While many other cacti are not always easy to identify by laymen, the peyote has a very characteristic and unmistakable appearance: A round cactus, blue-green, soft, no spikes but in their place small tufts of “hair”. The peyote grows very slowly: Until it is fully-grown, 15 years can pass. Peyote is the best-known ritually used cactus. Records of Spanish chroniclers prove that it was ritually used in Mexico during the time of the Aztecs. Based on archaeological findings, the cultural intake of this cactus is much older, up to 4000 years are suspected. Even the centuries-long barbaric and bloody oppression of old customs by the Catholic Church that followed the Conquista could not wipe out the use of this sacred cacti.
Since the beginning of the past century the religious community of the “Native American Church” exists in the USA, wherein its members use peyote as a sacrament. Ethnologists who studied them reported repeatedly about the positive effect which the membership to this community has on the Indians. Especially the wide-spread alcoholism is often given up following the peyote-ceremonies. According to supreme court decisions, the possession and ceremonial use of this cactus is permitted to members of the “Native American Church” if they can prove at least 25 % of “Indian blood”.
Use: The dried part of the plant, which grows above ground, the so-called mescal button, is chewed. 5 to 20 of these “buttons” are considered a normal dose.
Active constituents: About 1 % of the dry weight is mescaline, additionally many secondary alkaloids, among others anhalonine, anhalodine, anhalonidine, hordenine, lophophorine. Especially the secondary alkaloids are supposed to cause the unpleasant side effects.
Effects: Hallucinogenic. The effects start after about one to one and a half hours and last up to 12 hours. Not rarely it comes to a visionary euphoria, to mystic, ecstatic hallucinations, often with a religious undertone. Changes in the perception of all senses, especially color vision is intensified. Sounds are perceived as enhanced. Also the experience of depersonalization can occur. Banal, everyday items receive a new mystic significance. In the early books of Carlos Castaneda he tells comprehensively about the cultural use of mescaline. Lower doses of mescaline act aphrodisiac.
Side effects: Distinct nausea and vomiting especially during the first hour after the intake are the rule. The nausea fades as the experience continues. The activation of latent psychoses and the occurrence of so-called “horror trips” is possible.
Suppliers: Young specimens (2,5 cm diameter) are available in cactus nurseries. Older, larger specimens are more rarely offered and often fetch high prices. Seeds in cactus nurseries, garden centers and ethnobotanical stores.
Miscellaneous: I have heard that occasionally 10 or 20 young peyote were bought and presumably eaten. That is utter nonsense; even forty or fifty small specimens would hardly suffice to bring about even only a slight inebriation, more so, if the plants originate from an European breeder. This is double annoying: because the peyote is steadily becoming rarer and is threatened by extinction in its natural habitat and is legally strictly protected as an endangered species. The young plants should therefore be totally spared. This all does not apply for example to the fast growing San Pedro cactus from South- and Central America.
Mescaline is listed in the narcotic drugs acts of most countries. It is advised against the intake of mescaline-containing material. Growing these cacti for decorative or botanical purposes continues to be legal in many countries.