Table of Contents
What is Peyote?
Peyote is a type of cactus that contains a hallucinogenic substance called mescaline. The use of peyote dates back to the days of the Aztecs, but it wasn’t until 1967 that the United States federal government outlawed peyote, labeling it as a Schedule I Controlled Substance.
Since peyote is a controlled substance, people may refer to peyote with a street name to hide their use. For example:
People may find peyote’s hallucinogenic effects pleasurable, but peyote use can come with serious consequences.
Why Do People Use Peyote?
There are different reasons people might use peyote. The original reasons, as were discussed above, were for medicinal purposes and religious ceremonies. The Native American Church still uses it for reasons that include communicating with spirits, prayer ceremonies and seeing the future.
Medicinally, Native American tribes feel peyote can help treat many conditions, including helping with pain during childbirth, fever, diabetes, blindness, joint pain, skin wounds and general pain.
People who use peyote outside of Native American religious ceremonies are doing so illegally. They may want to experience hallucinations, escape life and reality, or just get away from the stress of their lives. Unfortunately, people often feel that since peyote is natural, it is safe. This isn’t necessarily true.
How is Peyote Used?
There are different ways to use peyote. The buttons, which are dried, are harvested from the roots of the peyote cactus. Once this occurs, peyote can be eaten, brewed as a tea, or turned into a powder. The powdered form can be put into capsules. Peyote can also be smoked by rolling it in a marijuana leaf or tobacco. The powder is referred to as mescaline sulfate, and it’s the purest form of mescaline. It’s also the strongest and the most likely to be addictive.
In peyote ceremonies, people gather inside a teepee or shelter, led by a medicine man in various chants and songs. There will usually be a fire burning in the center. The drug is typically passed around every few hours while chanting and drumming continues. The specifics of peyote ceremonies can differ, but the general concepts are usually very similar.
While some people use peyote recreationally, the Native American Church does not agree with this. They feel this takes away from its spiritual relevance and can’t bring benefits outside of the religious environment. The Native American Church also does not allow minors to use the drug.
How Does Peyote Work?
Peyote is classified as a hallucinogen, which places it in the same category as psilocybin and LSD. When people take hallucinogens, these drugs change how the neural circuits in their brains behave, and they interact with the neurotransmitter serotonin. Many hallucinogens, including peyote, affect the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for thinking, memory and language.
Is Peyote Addictive?
Peyote may not appear addictive, as users do not develop a physical dependence like with other drugs. This means they will not experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. On the other hand, peyote can be abused, and when people use it repeatedly, they may experience psychological consequences.
People who use peyote regularly can develop a tolerance to it. This means you may lose sensitivity to the drug’s effects, so you need higher doses to achieve the desired effect.
You may also develop a psychological dependence on the drug if you enjoy its effects or the social interactions it can create. Peyote’s side effects can lead people to feel like they need the drug to unwind, let go of stress, or experience the same feelings of sociability they did when using it. A person may not become addicted to the substance itself, but to the trips and experiences peyote creates.
At the same time, peyote doesn’t have the chemical makeup of a drug that’s inherently addictive. Even if someone continues to abuse peyote for an extended period, they won’t have physical withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop using it. This means that while psychological dependence can develop with peyote, physical dependence generally doesn’t.
What Are the Risks of Taking Peyote?
While peyote isn’t necessarily addictive in the conventional sense, it can still be a dangerous substance that poses risks to physical and mental health.
What Are the Effects of Peyote and Other Hallucinogens?
The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes hallucinogens as substances that impact the brain in a way that changes perception. When a person takes these drugs, they can:
- See images, feel things and hear sounds that aren’t there or are intensified
- Not know where they are
- Lose their ability to think rationally or communicate
- Think that time is passing more slowly than it is
Unpredictability is one of the biggest risks of using peyote: you have no way of predicting exactly what will happen or what you will experience. Even if you’ve previously used peyote or other hallucinogens and had a certain experience, your next experience could be completely different. There is not any conceivable way to know for sure if you will have a bad or good trip, which is one of the scariest peyote side effects.
A good trip is usually a pleasurable experience in which a person might feel mentally stimulated or enlightened. On the other hand, a bad trip can be extremely scary or anxiety-producing or could lead the person to feel out of control or on the verge of death. You may ultimately lose all control over your thoughts and perceptions, which could lead you to do things you wouldn’t ordinarily do.
Peyote also has potentially dangerous interactions with other drugs, including stimulants. If you take stimulant medications with peyote, it can lead to serious central nervous system problems.
What Happens During a Peyote Trip
During a peyote trip, some people might feel introspective, calm and as if they’re in a very deep meditative state. Others could experience hallucinations that bring them distress or even cause them to put themselves in harm’s way.
