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Peyote in the wild
Conservation status

Apparently Secure (TNC) [1]
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/, lō-fof′ŏ-ră will-yăm′sē-ī), better known by its common name Peyote, but also sometimes called Mescal Button or the Divine Cactus, is a small, spineless cactus whose native region extends from the southwestern United States, specifically in the southwestern part of Texas, through central Mexico. They are found primarily in the Chihuahuan desert and in the states of Tamaulipas and San Luis Potosi amongst scrub, especially when limestone is present in the soil. The cactus is well known for its psychoactive alkaloids and among these mescaline in particular. It is currently used world wide mainly as a recreational drug, an entheogen, and a supplement to various transcendence practices including in meditation, psychonautics, and psychedelic psychotherapy. Peyote has a history of ritual religious and medicinal use among certain indigenous American tribes going back thousands of years. The plant's pink flowers emerge from March through May, and in exceptional cases as late as September.



The cactus flowers sporadically, producing small pink fruit, which can be very delectable and bitter-sweet-tasting when eaten. The seeds are small and black, requiring hot and humid conditions to germinate. Peyote contains a large spectrum of phenethylamine alkaloids, the principal of which is mescaline. The mescaline content of Lophophora williamsii is about 0.4% fresh[2] (undried) and 3-6% dried.[2] All Lophophora species are extremely slow growing, often taking three years to reach flowering age in the wild (about the size of a golf ball, not including its root). Human cultivated specimens grow considerably faster, usually 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 to expedite the age at which the Peyote flowers.   Peyote contains two antibiotics named peyocactin. [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 callous over, and new buttons will eventually grow from the root left in the ground.[citation needed] The cut must be made at an angle, so as to not allow the Peyote root to rot.[citation needed] When poor harvesting techniques are used, however, the root is damaged and the entire plant dies. This is the current situation in South Texas where Peyote grows naturally, but has been over-harvested to the point of listing as endangered species.[citation needed]The buttons are generally chewed, or boiled in water to produce a healing tea. The resulting infusion is extremely bitter to some people and, in most cases, the partaker experiences a high degree of nausea before the onset of the hallucinogenic effects.

Distribution and habitat

L. williamsii is native in southern North America where it is only found in the extreme southwest of the US in the state of Texas, as well as much of northern Mexico. 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. Altogether, peyote can be found in the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas in the north to Durango,[4] San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas in the south. Its habitat is primarily in desert scrub, particularly thorn scrub in Tamaulipas, and it is most common on or near limestone hills.[5]


    The effective dose for mescaline is about 300 to 500 mg (equivalent to roughly 5 grams of dried peyote) and 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).

The flesh may also be applied topically as a galactogogue.


From earliest recorded time, peyote has been used by indigenous peoples, such as the Huichol of northern Mexico and by various Native American Tribal Groups, native to or relocated to the Southern Plains States of Oklahoma and Texas. Its usage has also been recorded among various Southwestern Athabaskan tribal groups, with the Mescalero and Kiowa (or "Plains Apache") having the dubious honor of being named or identified as the source or initial practitioners of the Peyote religion in the regions north of present-day Mexico. They are also the principle group that introduced peyote to newly arrived Northern Plains migrants, the Comanche and Kiowa.

Peyote and its associated religion, however, are fairly recent in terms of usage and practice among the Navajo in the Southwestern United States. Their acquisition of the peyote religion and use of peyote can be firmly dated to the early 20th Century.[citation needed] There is no mention of peyote in traditional Navajo belief or ceremonial practice prior to its introduction by the neighboring Utes. To date, however, The Navajo Nation holds the largest membership within the confines of the Native American Church. As a result of such a large percentage, some estimate as much as 20% or higher of the Navajo populace are practitioners, and there is a very real detrimental influx and change taking place with regard to the traditional ceremonial practices and beliefs of the Navajo in the 21st Century.[citation needed]

There is documented evidence of the religious, ceremonial, and healing uses of peyote dating back over 20,000 years. 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 sacred medicine", and use it to combat alcoholism and spiritual, physical, and other social ills. Between the 1880s and 1930s, U.S. authorities attempted to ban Native American religious rituals involving peyote, including the Ghost Dance. The Native American Church is one among several religious organizations that use peyote as part of their religious practice.

A resurgence of interest in the use of peyote was spawned in the 1970s by very detailed accounts of its use, properties, and effects in the early works of writer Carlos Castaneda. Don Juan Matus, the name of Castaneda's teacher 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 well, but only if Mescalito accepted the user. Later works of Castaneda asserted that the use of such psychotropic substances was not necessary to achieve heightened awareness, although his teacher advised that its use was beneficial in helping to free some people's minds.

An image of the plant, and by extension its possible usage, can be seen in the gonzo fist symbol attributed to Hunter S. Thompson.


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 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"). 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. 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. The Peyote Way Church of God in Arizona, is a spiritual center that welcomes all races to Peyotism.


Mescaline is listed as a Schedule III controlled substance under the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, but peyote is specifically exempt. [1]  


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.

Popular culture

Many authors, especially those of the Beat Generation, wrote about their experiences with peyote and other psychedelic drugs. One example comes from William S. Burroughs' semi-autobiographical novel Queer, where the protagonist and his unrequited lover are setting out to search the Amazon jungle for yage, another hallucinogenic drug. The protagonist recounts his experiences with peyote to him:[6]

Horrible stuff. Made me sick like I wanted to die. I got to puke and I can't. Just excruciating spasms of the asparagras, or whatever you call that gadget. Finally the peyote comes up solid like a ball of hair, solid all the way up, clogging my throat. As nasty a sensation as I ever stood still for. The high is interesting, but hardly worth the sick stage. Your face swells around the eyes, and the lips swell, and you feel like an Indian, or what you figure an Indian feels like. Primitive, you understand. Colors are more intense, but somehow flat and two-dimensional. Everything looks like a peyote plant. There is a nightmare undercurrent. I had nightmares after taking it, one after the other, every time I went back to sleep. In one dream I had rabies and looked in the mirror and my face changed and I began howling. Another dream I had a chlorophyll habit. Me and five other chlorophyll addicts are waiting to score. We turn green and we can't kick the chlorophyll habit. One shot and you are hung for life. We are turning into plants.

William S. Burroughs, Queer

See also


  1. ^ Lophophora williamsii. NatureServe Explorer. NatureServe. Retrieved on 2007-06-17.
  2. ^ a b .
  3. ^
  4. ^ Lophophora
  5. ^ Zimmerman & Bruce D., Allan D.; Parfitt, Bruce D. (2006), , in Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+, , vol. 4, New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 242
  6. ^ Burroughs, William S. (1985), , New York: Penguin Books, p. 94-95, ISBN 0-14-00-8389-8
  • Shaman Golden Eagle Red Hawk, Choctaw Nation Mississippi River Clan

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.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Peyote". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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