You are on page 1of 2

RISKS & REALITIES

s peyote use has evolved over the years, non-
sacramental users have faced two potential
dangers.
First, there’s the risk of bad trips, which mostly center
on a fear of dying or loss of control.
Tranquilizers can be administered in extreme cases,
but the only way to totally eliminate the
possibility of panic with a drug as pow-
erful as peyote is to avoid using it
altogether.
A second risk linked to mescaline
derives from the reality of street-drug
economics. That’s because it’s so ex-
pensive to synthesize the drug that
other drugs are often substituted— usually LSD,
PCP, or amphetamine-based psychedelics.
Real peyote is identifiable by its noxious taste, which
can trigger a vomiting that’s more relief than curse. And
mescaline has a revolting taste of its own—and a sky-high
price tag reflecting the scarcity of supply.
Still, the drawbacks—price, taste, laws—haven’t
stopped peyote and mescaline yet.
It was true to believers 400 years ago, and it seems no
less true today: Conquistadors come and go, but peyote
endures forever.
And so, some users might tell you, does the aftertaste.
CACTUS & CONQUISTADORS
hen the Spanish Conquistadors hit the New
World in the 16th century, they hoped to find
gold and glory during their adventures in the
Americas.
They found lots of the former and little of the latter
along the way, and all kinds of stuff they hadn’t counted on
at all, including corn, tobacco, potatoes, chocolate, and a
strange vision-inducing plant used by natives as
a religious sacrament and revered al-
most as a god.
That’s when the problems
started.
Because the Spaniards had
their own ideas about God and
sacraments and wanted to share
them with their new subjects.
And they did—every chance they got.
And the plant, which the natives called “peyotl,”
turned into a major point of contention.
And, to this day, it’s pretty much stayed that way.
BACKGROUND NOTES
What all the excitement’s been about is a small, spine-
less cactus (known botanically as Lophophora williamsii)
which grows in the deserts of Mexico and the
American Southwest. When the
crown is sliced off and dried, it
forms a hard, brownish disc
known as a “button,” which is
chewed for its hallucinogenic
properties.
Peyote buttons were chewed
for religious purposes in Mexico
centuries before the Conquista-
dors even knew Mexico existed. Early tales of peyote
rituals among the Aztec and Toltec Indians date ceremo-
nial use back some 3,000 years.
The cactus—and other “divine” plants, including psilo-
cybin mushrooms, morning glory seeds, and datura—
were employed for the purposes of healing, divining the
future, and producing visions during sacred rites.
Cactus flower. Peyote, a.k.a.
Lophophora williamsii. This is one in a series of publications on drugs, behavior, and
health published by Do It Now Foundation. Please call or write for
a list of current titles, or visit our web site at www.doitnow.org.
DIN 133 All Rights Reserved 4/02
Box 27568 ■ Tempe, AZ 85285-7568 ■ 480.736.0599
C a c t u s C r e a t i o n : A r c h e t y p a l s t o r i e s
a n d c r e a t i o n m y t h s a r e c o m m o n t h e m e s
i n p e y o t e - i n s p i r e d a r t , a s i n t h e p i e c e s s h o w n .
T h e r i t u a l i s b e l i e v e d t o b e s t o w t h e a b i l i t y t o g l i m p s e b e y o n d t h e
f o r m o f e v e r y d a y r e a l i t y t o t h e u n i t y o f e n e r g y a n d c o n s c i o u s -
n e s s u n d e r l y i n g a l l e x i s t e n c e .
© P e y o t e W a y C h u r c h o f G o d , K l o n d y k e , A Z
P e y o t e w a s b e l i e v e d t o b e a g o d - p o w e r f u l m e d i c i n e ,
c a p a b l e o f g i v i n g s i g h t t o t h e b l i n d a n d h e a l i n g i n c u r a b l e
d i s e a s e s . B u t t o t h e S p a n i a r d s , i t w a s t h e f i r s t A m e r i c a n
“ d r u g p r o b l e m . ”
T H E F I R S T ‘ W A R O N D R U G S ’
T h e S p a n i a r d s q u i c k l y o u t l a w e d “ p e y o t i s m , ” w h i c h
t h e y l i n k e d w i t h c a n n i b a l i s m a n d w i t c h c r a f t , a n d e n a c t e d
t h e f i r s t s e t o f a n t i - d r u g l a w s i n t h e W e s t e r n H e m i s p h e r e ,
a l l a i m e d a t w i p i n g o u t I n d i a n u s e o f t h e p l a n t .
