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Peyote in the wild
Peyote in the wild
Conservation status
File:Status TNC G4.svg
Apparently Secure (TNC) [1]
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Caryophyllales
Family: Cactaceae
Genus: Lophophora
Species: L. williamsii
Binomial name
Lophophora williamsii
(Lem.) J. Coult.

Lophophora williamsii, (lō-fof′ŏ-ră wil-yăm′sē-ī), better known by its common name Peyote, but also sometimes called Mescal Button or the Divine Cactus, is a small, spineless cactus whose native region extends from the southwestern United States, specifically in the southwestern part of Texas, through central Mexico. They are found primarily in the Chihuahuan desert and in the states of Tamaulipas and San Luis Potosi amongst scrub, especially when limestone is present in the soil. The cactus is well known for its psychoactive alkaloids and among these mescaline in particular. It is currently used world wide mainly as a recreational drug, an entheogen, and a tool in use to supplement various types of practices for transcendence including in meditation, psychonautics, and illegal psychedelic psychotherapy whether self administered or not. Certain American Indians tribes have used the plant for thousands of years prior to European arrival in the Americas, for both medicinal and religious purposes. The plant's pink flowers emerge from March through May, and in exceptional cases as late as September.


The cactus flowers sporadically, producing small pink fruit, which can be very delectable and bitter-sweet-tasting when eaten. The seeds are small and black, requiring hot and humid conditions to germinate. Peyote contains a large spectrum of phenethylamine alkaloids, the principal of which is mescaline. The mescaline content of Lophophora williamsii is about 0.4% fresh[2] (undried) and 3-6% dried.[2] All Lophophora species are extremely slow growing, often taking three years to reach flowering age in the wild (about the size of a golf ball, not including its root). Human cultivated specimens grow considerably faster, usually taking less than three years to go from seedling to mature flowering adult, and more rapid growth can be achieved by grafting Peyote onto mature San Pedro root stock; to expedite the age at which the Peyote flowers.

A flowering peyote, in cultivation.

Peyote contains two antibiotics named peyocactin. [3]

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 callous over, and new buttons will eventually grow from the root left in the ground.[citation needed] The cut must be made at an angle, so as to not allow the Peyote root to rot.[citation needed] When poor harvesting techniques are used, however, the root is damaged and the entire plant dies. This is the current situation in South Texas where Peyote grows naturally; but has been over-harvested to the point of listing as endangered species.[citation needed]The buttons are generally chewed, or boiled in water to produce a healing tea. The resulting infusion is extremely bitter to some people and, in most cases, the partaker experiences a high degree of nausea before the onset of the hallucinogenic effects.

Distribution and habitat

L. williamsii is native in southern North America where it is only found in the extreme southwest of the US in the state of Texas, as well as much of northern Mexico. It is primarily found at elevations of 100 to 1500 m and exceptionally up to 1900 metres in the Chihuahuan desert, but is also present in the more mild climate of the state of Tamaulipas. Altogether, peyote can be found in the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas in the north to Durango,[4] San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas in the south. Its habitat is primarily in desert scrub, particularly thorn scrub in Tamaulipas, and it is most common on or near limestone hills.[5]


File:Peyote buttons seized by Arcata CA Police.jpg
Dried Lophophora williamsii slices ("Peyote Buttons")
File:Mescaline chemical structure.png
Chemical structure of mescaline, the primary psychoactive compound in peyote

The effective dose for mescaline is about 300 to 500 mg (equivalent to roughly 5 grams of dried peyote) and the effects last about 10 to 12 hours. When combined with appropriate set and setting, peyote is 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).

The flesh may also be applied topically as a galactogogue.


From earliest recorded time, peyote has been used by indigenous peoples, such as the Huichol of northern Mexico and the Navajo in the southwestern United States, as a part of traditional religious rites.[citation needed] There is documented evidence of the religious, ceremonial, and healing uses of Peyote dating back to over 20,000 years. The tradition began to spread northward as part of a revival of native spirituality under the auspices of what came to be known as the Native American Church, whose members refer to Peyote as "the sacred medicine", and use it to combat spiritual, alcoholism and other physical and social ills. Between the 1880s and 1930s, U.S. authorities attempted to ban Native American religious rituals involving the Peyote, including the Ghost Dance. Native American Church is one among several religious organizations that use peyote as part of their religious practice.

A resurgence of interest in the use of peyote was spawned in the 1970s by very detailed accounts of its use, properties and effects in the early works of writer Carlos Castaneda. Don Juan Matus, the name of Castaneda's teacher in the use of peyote, used the name "Mescalito" to refer to an entity that purportedly can be sensed by those using peyote to gain insight in how to live one's life well, but only if Mescalito accepted the user. Later works of Castaneda asserted that the use of such psychotropic substances was not necessary to achieve heightened awareness although his teacher advised its use was beneficial in helping to free the mind of some persons.

An image of the plant, and by extension its possible usage, can be seen in the gonzo fist symbol attributed to Hunter S. Thompson.


United States

United States federal law (and many state laws) protect the harvest, possession, consumption and cultivation) of peyote as part of "bonafide religious ceremonies" (the federal regulation is 42 USC §1996a, "Traditional Indian religious use of the peyote sacrament," exempting only Native American use, while most state laws exempt any general "bonafide religious activity"). American jurisdictions enacted these specific statutory exemptions in reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Employment Division v. Smith, Template:Ussc, which held that laws prohibiting the use of peyote that do not specifically exempt religious use nevertheless do not violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Although many American jurisdictions specifically allow religious use of peyote, religious or therapeutic use not under the aegis of the Native American Church has often been targeted by local law enforcement agencies, and non-natives attempting to establish spiritual centers based on the consumption of peyote as a sacrament or as medicine, such as the Peyote Foundation in Arizona, have been prosecuted. The Peyote Way Church of God in Arizona, is a spiritual center that welcomes all races to Peyotism.


Mescaline is listed as a Schedule III controlled substance under the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, but peyote is specifically exempt. Peyote contains mescaline. [1]

File:Baby Peyote.jpg
Baby Peyote cactus which has been growing for roughly one year.


Article 32 of the Convention on Psychotropic Substances allows nations to exempt certain traditional uses of peyote 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.

See also


  1. "Lophophora williamsii". NatureServe Explorer. NatureServe. Retrieved 2007-06-17.
  2. 2.0 2.1 .
  4. Lophophora
  5. Zimmerman & Bruce D., Allan D.; Parfitt, Bruce D. (2006), "Lophophora williamsii", in Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+, Flora of North America, 4, New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 242
  • 7. Shaman GoldenEagle RedHawk, Choctaw Nation Mississippi River Clan

External links

bg:Пейот cs:Peyotl da:Elefantfodkaktus de:Peyote gl:Peyote it:Lophophora williamsii he:פיוטה lt:Viljamso lofofora mk:Пејоти nl:Peyote fi:Myrkkykaktus sv:Giftkaktus