Peyote Addiction and Abuse

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What is Peyote?

Chances are you have heard of peyote, but still not be sure what it is, how it’s used or whether or not it has negative side effects.

Peyote is a small cactus that contains buttons shaped like a disc. These buttons can be removed from the cactus and then they can be dried out and chewed or soaked in water. The cactus itself is small and doesn’t have a spine, and the alkaloids contained within peyote are psychoactive, which is one of the reasons people use this substance, although it’s believed to have some medicinal applications as well among indigenous people.

The peyote species grow low to the ground, and the cactus itself is usually blue-green or yellow-green, although it may also appear somewhat reddish. The cactus grows as flat spheres, and they open during the day. There is pink fruit found on peyote cacti that are edible, and it’s a slow growing species.

In South Texas, while peyote can occur naturally it is currently named as an endangered species. Some of the slang terms used to describe peyote include buttons, mescal, nubs, tops, and mesc.

What is Peyote?

Peyote has been used for thousands of years by Native Americans, and it’s native to southwestern areas of Texas as well as Mexico. Some of the places where you’re likely to find peyote include the Chihuahua Desert, as well as the 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, and the flowers of the peyote cactus are pink.

Peyote is an interesting substance with a long history of use among indigenous people. This includes Native Americans and groups in Northern Mexico. It was often used as part of religious ceremonies and also as a medicine, and regarding medicinal uses, this history is believed to go back more than 20,000 years.

When the Native American Church was founded in the 19th century, the use of peyote in religious ceremonies became more widespread, but the U.S. government started to be worried about the psychoactive effects of peyote. This led to work to try and ban its use, despite the fact that so many of the religious rituals and ceremonies of Native Americans involved the use of peyote. There was a belief that using peyote served as a connection between humans and God.

One of the first references to not-Native Americans using peyote in history happened during the American Civil War, according to documentation. During this time, there were Texas Rangers that were captured by Union troops, and they became intoxicated from peyote buttons that had been soaked in water.

As early as the arrival of Europeans in the New World, there was controversy between cultures regarding the use of peyote. For example, Spanish explorers described peyote as “satanic trickery,” but it continued to play a significant role in the lives of Native Americans and indigenous people of Mexico.

There is research from the University of Wisconsin La Crosse showing that peyote may have a history dating back 20,000 years.

There are different reasons people might use peyote. The original reasons, as were touched on above, were for medicinal purposes and as part of religious ceremonies. The Native American Church still uses it for reasons that include treating illnesses, communicating with spirits, as part of prayer ceremonies and to see the future.

In terms of serving medicinal purposes, Native American tribes feel peyote can be helpful in treating many conditions including helping with pain during childbirth, fever, diabetes, blindness, and general pain. Other possible medicinal uses of peyote that aren’t necessarily proven effective include for joint pain and skin wounds.

There are other people who use peyote, however, it’s illegal when it’s used outside of the Native American Church.

People who want to use peyote outside of the Native American Church may want to experience hallucinations, escape life and reality, or just get away from the stress of their life. Unfortunately, people often feel that since peyote is natural, that equates with safe, and this isn’t necessarily true, which will be detailed more below.

There are different ways to use peyote. The buttons, which are the dried tops, are harvested from the roots of the peyote cactus, and once that happens peyote can be eaten, brewed as a tea, or it can be turned into a powder that can then be put in capsules.

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.

Peyote can also be smoked by rolling it in a marijuana leaf or in tobacco.

Peyote ceremonies include the gathering of people inside a teepee or shelter, and a medicine man will often lead these ceremonies that include various chants and songs. There will usually be a fire going in the center of these ceremonies, and the drug is typically passed around every few hours while changing and drumming continues. The specifics of peyote ceremonies can differ, but the general concepts are usually very similar to one another.

While the use of peyote is illegal except for the Native American Church, some people do use it recreationally often at parties or simply at home. Native Americans are not in favor of people using it recreationally, however, because they feel like this takes away from its spiritual relevance and uses. The Native American Church describes the use of peyote as being meant only for religious reasons, and they don’t think it can bring benefits outside of the right environment. Also, the Native American Church doesn’t allow minors to use it.

Peyote is classified as a hallucinogen, which regarding substance and drug classifications puts in the same category as things like ayahuasca and LSD. When people take hallucinogens, it changes how the neural circuits in their brain behave, and it interacts with serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter. Many of the effects of peyote and other hallucinogens occurs in the prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain responsible for cognition and perception as well as mood and arousal.

When someone takes peyote, a trip can last up to 12 hours, and the overall effects of using peyote can include having an altered sense of thinking and perception, synesthesia which is crossing over of senses, and hallucinations.