T h e y s u c c e e d e d — t o a p o i n t . O v e r t h e n e x t f o u r c e n t u -
r i e s , t h e y s u c c e s s f u l l y d r o v e t h e i n d i g e n o u s p e y o t e - b a s e d
r e l i g i o n f a r u n d e r g r o u n d . B u t i t r e f u s e d t o s t a y t h e r e .
D u r i n g t h e A m e r i c a n C i v i l W a r , p e y o t e u s e b e g a n
s p r e a d i n g n o r t h f r o m M e x i c o o n a l a r g e s c a l e . I n d i a n
p r o p h e t s , s u c h a s Q u a n a h P a r k e r a n d J o h n W i l s o n ,
c a r r i e d a C h r i s t i a n i z e d v e r s i o n o f t h e a n c i e n t r i t u a l
t o m o r e t h a n f i f t y A m e r i c a n t r i b e s , i n c l u d i n g t h e
C h e y e n n e , S h a w n e e , B l a c k f o o t , a n d S i o u x , a n d a s
f a r n o r t h a s C a n a d a . T h e i r t e a c h i n g s b l e n d e d t r a d i -
t i o n a l p e y o t e c h a n t s a n d m e d i t a t i o n w i t h p r a y e r a n d
b e l i e f i n J e s u s .
I n 1 9 1 8 a g r o u p o f p e y o t i s t s f o r m e d t h e N a t i v e A m e r i -
c a n C h u r c h t o p r e s e r v e p e y o t e r i t u a l s a n d p r o v i d e f o r
c o n t i n u e d s a c r a m e n t a l u s e o f t h e p l a n t . S t i l l , n o n b e l i e v e r s
f o u g h t b a c k .
A n d e v e n t h o u g h l a w s i n 1 1 s t a t e s e v e n t u a l l y s o u g h t t o b a n
r e l i g i o u s u s e o f p e y o t e , f e d e r a l
c o u r t s h a v e a f f i r m e d t h e r i g h t t o
s a c r a m e n t a l u s e b y N a -
t i v e A m e r i c a n
m e m b e r s o f t h e
2 5 0 , 0 0 0 - m e m -
b e r c h u r c h .
S t i l l , c h a l l e n g e s c o n t i n u e t o b e m o u n t e d , s t r e n g t h e n e d
b y a 1 9 9 0 r u l i n g b y t h e U . S . S u p r e m e C o u r t , a f f i r m i n g t h e
r i g h t o f s t a t e s t o c o n t r o l r i t u a l p e y o t e u s e .
P E Y O T E P R A C T I C E S
T h e p e y o t e r i t u a l c e n t e r s o n a b e l i e f i n a G r e a t S p i r i t
w h o c r e a t e d t h e u n i v e r s e a n d o b s e r v e s w h a t h a p p e n s ,
w h e r e , a n d t o w h o m — e v e r y w h e r e a n d f o r e v e r .
P e y o t e u s e r s b e l i e v e t h e S p i r i t p l a c e d i t s o w n
d i v i n e p o w e r s i n t h e c a c t u s a n d t h a t , b y e a t i n g i t s
b u t t o n s , a b e l i e v e r c a n a b s o r b t h a t p o w e r a n d
e x p e r i e n c e t h a t s p i r i t u a l f o r c e .
D u r i n g a p e y o t e r i t u a l , w h i c h c o m m o n l y i n -
v o l v e s s i t t i n g a n d s t a r i n g i n t o a l a r g e f i r e i n s i d e a
t e n t f o r 1 2 h o u r s o r m o r e , p a r t i c i p a n t s c h e w a n d
s w a l l o w f r o m 2 - 2 0 b u t t o n s , a n d s o m e t i m e s a s m a n y a s
3 0 .
