Echinocactus williamsii Lemaire ex Salm-Dyck
Lophophora lewinii (K. Schumann) Rusby
Lophophora echinata Croizat
Lophophora fricii Habermann
L. williamsii var. fricii (Habermann) Grym
L. diffusa subsp. fricii (Habermann) Halda
Lophophora jourdaniana Haberman
Lophophora williamsii /loʊˈfɒfərə wɪlˈjæmsiaɪ/ or peyote
(/pəˈjoʊti/) is a small, spineless cactus with psychoactive
alkaloids, particularly mescaline. The English common name peyote
is a Spanish loanword, which comes from the
Nahuatl name peyōtl
[ˈpejoːt͡ɬ], said to be derived from a root meaning "glisten" or
"glistening". Other sources translate the
Nahuatl word as "Divine
Messenger". Native North Americans are likely to have used
peyote, often for spiritual purposes, for at least 5,500 years.
Peyote is native to
Mexico and southwestern Texas. It is found
primarily in the
Chihuahuan Desert and in the states of Coahuila,
Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, and
San Luis Potosí
San Luis Potosí among scrub, especially
where there is limestone.
Known for its psychoactive properties when ingested, peyote is used
worldwide as an entheogen and supplement to various transcendence
practices, including meditation, psychonautics, and psychedelic
Peyote has a long history of ritualistic and medicinal
use by indigenous North Americans. It flowers from March through May,
and sometimes as late as September. The flowers are pink, with
thigmotactic anthers (like Opuntia).
2 Distribution and habitat
3.1 Psychoactive and medicinal
3.3 Adverse reactions
4 Cultural significance
5.1 United Nations
5.3 United States
6 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
A group of
A flowering peyote.
The various species of the genus
Lophophora grow low to the ground and
they often form groups with numerous, crowded shoots. The blue-green,
yellow-green or sometimes reddish-green shoots are mostly flattened
spheres with sunken shoot tips. They can reach heights of from 2 to 7
centimeters (0.79 to 2.76 in) and diameters of 4 to 12 cm
(1.6 to 4.7 in). There are often significant, vertical ribs
consisting of low and rounded or hump-like bumps. From the cusp
areoles arises a tuft of soft, yellowish or whitish woolly hairs.
Spines are absent. Flowers are pink or white to slightly yellowish,
sometimes reddish. They open during the day, are from 1 to 2.4 cm
long, and reach a diameter from 1 to 2.2 cm.
Lophophora williamsii seedling at roughly 1 1/2 months of age
The cactus produces flowers sporadically; these are followed by small
edible pink fruit. The club-shaped to elongated, fleshy fruits are
bare and more or less rosy colored. At maturity, they are
brownish-white and dry. The fruits do not burst open on their own and
they are between 1.5 and 2 cm long. They contain black,
pear-shaped seeds that are 1 to 1.5 mm long and 1 mm wide.
The seeds require hot and humid conditions to germinate. Peyote
contains a large spectrum of phenethylamine alkaloids. 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.
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
Distribution and habitat
Range of wild peyote
L. williamsii is native to southern North America, mainly distributed
in Mexico. In the United States it grows in Southern Texas. In Mexico
it grows in the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and
Tamaulipas in the north to
San Luis Potosi
San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas.
It is primarily found at elevations of 100–1,500 m
(330–4,920 ft) and exceptionally up to 1,900 m
(6,200 ft) in the Chihuahuan desert, but is also present in the
more mild climate of Tamaulipas. Its habitat is primarily in desert
scrub, particularly thorn scrub in Tamaulipas. It is common on or near
Psychoactive and medicinal
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Lophophora williamsii slices ("
Peyote Buttons") with a US 5 cent
coin for scale
Chemical structure of mescaline, the primary psychoactive compound in
When used for its psychoactive properties, common doses for pure
mescaline range from roughly 200 to 400 mg. This translates to a
dose of roughly 10 to 20 g of dried peyote buttons of average
potency; however, potency varies considerably between samples, making
it difficult to measure doses accurately without first extracting the
mescaline. The effects last about 10 to 12 hours.
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, some Native American tribes use the
plant for its curative properties. They employ peyote to treat such
varied ailments as toothache, pain in childbirth, fever, breast pain,
skin diseases, rheumatism, diabetes, colds, and blindness.[citation
needed] The US Dispensatory lists peyote under the name
Anhalonium, and states it can be used in various preparations for
neurasthenia, hysteria and asthma.
Peyote also contains an alkaloid
which was given the name peyocactin. It is now called
Chemical structure of hordenine (peyocactin), an antimicrobial
compound contained in the peyote cactus
Two-week-old peyote cactus
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 Texas. 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 Coahuila,
been similarly analyzed and dated to 810 to 1070 CE.
