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San Pedro cactus

San Pedro cactus

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Caryophyllales
Family: Cactaceae
Genus: Echinopsis
Species: E. pachanoi
Binomial name
Echinopsis pachanoi
(Britton and Rose) Friedrich and Rowley

Trichocereus pachanoi Britton & Rose

The San Pedro cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi, syn. Trichocereus pachanoi), is a fast-growing columnar cactus native to the Andes of Peru and Ecuador.[1] Uses for it include traditional medicine, traditional vetrinary medicine and it is widely grown as an ornamental cactus. It has been used for healing and religious divination in the Andes Mountains region for over 3000 years.[2] It is sometimes confused with its close relative, the Peruvian Torch cactus.

The plant is light to dark green, sometimes glaucous, and has 4-8 (usually 5-7) ribs. Groups of 1-4 small, yellow to light brown spines are located at the nodes which are spaced evenly (approximately 2 cm apart) along the ribs. San Pedro can grow up to 5 meters tall and have multiple branches, usually extending from the base.[1]




The fruit is eaten, and it has a mild flavor.



Traditional medicine

Echinopsis pachanoi contains hordenine and ". . .it has been shown that hordenine, N, N-Dimethyl-hydroxyphenylethylamine, exhibits an inhibitory action against at least 18 strains of penicillin resistant Staphylococcus bacteria."[3]

Echinopsis pachanoi is used to treat nervous conditions, drug addictions, cardiac disease, high blood pressure,[4] and it has unique antimicrobial properties.


  • Wounds: A "patch" is made of the stem and applied to the wound.[5]
  • Dermatosis: Sliced or ground stem is applied to the affected area.[5]
  • Inflammation: A bandage of the stem is applied to the inflamed area.[5]
  • Dandruff: The stems are peeled, chopped or liquefied, soaked in cold water with root bark of "tacsana," placed on the head for 5 minutes, and rinsed. Alternatively, the stem is dethorned, cut, scraped, placed in a jar and left to ferment (the more fermentation the better). The product obtained is used to wash the hair. It is not necessary to shampoo.[5]
  • Fungal infection of the skin: Ground stalks are applied to the affected area repeatedly over time until the problem is gone.[5]
  • Scars: Ground stems are applied to the scar.[5]
  • Sinusitis: A slice of stem is cleaned of thorns, made into a "patch," heated and put onto the forehead.[5]

Vetrinary uses

  • Antiparasitic: To eliminate tinea, stems from san pedro are boiled with alum and lime are indicated for cattle and goats.[5]
  • Foot and mouth disease: The cactus stem is crushed yielding a liquid that is given to the animal.[5]

Other uses

  • An extract of the stem is used as a shampoo.[5]
  • Laundry soap: The cut stem is soaked and filtered with or without the addition of salt or alum. It is used to wash wool to give it a good consistency.[5]
  • Echinopsis pachanoi is a very decorative and disease resistant ornamental plant.[5]


San Pedro contains a number of alkaloids, including the well-studied chemical mescaline (0.21 - 1.8%), and also 3,4-dimethoxyphenethylamine, 4-hydroxy-3-methoxyphenethylamine, 3-hydroxy-4,5-dimethoxyphenethylamine, 4-hydroxy-3,5-dimethoxyphenethylamine, anhalonidine, anhalinine, hordenine, tyramine, and 3-methoxytyramine.

Mescaline (3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine) is a psychedelic drug and entheogen), which is also found in some other species of genus Echinopsis (i.e. Echinopsis lageniformis, Echinopsis peruviana, and Echinopsis scopulicola) and the species Lophophora williamsii (peyote).

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the highest concentrations of active substances are found in the layer of green photosynthetic tissue just beneath the skin.[1] The darker green the cactus, the higher the alkaloid content, which can be caused by "stressing it" with reduced sunlight indoors or in shade, leaving a cut section indoors for 6+ weeks, water starving, and injecting the plant with dopamine or a mixture of tyrosine and levodopa.

There are various mescaline extraction techniques, simple (boiling in water 5 to 7 hours) and complex (such as an acid-base extraction), the latter technique yielding a material with a significantly higher concentration of mescaline.