T h e p l a n t p r o d u c e s a t r a n c e - l i k e s t a t e , w h i c h i s
i n t e n s i f i e d b y a p u l s a t i n g d r u m b e a t o r b y
t h e c h a n t i n g a n d p r a y e r s o f p a r t i c i p a n t s
a b s o r b e d i n t h e p e y o t e e x p e r i e n c e .
T h e r i t u a l i t s e l f i s b e l i e v e d t o b e s t o w
s p e c i a l p o w e r s o f h e a l i n g a n d i n s i g h t o n t o
p a r t i c i p a n t s , i n c l u d i n g t h e a b i l i t y t o g l i m p s e
b e n e a t h t h e f o r m a n d b e y o n d t h e d e s c r i p t i o n o f
e v e r y d a y , “ c o n s e n s u a l ” r e a l i t y t o t h e u n i t y o f e n -
e r g y a n d c o n s c i o u s n e s s u n d e r l y i n g a l l e x i s t e n c e .
T o p r e p a r e t h e m s e l v e s a n d p u r g e t h e m s e l v e s o f e v e r y -
d a y t o x i n s , p a r t i c i p a n t s o f t e n u n d e r g o a n e x t e n d e d p e -
r i o d o f f a s t i n g , m e d i t a t i o n , a n d s i l e n c e .
S t i l l , s w a l l o w i n g t h e b u t t o n s i s n ’ t e a s y o r p a l a t a b l e , n o
m a t t e r h o w p r e p a r e d a p a r t i c i p a n t i s .
I n f a c t , p e y o t e o f t e n t r i g g e r s v o m i t i n g , w h i c h i s c o n -
s i d e r e d t o b e a f u r t h e r a c t o f p u r i f i c a t i o n , n e c e s s a r y f o r
t h e S p i r i t ’ s e n t r y i n t o t h e b o d y .
A C T I O N S & E F F E C T S
P e y o t e c o n t a i n s m o r e t h a n f i f t y p s y c h o a c t i v e i n g r e d i -
e n t s , t h e m o s t p o w e r f u l o f w h i c h i s m e s c a l i n e ( 3 , 4 , 5 -
t r i m e t h o x y p h e n e t h y l a m i n e ) .
N a m e d a f t e r t h e M e s c a l e r o A p a c h e s , m e s c a l i n e w a s
f i r s t i s o l a t e d f r o m t h e p e y o t e c a c t u s i n 1 8 9 6 a n d i n d e p e n -
d e n t l y s y n t h e s i z e d i n 1 9 1 8 .
A s o n e o f t h e f i r s t h a l l u c i n o g e n s t o b e r e p r o d u c e d
i n t h e l a b , m e s c a l i n e b e c a m e t h e c e n t e r o f s c i e n t i f i c
i n t e r e s t i n t h e e a r l y 1 9 0 0 ’ s a n d w a s u s e d i n t h e
e x p e r i m e n t a l t r e a t m e n t o f a l c o h o l i s m , m e n t a l i l l n e s s ,
a n d o t h e r d i s o r d e r s .
I n d o s e s o f 2 0 0 - 5 0 0 m g ( a b o u t 1 0 - 2 0 b u t t o n s ) , m e s -
c a l i n e t r i g g e r s i n c r e a s e d h e a r t r a t e , b o d y t e m p e r a t u r e ,
a n d b l o o d p r e s s u r e a n d d i l a t i o n o f t h e p u p i l s .
N o r m a l c o o r d i n a t i o n a n d r e f l e x e s a r e r e d u c e d , a n d
t h e s k i n m a y f e e l d r y a n d i t c h y . P e a k e f f e c t s h i t 2 - 3 h o u r s
a f t e r i n g e s t i o n , a n d r u n t h e i r c o u r s e i n a b o u t 1 2 h o u r s .
P e y o t e a n d m e s c a l i n e a r e b e s t k n o w n f o r t h e i r
u n i q u e h a l l u c i n o g e n i c p r o p e r t i e s , w h i c h m a n y u s e r s
r e p o r t a s l e s s d i s o r i e n t i n g — a n d h e n c e
m o r e m a n a g e a b l e — t h a n L S D a n d o t h e r
s y n t h e t i c p s y c h e d e l i c s .