Peyote in Wirikuta, Mexico
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
Oklahoma and Texas. 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
Kiowa from the
Northern Plains. The religious, ceremonial, and healing uses of peyote
may date 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
Native American Church is one among several
religious organizations to use peyote as part of its religious
practice. Some users claim the drug connects them to God.
A Native American
Peyote Drummer (circa 1927)
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.
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Dr. John Raleigh Briggs (1851–1907) was the first to draw scientific
attention of the Western scientific world to peyote. Louis Lewin
Anhalonium lewinii in 1888.
Arthur Heffter conducted
self experiments on its effects in 1897. Similarly, Norwegian
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
American Civil War
American Civil War soaked peyote buttons in water and
became "intoxicated with the liquid".
A study published in 2007 found no evidence of long-term cognitive
problems related to peyote use in
Native American Church
Native American Church ceremonies,
but researchers stressed their results may not apply to those who use
peyote in other contexts. A four-year large-scale study of Navajo
who regularly ingested peyote found only one case where peyote was
associated with a psychotic break in an otherwise healthy person; a
handful of other psychotic episodes were attributed to peyote use in
conjunction with pre-existing substance abuse or mental health
problems. Later research found that those with pre-existing mental
health issues are more likely to have adverse reactions to peyote.
Peyote use does not appear to be associated with hallucinogen
persisting perception disorder (a.k.a. "flashbacks") after religious
Peyote does not seem to be associated with physical
dependence, but some users may experience psychological
Peyote can have strong emetic effects, and one death has been
attributed to esophageal bleeding caused by vomiting after peyote
ingestion in a Native American patient with a history of alcohol
Peyote is also known to cause potentially serious
variations in heart rate, blood pressure and breathing.
Research into the huichol natives of central-western Mexico, who have
taken peyote regularly for an estimated 1,500 years or more, found no
evidence of chromosome damage in either men or women.
Huichol religion consists of four principal deities: Corn, Blue
Deer, Peyote, and the Eagle, all descended from their Sun God, "Tao
Jreeku". Schaefer has interpreted this to mean that peyote is the soul
of their religious culture and a visionary sacrament that opens a
pathway to the other deities.
Main article: Legality of mescaline cactus by country
Article 32 of the
Convention on Psychotropic Substances
Convention on Psychotropic Substances allows nations
to exempt certain traditional uses of substances 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.
Mescaline is listed as a Schedule III controlled substance under the
Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, but peyote is
specifically exempt. Possession and use of peyote plants is
Where there is exclusive federal jurisdiction or state law is not
racially limited, peyote use by
Native American Church
Native American Church members is
legal and racially neutral in the United States. This exemption
from federal criminalization is as old as creation of federal law
creating peyote related offenses.
This law has been codified as a statute in the American Indian
Religious Freedom Act of 1978, and made part of the common law in
Peyote Way Church of God v. Thornburgh, (5th Cir. 1991); it is
also in administrative law at the 21 C.F.R. 1307.31. The C.F.R. part
dealing with "SPECIAL EXEMPT PERSONS" states:
Section 1307.31 Native American Church. The listing of peyote as a
controlled substance in Schedule I does not apply to the nondrug use
of peyote in bona fide religious ceremonies of the Native American
Church, and members of the
Native American Church
Native American Church so using peyote are
exempt from registration. Any person who manufactures peyote for or
distributes peyote to the Native American Church, however, is required
to obtain registration annually and to comply with all other
requirements of law.
U.S. v. Boyll, 774 F.Supp. 1333 (D.N.M. 1991) addresses this
racial issue specifically and concludes:
For the reasons set out in this Memorandum Opinion and Order, the
Court holds that, pursuant to 21 C.F.R. § 1307.31 (1990), the
classification of peyote as a Schedule I controlled substance, see 21
U.S.C. § 812(c), Schedule I(c)(12), does not apply to the
importation, possession or use of peyote for 'bona fide' ceremonial
use by members of the Native American Church, regardless of race.
Following the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act
Amendments of 1994, United States federal law (and many state laws)
protects the harvest, possession, consumption and cultivation of
peyote as part of "bona fide religious ceremonies" (the federal
statute is the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, codified at 42
U.S.C. § 1996a, "Traditional Indian religious use of the
peyote sacrament", exempting only use by Native American persons. US
v. Boyll expanded permitted use to all persons engaged in traditional
Indian use, regardless of race. All US states with the exception of
Texas allow usage by non-native, non-enrolled persons in the
context of ceremonies of the Native American Church. Some states such
as Arizona additionally exempt any general bona fide religious
activity or spiritual intent. US jurisdictions enacted these specific
statutory exemptions in reaction to the US 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
Free Exercise Clause of
the First Amendment.
Peyote is listed by the United States DEA as a
Schedule I controlled substance.
Convention on Psychotropic Substances: Psychedelic plants and fungi
Icaro (shamanic tool to prepare ayahuasca)
Lysergic acid diethylamide
Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)
R. Gordon Wasson
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