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Peyote Drug Addiction Symptoms, Side Effects, and Treatment Types

What Is Peyote Used For?

Peyote (“buttons,” “mesc,” “cactus”) is a cactus plant consumed for its hallucinogenic properties and ability to alter a user’s thoughts, feelings, and perceptions.1 The top of the cactus plant that protrudes from the ground (the crown) consists of “buttons” in a disc shape that are brewed in tea, liquefied and swallowed, or eaten raw. The intoxicating effects of these peyote buttons may begin within 20 to 90 minutes after use and may last for up to 12 hours.2

Mescaline is the primary psychoactive alkaloid substance present in peyote, and it is responsible for causing users to see or sense things that are not present.2

Peyote has been used for centuries as a part of spiritual and religious rituals, particularly by Native Americans in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. It is also sometimes used recreationally for its hallucinogenic “high.”

Peyote Abuse

A 2014 national survey found that 1.2 million Americans aged 12 and over were current users of hallucinogens like peyote.3

Though researchers do not fully understand how hallucinogens affect the brain and body, it appears that they alter communication between the neurotransmitters in the brain and spinal cord that control mood and sensory perception, as well as impacting several physical processes, such as sleep and muscle control.2 As a result, hallucinogens can cause changes in perception and mood. The pleasurable experience of having one’s mood and senses altered may lead a person to abuse peyote.

Peyote abuse may be dangerous due to the potential for negative effects, ranging from high blood pressure and vomiting in the short term to persistent symptoms of psychosis in the long term.1,4

Signs and Symptoms of Peyote Abuse

Signs of Problematic Substance Use

In some cases, users may increase the amount or frequency of their peyote use. Over time, abuse of the drug may negatively impact a person’s life. Professionals refer to a set of 11 symptoms—which they describe as a “substance use disorder”—to determine the severity of a person’s drug use.

Symptoms of a substance use disorder include:5

  • Taking larger amounts of a drug over time.
  • Failure to cut down.
  • Spending long amounts of time obtaining, using, or recovering from a drug.
  • Craving a drug.
  • Failing to uphold responsibilities at work, home, or school because of drug use.
  • Continuing to use despite interpersonal or physical/mental health problems.
  • Giving up important activities because of drug use.
  • Using a drug in harmful situations, such as when operating machinery.
  • Requiring more of a drug to experience the desired effects.
  • Developing withdrawal symptoms when not taking a drug.

A person who experiences 2 or more signs of a substance use disorder may have a problem with peyote. This is described technically as an other hallucinogen use disorder. Seeking treatment, attending support groups, and taking steps to reduce or abstain from peyote use can prevent further negative consequences.

Short- and Long-Term Effects of Peyote Abuse

Peyote use can harm a user’s physical and mental well-being. Even one-time peyote use can lead to serious symptoms, including:6

  • Rapid heart rate.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Agitation.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Paranoia.
  • Psychosis.
  • Seizures.

Peyote toxicity can result when a person takes a large amount of the drug and/or has a bad reaction. In most cases, symptoms are not life-threatening and often subside within 24 hours.6 However, symptoms should be evaluated by a medical professional to determine if further treatment is needed.

Social and Lifestyle Consequences

Peyote abuse can also lead to negative life consequences, such as:

  • Legal problems.
  • Increased risk of accidents if using in dangerous situations.
  • Failure to keep up with important responsibilities.
  • Abandonment of hobbies and other healthy pleasures.
  • Problems in relationships with family and friends.
  • Problems at work or school.

While peyote has been used recreationally for spiritual and religious purposes for centuries, some users experience negative effects because of their use. Negative effects of peyote use can include physical reactions, mental health problems, and problems functioning in everyday life.

Peyote Statistics

Peyote, like other hallucinogenic drugs, may be abused by both adolescents and adults for its mind-altering effects. A 2014 national survey examined rates of drug use across different age groups:3

  • Approximately 136,000 Americans aged 12 to 17, or 0.5% of adolescents, were currently using hallucinogens.
  • Hallucinogen use is most prominent among adults aged 18 to 25. Approximately 502,000 Americans, or 1.4% of the age group, reported using hallucinogens.
  • Close to 0.3% of the age group were currently using hallucinogens.

Teen Peyote Abuse

The majority of all illicit drug use starts between the ages of 16 and 17,7 and one of the main reasons for drug use among teens is to “feel good.”8 Because peyote alters the user’s thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of reality, it may appeal to teens looking to change their emotional state.1

Teens may also use drugs like peyote to feel better or cope with negative feelings.8 A 2014 national survey found that teens who had experienced depression within the past year were more likely to use hallucinogenic drugs than teens without depression.3

Adolescents may be especially at risk of abusing drugs during periods of transition, such as when moving to a new area or changing schools.7

Additionally, adolescents experiencing changes in their brains may have urges to try new things. This can make the prospect of experimenting with drugs seem enticing.8

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), prevention is an effective strategy when it comes to reducing teen drug use.7 Taking preventative steps can help to minimize the risk of drug use among teens and future abuse as an adult. Possible prevention efforts include:

  • Educating adolescents about the effects of illicit drugs. Teens may receive false information about the risks of drug use. Parents may also feel the need to exaggerate the effects of drugs to scare teens, which often has the reverse effect. Providing accurate information can help clear up misconceptions.
  • Encouraging open discussion. Teens may have a hard time discussing their feelings about drugs with their parents. Providing an opportunity for adolescents to discuss their thoughts and feelings about trying drugs without fear of judgment can help them to make more responsible decisions.
  • Teaching assertiveness skills. Peers play a significant role in the lives of teens. Some teens may want to refuse drugs, but fear the loss of peer relationships and harm to their reputations. Discussing ways for teens to express themselves in an assertive manner can reduce anxiety when it comes to saying ‘no.’
  • Encouraging participation in alternative activities and hobbies. Drugs like peyote may be less enticing when teens have other outlets for fun. Teens who are involved in sports, art, music, and other hobbies, and who have supportive relationships with family and friends, may naturally have less interest in using drugs.

Early drug use in life can lead to changes in the brain that can have long-term effects on motivation, memory, learning, judgment, and impulse control.7 Teens who abuse drugs are also at risk of long-term addiction. Therefore, taking preventative measures can help reduce future risks and harms.

Resources, Articles, and More Information

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) offers basic facts on the dangers of hallucinogens and a research-based guide on hallucinogens and dissociative drugs. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also provides data on hallucinogen abuse. NIDA for Teens offers Mind over Matter—a guide for teaching children about the dangers of hallucinogens like peyote. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) provides 10 tips for preventing teen drug use.

If you love someone who’s abusing peyote, there is help available. Please call American Addiction Centers (AAC) free at to learn about treatment options, facilities, and more.

Peyote Addiction Treatment Levels of Care

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