USDA Hardiness Zones: 8b to 10[6]

Soil acidity: Alkaline[7]

San Pedro is very easy to grow in most areas. Because it grows naturally in the Andes Mountains at high altitude and with high rainfall, it can withstand temperatures far below that of many other cacti. In fact, its cultivation requirements are really more like 'normal' plants than most other cacti. San Pedro requires fertile, free-draining soil. They are susceptible to fungal diseases if over-watered, but are not nearly as sensitive as many other cacti, especially in warm weather. They can be sunburned and display a yellowing chlorotic reaction to overexposure to sunlight. In warm areas it is best to keep them out of direct sun in mid-summer.

In winter, plants will etiolate, or become thin, due to lower levels of light. This may be problematic if the etiolated zone is not sufficiently strong to support future growth as the cactus may break in strong winds. Some people also find it visually undesirable. If you wish to avoid etiolation when temperatures drop and growth rates slow, encourage it to enter winter dormancy by withholding water and fertilizer from it over the winter.

Propagation from cuttings

Like many other plants, Echinopsis pachanoi can be propagated from cuttings. For example, the top end of a cactus column can be cut off with a knife, then left to dry for two weeks, so that a callus forms over the cut end. The cutting can then be dipped in rooting hormone (optional, but effective) and planted on the surface of or buried to a maximum of 2.5 cm deep in good topsoil mixed with some sand and perlite.

Propagation from seed

The seeds are quite easy to germinate and grow. Their main requirements consist of high humidity levels, free-draining soil mix, and enough (but not too much) water, light, and nutrition. There are a number of commonly used methods that satisfy these requirements and the choice of a particular method depends mainly on the scale of the cultivation operation.


For soil, use coarse sharp sand (sieved river sand). Some people also find coir or peat, or mixtures, to be effective. The soil can be sterilized by cooking it in an oven on high for 1-2 hours. Sterilization will be most effective if the sand is moist. If one is available, an autoclave would also be useful at this point. Some people find sterilization to be unnecessary. This may depend on other factors. The soil is placed into trays (which can be sanitized with bleach beforehand if desired) and the seeds planted into it (when the soil has cooled). The seeds should be only just below the surface (i.e. two or three sand grains over them). The trays now need to be kept in a humid environment. This may be achieved by the use of plastic bags, glass plates, or greenhouses, depending on scale. Seeds usually germinate within two weeks to a month, but sometimes come up after several months.

The seedlings stay in the humid environment for several months. During this time they must be continually checked for water and nutrient requirements, and fungal pathogens. Ensure the soil stays moist, but not overly wet. Nutrients can be provided with a liquid fertilizer at 1/8th strength whenever growth rate slows down. Fungi can be killed with a sulfur or copper-based fungicide. There have been some reports of seedlings responding negatively to these treatments so be very cautious with the amount you use. There is some evidence that garlic is also an effective fungicide.

If germinating your seeds in cold weather, a heat mat and fluorescent light can be used. These should be set on a timer to mimic normal diurnal temperature cycles for germination but can be left on permanently for faster growth once all the seeds have sprouted. One good method for growing cacti seedlings using this setup is to germinate them in late winter and have them ready to go outside by spring as temperatures and light levels are increasing.


In most countries it is legal to cultivate San Pedro, but in countries where possession of mescaline and related compounds is illegal and highly penalized, cultivation for the purposes of consumption is most likely illegal and also highly penalized. This is the case in the USA, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Germany, and the UK, where it is currently legal to cultivate San Pedro for gardening and ornamental purposes, but not for consumption.

In the US mescaline was made illegal in 1970 by the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. It was prohibited internationally by the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances[8] and is categorized as a Schedule I hallucinogen by the CSA. Mescaline is only legal for certain natives (such as those involved in the Native American Church). "Mescaline is a controlled substance, U.S. code of Federal Regulations, title 21 part 1308.11(1987)."[3] Penalties for manufacture or sale can be as high as five years in jail and a fine of $15,000, with a penalty of up to one year and fine of $5000 for possession.



  1. ^ a b c Visionary Cactus Guide. Retrieved on 2007-12-29.
  2. ^ Psychedelics Encyclopedia By Peter G. Stafford
  3. ^ a b c Alkaloids
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Spanish Wikipedia Article
  6. ^ Echinopsis pachanoi (
  7. ^ San Pedro Cactus Growing Tips (
  8. ^ List of psychotropic substances under international control (PDF). Retrieved on 2007-11-28.

General References

  • Smith, Michael S., Narcotic and Hallucinogenic Cacti of the New World (1998)
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "San_Pedro_cactus". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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