What, Exactly, Is Peyote… And What Does It Do?

If you’ve heard of peyote, you’ve probably felt your curiosity peak. What is it, what does it do? It’s an elusive plant that’s captured the attention of many. Maybe you’ve heard of mescaline, the hallucinogenic alkaloid that is found in peyote buttons. Perhaps you recall a Hunter S. Thompson quote.

Truthfully, there are a lot of misconceptions about this vulnerable (nearly endangered) cactus.

Let’s clarify.

Peyote is a spineless cactus that grows in northern Mexico and southern Texas’ Chihuahuan desert. It needs limestone soil to grow, which is why it doesn’t grow anywhere else. Its scientific name is Lophophora williamsii but the word peyote comes from peyotl. This translates from Spanish as “caterpillar cocoon.”

Peyote has traditionally been ingested as a form of spiritual medicine. Indigenous cultures and Latin American populations use it ceremoniously. It’s not a recreational drug, although pop-culture makes peyote and mescaline out to be.

The 1950s popularized the plant’s use. Since then, it’s been a bit of a mythological and sought-after experience for the spiritually adventurous. This causes some cultural problems. Primarily, this is due to a tourism effect and the war on drugs.

Peyote’s supposed to be used under the guidance of someone who understands the plant thoroughly. It should be treated with respect and taken with intention. This is partly due to the potential severity of mind alterations that a person experiences when ingesting it.

Evidence of the use of peyote goes back 5,700 years according to radiocarbon dating and alkaloid analysis.

The psychoactive properties of peyote are found in its buttons, the white-colored growths found on the tops of the blue-gray cacti. Notably, these buttons are sustainable. They can be removed without harming the plant or preventing it from its natural growth cycles. Buttons can be harvested and form again on the same peyote cactus.

Peyote causes hallucinogenic experiences that vary depending on how many buttons are eaten. Usually, a few buttons will cause a mild hallucinogenic experience, or trip. The most intense trips are caused by eating fifteen or more. This article explains the dosages in fresh and dried quantities. Eating fifteen or more buttons is not recommended unless a person is experienced with the plant.

In a survey of 452 people who tried mescaline, the most common reason was wanting to connect with nature. 9% of respondents wanted to have a drug experience. Mescaline was ingested either via peyote or San Pedro, another cactus.

In a study of Native Americans who use peyote in religious rituals, no link was found connecting its use to psychological problems or cognitive deficits. However, the study notes that these findings cannot be transferred to populations of people who ingest peyote as a form of illicit drug use. There is a big difference. One practice seeks meaningful experiences while the other can be reckless.

So, what does peyote actually do?

To start, the answer depends on what viewpoint we’re talking about.

Firstly, from a physiological perspective, mescaline causes:

  • Increased heartrate
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Increased body temperature
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleeplessness
  • Tremors
  • Numbness
  • Nausea

This list is not exhaustive.

Secondly, from a medicinal perspective, mescaline can be used internally and externally to treat:

  • Snake bites
  • Wounds
  • Diabetes
  • Pain
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Influenza
  • Stomach ailments

This list is also not exhaustive.

Thirdly, from a spiritual or hallucinogenic perspective, mescaline can guide a person to experience:

  • Vivid hallucinations
  • Synesthesia, or the mixing of senses (seeing sounds, feeling colors)
  • Heightened emotions
  • A connection with a higher power or entity
  • Euphoria
  • Heightened empathy
  • A loss of space-time
  • Intense periods of focus
  • Relaxation

This list is definitely not exhaustive (the human mind’s a nearly limitless thing, really).

Importantly, anyone who ingests peyote should do so with care. It should only be done under the supervision of an experienced guide and in a safe context.

Eating too much can cause a person to feel psychotic. While that feeling passes after the trip, a trip can last over twelve hours. Twelve hours is a long time for someone who ingests too much and can’t handle what they’re feeling or thinking.

Remember, a person can experience a feeling of a loss of space-time. Next thing you know, twelve hours feels like twelve days. Obviously, this can lead someone to put themselves or others in danger.

Hence, it’s important not to treat this ancient and hallucinogenic medicinal cactus as a drug.

Think of it as the law of attraction. We get what we put out.

Seek out a healing experience and prepare for it and you’ll likely get a healthier situation than if you seek a drug experience. The plant is the same. What the universe gives you depends on what you look for.

What do you think?

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