First, important to understand when exploring peyote addiction and answering is peyote addictive is knowing how it works on the brain. As mentioned, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, when someone takes a hallucinogen including peyote, it changes how their nerve cells communicate with one another, and it also alters serotonin in their brain. Your serotonin system is responsible for the regulation of your thoughts and behavior, as well as your perception.

If you take peyote, you may find that you lose a sense of time and place, and you may not know where you are. After you take peyote, it may impact the serotonin in your brain in a way that leaves you feeling depressed as you come off the drug, or even for a period of a few days following your use of it.

If someone does use peyote for a long period of time or repeatedly it can lead to damage and changes in brain chemistry.

In the general sense when considering is peyote addictive, it’s not, at least not in the ways other drugs like heroin might be. However, as with other hallucinogens, this doesn’t mean it can’t be abused.

First of all, as people use peyote on a regular basis, they can develop a tolerance to it. As you develop a tolerance, you may lose sensitivity to the effects of the drug. As you build a tolerance, you will need higher doses to achieve the same effects.

You may also develop a psychological dependence on the drug if you use it and enjoy the effects or the social interactions it can create. That 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 they were on it. So what this means, is that you become addicted not necessarily to the substance itself, but to the trips and the experiences peyote creates.

At the same time, while the experience of using peyote is addictive in some people, it 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 withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop using it.

Also relevant is noting that while psychological dependence can develop with peyote, physical dependence doesn’t.

What is Peyote?

Just because peyote isn’t necessarily addictive in the conventional sense, doesn’t mean this isn’t a dangerous substance with health risks.

First, we’ll cover the overall side effects of using hallucinogens, and then delve more specifically into peyote drug effects.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes hallucinogens as substances that impact the brain in a way that changes perception. Much of their impact happens in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, and when a person takes them, they can see images, feel things and hear sounds that aren’t there.

It’s difficult to predict exactly what kind of experience a person will have when using peyote or other hallucinogens, and sometimes a person may have a bad trip and other times they may have a good trip.

When someone takes hallucinogens like peyote, it can be difficult for them to know where they are, and they might lose their ability to think rationally or communicate.

A good trip is usually an experience in once someone feels they feel pleasant, and they might feel as if they’re 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 like they’re losing control, going crazy or dying.

To sum up the peyote effects, as well as effects of other hallucinogens:

  • Hallucinogens including peyote can create sensory effects so that the person taking peyote may think they smell, hear, touch or smell things that aren’t there, or in a way that’s not based in reality.
  • Many people will see brighter colors or hear more defined sounds, or they may experience changes in time. For example, one of the potential peyote drug effects is that people will think the time is passing more slowly than it is.
  • One of the things that’s different about peyote as compared to other hallucinogens is the fact that it contains mescaline, which is a stimulant component. This means peyote effects are a combination of a stimulation and a hallucinogen.

In the short-term when someone uses peyote they will often start out by feeling nauseous, and people frequently throw up when they’re on peyote. It’s difficult to really determine what kind of trip or experience a person will have on peyote because as with LSD and other hallucinogens, it’s always so different from one person and one time to the next.

The unpredictability of peyote is just one reason people are warned against using it, as is the potential for psychological effects that can become distressing or create fear or anxiety.

Some of the reasons people use it despite the warnings include the desire to escape their life, to enjoy pleasant visual or auditory hallucinations, or to experience a disconnect with everything around them. It can also be a social experience for people to come together and use peyote, so people might seek that interaction out.

As was touched on above, the mescaline component of peyote is extremely important to discuss when looking at peyote drug effects. Mescaline is similar in structure to dopamine and norepinephrine. The chemical makeup of mescaline is one of the reasons why taking peyote can impact the chemical processes in your brain, and as a result the central nervous system as well.

Mescaline, in that it is both a stimulant and a hallucinogen, causes a speed-up in the central nervous system but also changes your brains cognitive and emotional functionality.

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.

While there are effects of peyote that are physical, which will be described below, many of the ways this drug affects people are based on psychological elements.

First and foremost, this drug as with other hallucinogens distorts realities and perceptions of the user. According to Columbia Health, the peyote effects can last up to 12 hours, and usually, the peak peyote drug effects are felt at about four hours in.

If you were just watching someone outwardly who was in the midst of a peyote trip, it could seem strange at a minimum, and scary in many cases.

Some of the general psychological peyote effects include a change in how you perceive space and time, exhilaration and euphoria, or paranoia, panic or a sense of complete terror. You may not have an accurate sense of reality which can include confusing things that have happened in the past with present events,  and you might not be able to focus or maintain a sense of attention.

As has been touched on, during a peyote trip the person who has taken the substance loses touch with reality in different ways, that can’t be predicted. During a peyote trip, some people might feel introspective, calm and like they’re in a very deep meditative state, while others could experience hallucinations that bring them distress or even cause them to put themselves in harm’s way.