S u b j e c t i v e e f f e c t s c a n i n c l u d e r a p i d c h a n g e s
i n m o o d , f e e l i n g s o f e m p a t h y a n d k i n s h i p w i t h
o t h e r s , k a l e i d o s c o p i c p e r c e p t u a l c h a n g e s , a n d
d e e p l y m o v i n g , e v e n p r o f o u n d , i n t r o s p e c t i v e s p i r i -
t u a l e x p e r i e n c e s .
M o r e d i f f i c u l t t o d e s c r i b e i s h o w , e x a c t l y , t h e d r u g s
e x e r t t h e i r u n u s u a l e f f e c t s .
W h i l e m e s c a l i n e i s a b o u t 4 , 0 0 0 t i m e s l e s s p o t e n t —
m i c r o g r a m f o r m i c r o g r a m — t h a n L S D , b o t h d r u g s
w o r k i n s i m i l a r w a y s , b y t e m p o r a r i l y t i l t i n g t h e d i s t r i -
b u t i o n a n d a c t i o n i n t h e b r a i n o f s u c h n e u r o t r a n s m i t -
t e r s a s d o p a m i n e a n d s e r o t o n i n , a l t h o u g h t h e i r e x a c t
m e c h a n i s m o f a c t i o n r e m a i n s u n c l e a r .
R I S K S & R E A L I T I E S
s p e y o t e u s e h a s e v o l v e d o v e r t h e y e a r s , n o n -
s a c r a m e n t a l u s e r s h a v e f a c e d t w o p o t e n t i a l
d a n g e r s .
F i r s t , t h e r e ’ s t h e r i s k o f b a d t r i p s , w h i c h m o s t l y c e n t e r
o n a f e a r o f d y i n g o r l o s s o f c o n t r o l .
T r a n q u i l i z e r s c a n b e a d m i n i s t e r e d i n e x t r e m e c a s e s ,
b u t t h e o n l y w a y t o t o t a l l y e l i m i n a t e t h e
p o s s i b i l i t y o f p a n i c w i t h a d r u g a s p o w -
e r f u l a s p e y o t e i s t o a v o i d u s i n g i t
a l t o g e t h e r .
A s e c o n d r i s k l i n k e d t o m e s c a l i n e
d e r i v e s f r o m t h e r e a l i t y o f s t r e e t - d r u g
e c o n o m i c s . T h a t ’ s b e c a u s e i t ’ s s o e x -
p e n s i v e t o s y n t h e s i z e t h e d r u g t h a t
o t h e r d r u g s a r e o f t e n s u b s t i t u t e d — u s u a l l y L S D ,
P C P , o r a m p h e t a m i n e - b a s e d p s y c h e d e l i c s .
R e a l p e y o t e i s i d e n t i f i a b l e b y i t s n o x i o u s t a s t e , w h i c h
c a n t r i g g e r a v o m i t i n g t h a t ’ s m o r e r e l i e f t h a n c u r s e . A n d
m e s c a l i n e h a s a r e v o l t i n g t a s t e o f i t s o w n — a n d a s k y - h i g h
p r i c e t a g r e f l e c t i n g t h e s c a r c i t y o f s u p p l y .
S t i l l , t h e d r a w b a c k s — p r i c e , t a s t e , l a w s — h a v e n ’ t
s t o p p e d p e y o t e a n d m e s c a l i n e y e t .
I t w a s t r u e t o b e l i e v e r s 4 0 0 y e a r s a g o , a n d i t s e e m s n o
l e s s t r u e t o d a y : C o n q u i s t a d o r s c o m e a n d g o , b u t p e y o t e
e n d u r e s f o r e v e r .
A n d s o , s o m e u s e r s m i g h t t e l l y o u , d o e s t h e a f t e r t a s t e .
C A C T U S & C O N Q U I S T A D O R S
h e n t h e S p a n i s h C o n q u i s t a d o r s h i t t h e N e w
W o r l d i n t h e 1 6 t h c e n t u r y , t h e y h o p e d t o f i n d
g o l d a n d g l o r y d u r i n g t h e i r a d v e n t u r e s i n t h e
A m e r i c a s .
