arizona, have been prosecuted. Those with Native American blood[How to reference and link to summary or text] 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. [1]

File:Baby Peyote.jpg

Seedling Peyote cactus which has been growing for roughly one year.


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.

See also

References & Bibliography

Key texts



Additional material



External links

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).
  1. Salak, Kira "National Geographic article about Peyote". National Geographic Adventure.
  2. 2.0 2.1 . Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "erowid" defined multiple times with different content
  3. Year by year progress report documenting the increased growth rates of grafted peyote. The Lophophora Blog. URL accessed on 30 December 2008.
  4. Proper peyote harvesting technique. The Lophophora Blog. URL accessed on 30 December 2008.
  6. Zimmerman, Allan D.; Parfitt, Bruce D. (2006), "Lophophora williamsii", in Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+, Flora of North America, 4, New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 242 
  7. (1995) Disposition of Toxic Drugs and Chemicals in Man, 4, Foster City, CA: Chemical Toxicology Institute.
  8. Template:CitePiHKAL
  9. 9.0 9.1 McCleary, J.A.; Sypherd, P.S.; Walkington, D.L. (1960), "Antibiotic Activity of an Extract Of Peyote [Lophophora williamsii (Lemaire) Coulter]", Economic Botany 14: 247–249 
  10. Dr. John Halpern, "Psychological and Cognitive Effects of Long-Term Peyote Use Among Native Americans"], Biological Psychiatry, MedPage Today