The following highlights some of the different ways it’s taken leading to peyote trips, including details of smoking peyote:

  • Taking peyote orally is seen as the traditional way to do it. It can be consumed whole by sucking or chewing it before the person swallows it. There are various versions of peyote that can be taken orally including powders, liquefied and fresh peyote.
  • In some cases, people will take peyote by adding the dried and powdered versions of the substance into a pill or capsule and taking it. This is a way to remove the bitter taste it has that can make some people gag.
  • Snuff refers to taking peyote by grinding and then snuffing it in the nose, but this can lead to very serious side effects including nose bleeds and pain.
  • When mescaline is in its pure form, it can be injected, but this isn’t common.
  • Often smoking peyote is common. Smoking peyote happens when it’s been dried and powdered, and it’s often paired with marijuana or tobacco. Peyote burns well, and the concept behind smoking it is that it changes the type of Smoking peyote destroys some of the alkaloids that occur naturally, but people feel as if they experience a sharper sense of vision, without the overwhelming trip that can occur when taking it other ways.
What is Peyote?

One of the biggest risks that comes with the use of peyote and really any hallucinogen is the fact that you have no way of predicting exactly what will happen or what you will experience. Even if you’ve done peyote before 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.

It’s also troubling to realize that you may ultimately lose all control over your thoughts and perceptions, which could lead you to do things you wouldn’t ordinarily.

In addition to the risks of the unknown, other physical peyote side effects include:

  • Nausea is the most common peyote side effect, and this is true of most hallucinogens, particularly for new users. When people first use peyote they very frequently report feeling sick to their stomach and vomiting may occur, but people who are regular users report these side effects often dissipate.
  • Some people may take peyote to escape reality or stress, but in some cases, it can create more intense feelings of anxiety or even complete fear.
  • Other physical side effects of using peyote include weakness, shortness of breath and a rapid heart rate.
  • Because there are stimulant components in peyote, another side effect can include increased blood pressure.
  • Peyote side effects may include chills or shivering or hot flashes and sweating.
  • Insomnia is a side effect of peyote.
  • Body temperature can become elevated to the point that it’s dangerous.
  • Movements may become uncoordinated, which is a condition called ataxia.

The above signs are not even side effects of a bad trip necessarily. With a bad trip, a person may become be afraid, anxious or paranoid that they hurt themselves or someone else or even commit suicide.

Many people who take peyote may also have a loss of appetite, and another risk of using it is that people may not eat or drink during their trips, so they may become dehydrated.

Many of the above peyote side effects are related to physiological and physical elements, but there are other peyote side effects that can occur in the brain. When someone takes peyote, it changes the action of their neurotransmitters, and they may experience cognitive impairment that can prevent them from avoiding dangerous situations.

Highlighted above are many of the most common short-term peyote side effects and symptoms, but what about the long-term repercussions?

Unlike many other drugs, with peyote, there aren’t as many long-term consequences, but there is one. This is called hallucinogen persisting perception disorder. With this, people have flashbacks of various trips they might have had when on peyote, and that can cause someone to lose touch with reality even long after they’ve last used the drug. This can put them in a dangerous situation.

Also, if people take high doses of peyote, it can lead to very severe levels of anxiety for a few days after the peyote actually wears off.

For people who suffer from a mental disorder like schizophrenia, if they were to use peyote it could exacerbate their existing symptoms and could also lead to longer trips and periods of hallucination.

Some of the signs someone is using peyote or has a problem with the hallucinogen can include:

  • Taking higher doses or taking peyote more frequently.
  • Putting a lot of time and energy toward sourcing more peyote or taking it.
  • Failing to adhere to responsibilities or giving up things that were once a priority.
  • Using peyote in situations that could be particularly dangerous, such as when driving.
  • Continuing to take peyote despite bad trips or adverse effects.

People often wonder is Peyote legal? The recreational use of peyote is illegal in all states and territories of the U.S. according to federal law. If you are caught using or having peyote, you may have to pay fines or go to jail, and producing or selling peyote for nonreligious purposes is also against the law in the U.S.

However, while federal law says peyote is illegal, there are some differences at the state level for what’s described as bona fide religious use.

In the following states, there is some limited acceptable use of peyote if it’s for legitimate religious purposes as carried out by the Native American Church. These states are:

  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

In some states peyote may actually be used by any religious organization, however, in other states, it can only have protection if it’s used by the Native American Church. In states including Kansas, Texas, and Wyoming the use of peyote is protected only for members of the Native American Church. In Idaho and Texas, there has to be something defined as some Native American Heritage for an exemption to exist.

In the general sense peyote used recreationally is always illegal, however.

Peyote is classified by the U.S. DEA as a Schedule I Drug. Schedule I drugs are defined as having a high potential for abuse, having no currently acceptable medical use in the U.S., and they are said to have a lack of accepted safety for use. Most hallucinogens are Schedule I in the U.S.