T h e y f o u n d l o t s o f t h e f o r m e r a n d l i t t l e o f t h e l a t t e r
a l o n g t h e w a y , a n d a l l k i n d s o f s t u f f t h e y h a d n ’ t c o u n t e d o n
a t a l l , i n c l u d i n g c o r n , t o b a c c o , p o t a t o e s , c h o c o l a t e , a n d a
s t r a n g e v i s i o n - i n d u c i n g p l a n t u s e d b y n a t i v e s a s
a r e l i g i o u s s a c r a m e n t a n d r e v e r e d a l -
m o s t a s a g o d .
T h a t ’ s w h e n t h e p r o b l e m s
s t a r t e d .
B e c a u s e t h e S p a n i a r d s h a d
t h e i r o w n i d e a s a b o u t G o d a n d
s a c r a m e n t s a n d w a n t e d t o s h a r e
t h e m w i t h t h e i r n e w s u b j e c t s .
A n d t h e y d i d — e v e r y c h a n c e t h e y g o t .
A n d t h e p l a n t , w h i c h t h e n a t i v e s c a l l e d “ p e y o t l , ”
t u r n e d i n t o a m a j o r p o i n t o f c o n t e n t i o n .
A n d , t o t h i s d a y , i t ’ s p r e t t y m u c h s t a y e d t h a t w a y .
B A C K G R O U N D N O T E S
W h a t a l l t h e e x c i t e m e n t ’ s b e e n a b o u t i s a s m a l l , s p i n e -
l e s s c a c t u s ( k n o w n b o t a n i c a l l y a s L o p h o p h o r a w i l l i a m s i i )
w h i c h g r o w s i n t h e d e s e r t s o f M e x i c o a n d t h e
A m e r i c a n S o u t h w e s t . W h e n t h e
c r o w n i s s l i c e d o f f a n d d r i e d , i t
f o r m s a h a r d , b r o w n i s h d i s c
k n o w n a s a “ b u t t o n , ” w h i c h i s
c h e w e d f o r i t s h a l l u c i n o g e n i c
p r o p e r t i e s .
P e y o t e b u t t o n s w e r e c h e w e d
f o r r e l i g i o u s p u r p o s e s i n M e x i c o
c e n t u r i e s b e f o r e t h e C o n q u i s t a -
d o r s e v e n k n e w M e x i c o e x i s t e d . E a r l y t a l e s o f p e y o t e
r i t u a l s a m o n g t h e A z t e c a n d T o l t e c I n d i a n s d a t e c e r e m o -
n i a l u s e b a c k s o m e 3 , 0 0 0 y e a r s .
T h e c a c t u s — a n d o t h e r “ d i v i n e ” p l a n t s , i n c l u d i n g p s i l o -
c y b i n m u s h r o o m s , m o r n i n g g l o r y s e e d s , a n d d a t u r a —
w e r e e m p l o y e d f o r t h e p u r p o s e s o f h e a l i n g , d i v i n i n g t h e
f u t u r e , a n d p r o d u c i n g v i s i o n s d u r i n g s a c r e d r i t e s .
C a c t u s f l o w e r . P e y o t e , a . k . a .
L o p h o p h o r a w i l l i a m s i i .T h i s i s o n e i n a s e r i e s o f p u b l i c a t i o n s o n d r u g s , b e h a v i o r , a n d
h e a l t h p u b l i s h e d b y D o I t N o w F o u n d a t i o n . P l e a s e c a l l o r w r i t e f o r
a l i s t o f c u r r e n t t i t l e s , o r v i s i t o u r w e b s i t e a t w w w . d o i t n o w . o r g .
D I N 1 3 3 A l l R i g h t s R e s e r v e d 4 / 0 2
B o x 2 7 5 6 8 ■ T e m p e , A Z 8 5 2 8 5 - 7 5 6 8 ■ 4 8 0 . 7 3 6 . 0 5 9 9
Cactus Creation: Archetypal stories
and creation myths are common themes
in peyote-inspired art, as in the pieces shown.
The ritual is believed to bestow the ability to glimpse beyond the
form of everyday reality to the unity of energy and conscious-
ness underlying all existence.