Generally, when people take peyote, they begin to feel its effects within 30 to 60 minutes, with the most intense high lasting for three to five hours and then fading over the next few hours. Peyote trips can last up to 12 hours or more in some cases. People tend to see colors more brightly, feel especially insightful, and experience changes in their perception of sight and touch while under the influence of this drug. Peyote is also associated with euphoria, which is why users find this drug desirable.
Signs & Side Effects of Peyote Use
In addition to the risks of the unknown, other physical peyote side effects can include:
- Nausea and vomiting, particularly common among new users
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Chills or shivering
- Hot flashes
- High body temperature
- Loss of appetite
- Ataxia (uncoordinated movement)
These signs are not only side effects of a bad trip, but any peyote trip. People may not eat or drink during their trips, so they may become dehydrated. With a bad trip, people may become so afraid, anxious or paranoid that they hurt themselves or someone else, or even commit suicide.
What Are the Long-Term Side Effects of Peyote?
There are many common short-term peyote side effects and symptoms, but what about the long-term repercussions? Two of the biggest consequences of long-term peyote use include:
- Persistent Psychosis: A person who abuses peyote over the long term may show continued mental functioning problems, such as strange thinking patterns and paranoid behavior.
- Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD): This occurs when a person has flashbacks of hallucinations he or she experienced while under the influence of peyote. These flashbacks can occur several days after a person uses the drug. Flashbacks can occur long after last using peyote, up to a year or even longer.
Hallucinogens don’t seem to be as addictive as other drugs like heroin or cocaine may be. Still, with long-term use, some people may also develop a hallucinogen use disorder, which is the clinical term used for an addiction to drugs like peyote. Some of the signs someone has developed a problem with a hallucinogen can include:
- Taking higher doses or taking peyote more frequently
- Putting significant time and energy toward sourcing more peyote or taking it
- Ignoring responsibilities or giving up things that were once a priority
- Using peyote in dangerous situations, like while driving
- Continuing to take peyote despite bad trips or adverse effects
If you or a loved one is using peyote and is unable to stop despite negative consequences, it may be time to reach out for professional assistance. The Recovery Village offers confidential, non-judgmental services and is available to take your phone call 24/7 to help you begin your journey toward recovery. Reach out today to take the first step toward a drug-free lifestyle.
Other FAQs about Peyote
Is Peyote Legal?
The recreational use of peyote is illegal in all states and territories of the U.S., according to federal law. This means that people caught with peyote can face criminal charges and sanctions, such as probation, fines and jail time.
The Drug Enforcement Administration classifies peyote as a Schedule I Controlled Substance for the general population, meaning that it has no legitimate medical purposes and comes with a high risk of abuse.
Can Native Americans Use Peyote Legally?
While federal law prohibits the recreational use of peyote, Native Americans who use it as a part of religious ceremonies are protected from prosecution. The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that peyote has a rich history in the Native American culture and a central role in traditional religious ceremonies. Therefore, 42 U.S. Code § 1996a states that people may legally use peyote in traditional Native American religious ceremonies and that states cannot prohibit this practice.
Where is Peyote Found?
Peyote is native to southwestern areas of Texas and northern Mexico and has been used for thousands of years by Native Americans. You’re likely to find peyote in the Chihuahuan Desert on the U.S. side and in Mexican states, including Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and a few others.
Peyote cacti are often found in scrub areas where there is limestone, and its flowering season usually runs from March through May. It may flower as late as September, however. The flowers of the peyote cactus are pink.
When did people 1st start using peyote?
Peyote is an interesting substance with a long history of use among indigenous people. It was often used as part of religious ceremonies and as a medicine. Using the drug was believed to serve as a connection between humans and God. Its history as an indigenous medicine is believed to go back more than 20,000 years.
As early as the arrival of Europeans in the New World, there was a controversy between cultures regarding the use of peyote. While Spanish explorers described peyote as “satanic trickery,” it continued to play a significant role in the lives of Native Americans and the indigenous peoples of Mexico.
When the Native American Church was founded in the 19th century, the use of peyote in religious ceremonies became more widespread. The U.S. government became worried about the psychoactive effects of peyote. This led to work to ban its use, despite its religious purpose.
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National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What are hallucinogens?” April 2019. Accessed June 20, 2020.
Leo Mercado. “Peyote FAQ.” The Vaults of Erowid, 1997. Accessed June 20, 2020.
Harvard University. “Native American Church.” Accessed June 20, 2020.
G.K. Aghajanian and G.J. Marek. “Serotonin and hallucinogens.” Neuropsychopharmacology, 1999. Accessed June 20, 2020.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Hallucinogen-related disorders.” May 2, 2017. Accessed June 20, 2020.
United States Drug Enforcement Administration. “Drug Scheduling.” Accessed June 20, 2020.
Cornell Law School. “42 U.S. Code § 1996a.Traditional Indian religious use of peyote.” Accessed June 20, 2020.
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