© Peyote Way Church of God, Klondyke, AZ
Peyote was believed to be a god-powerful medicine,
capable of giving sight to the blind and healing incurable
diseases. But to the Spaniards, it was the first American
“drug problem.”
THE FIRST ‘WAR ON DRUGS’
The Spaniards quickly outlawed “peyotism,” which
they linked with cannibalism and witchcraft, and enacted
the first set of anti-drug laws in the Western Hemisphere,
all aimed at wiping out Indian use of the plant.
They succeeded—to a point. Over the next four centu-
ries, they successfully drove the indigenous peyote-based
religion far underground. But it refused to stay there.
During the American Civil War, peyote use began
spreading north from Mexico on a large scale. Indian
prophets, such as Quanah Parker and John Wilson,
carried a Christianized version of the ancient ritual
to more than fifty American tribes, including the
Cheyenne, Shawnee, Blackfoot, and Sioux, and as
far north as Canada. Their teachings blended tradi-
tional peyote chants and meditation with prayer and
belief in Jesus.
In 1918 a group of peyotists formed the Native Ameri-
can Church to preserve peyote rituals and provide for
continued sacramental use of the plant. Still, nonbelievers
fought back.
And even though laws in 11 states eventually sought to ban
religious use of peyote, federal
courts have affirmed the right to
sacramental use by Na-
tive American
members of the
250,000-mem-
ber church.
Still, challenges continue to be mounted, strengthened
by a 1990 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, affirming the
right of states to control ritual peyote use.
PEYOTE PRACTICES
The peyote ritual centers on a belief in a Great Spirit
who created the universe and observes what happens,
where, and to whom—everywhere and forever.
Peyote users believe the Spirit placed its own
divine powers in the cactus and that, by eating its
buttons, a believer can absorb that power and
experience that spiritual force.
During a peyote ritual, which commonly in-
volves sitting and staring into a large fire inside a
tent for 12 hours or more, participants chew and
swallow from 2-20 buttons, and sometimes as many as
30.
The plant produces a trance-like state, which is
intensified by a pulsating drumbeat or by
the chanting and prayers of participants
absorbed in the peyote experience.
The ritual itself is believed to bestow
special powers of healing and insight onto
participants, including the ability to glimpse
beneath the form and beyond the description of
everyday, “consensual” reality to the unity of en-
ergy and consciousness underlying all existence.
To prepare themselves and purge themselves of every-
day toxins, participants often undergo an extended pe-
riod of fasting, meditation, and silence.
Still, swallowing the buttons isn’t easy or palatable, no
matter how prepared a participant is.
In fact, peyote often triggers vomiting, which is con-
sidered to be a further act of purification, necessary for
the Spirit’s entry into the body.
ACTIONS & EFFECTS
Peyote contains more than fifty psychoactive ingredi-
ents, the most powerful of which is mescaline (3,4,5-
trimethoxyphenethylamine).
Named after the Mescalero Apaches, mescaline was
first isolated from the peyote cactus in 1896 and indepen-
dently synthesized in 1918.
As one of the first hallucinogens to be reproduced
in the lab, mescaline became the center of scientific
interest in the early 1900’s and was used in the
experimental treatment of alcoholism, mental illness,
and other disorders.
In doses of 200-500 mg (about 10-20 buttons), mes-
caline triggers increased heart rate, body temperature,
and blood pressure and dilation of the pupils.
Normal coordination and reflexes are reduced, and
the skin may feel dry and itchy. Peak effects hit 2-3 hours
after ingestion, and run their course in about 12 hours.
Peyote and mescaline are best known for their
unique hallucinogenic properties, which many users
report as less disorienting—and hence
more manageable—than LSD and other
synthetic psychedelics.
Subjective effects can include rapid changes
in mood, feelings of empathy and kinship with
others, kaleidoscopic perceptual changes, and
deeply moving, even profound, introspective spiri-
tual experiences.
More difficult to describe is how, exactly, the drugs
exert their unusual effects.
While mescaline is about 4,000 times less potent—
microgram for microgram—than LSD, both drugs
work in similar ways, by temporarily tilting the distri-
bution and action in the brain of such neurotransmit-
ters as dopamine and serotonin, although their exact
mechanism of action remains unclear.