Peyote (or mescaline) belongs to a class of drugs known as hallucinogens.
Mescaline is the active hallucinogenic ingredient in peyote, which is a small, spineless cactus 1. The top, or crown, of the peyote cactus has circular-shaped buttons that are cut off and ingested in a variety of ways, such as by chewing them, soaking them in water to produce a psychoactive liquid, grinding them into a fine powder that can be swallowed in capsules, or smoking them with marijuana or tobacco 1. Mescaline can be synthetically derived as well 1. Common street names for peyote or mescaline include “cactus,” “mesc,” “peyote,” and “buttons” 1,2.
Peyote has long been used in religious rituals to connect users with a spiritual entity or deity by detaching them from reality and inducing visions 3. Current users of peyote may do so in a more social or recreational manner, using mescaline to relax, enjoy themselves, or achieve enlightenment 3.
In the United States, peyote and mescaline are listed by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as Schedule I drugs, meaning they have no currently accepted medical use, a high potential for abuse, and are considered unsafe for use, even under medical supervision 1.
Effects of Peyote on the Brain
The long-term effects of peyote on the brain are not well-known and are generally rare; however, chronic users may experience persistent psychosis or a condition known as Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD) 2,6.
Persistent psychosis is an ongoing series of psychological symptoms, including mood swings, visual disturbances, paranoia, and disorganized thoughts 2.
HPPD occurs after hallucinogen use has stopped, and involves the continued re-experiencing of peyote effects, such as hallucinations, flashes of color, more intense colors, or trails of images around objects in motion 6. These symptoms can cause significant impairment and distress in a user’s life, interfering with functioning at work, school, or in social settings 6.
Peyote has various short-term effects on the brain, similar to the effects of other hallucinogenic drugs, such as LSD or psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”) 1. Peyote is thought to elicit its effects by disrupting neurotransmitter transmission in the parts of the brain that affect mood, thought, and perception 2,4. These effects on the brain can include 1,2:
- Altered body image or sense of self.
- Altered perception of time and space.
- Feelings of anxiety or panic.
- Feeling relaxed or detached from surroundings.
- Hallucinations, which can affect any of the senses – visual, auditory, etc.
- Increased intensity of emotions and sensations.
- Mood swings 5.
- Spiritual experiences.
- Synesthesia, or a mix-up of senses, such as hearing colors or seeing sounds.
- Temporary psychosis.
Drug use often precipitates the development of tolerance, where the brain becomes desensitized to the effects of the drug. This leads to the person requiring more of the drug to attain the desired effects. There is some evidence that hallucinogens, such as peyote, can produce tolerance 2. Another phenomenon, known as cross-tolerance, occurs with many hallucinogenic drugs 2. Taking specific hallucinogens can increase one’s tolerance to different, chemically-similar hallucinogens, such as LSD, mushrooms, and peyote since they work on the same areas of the brain 2.
Effects of Peyote on the Body
Peyote also has a strong effect on the body, similar to other hallucinogenic drugs. These physical effects may include 1,2,4:
- Dilated pupils.
- Dry mouth.
- Flushed skin.
- Increase in body temperature, which can lead to excessive sweating.
- Increased energy levels.
- Increase heart rate.
- Increased blood pressure.
- Muscle weakness.
- Impaired motor skills and coordination.
- Loss of appetite.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Sleep difficulties.
The long-term effects of peyote use on the body are not well-known and require more research. This drug should never be used during pregnancy, as peyote has been linked to abnormalities in developing fetuses 4.
How Long Do Peyote Effects Last?
Peyote, like many other hallucinogens, is a relatively long-acting drug. The effects of peyote can start to be felt between 20 to 90 minutes after ingestion, and can last for up to 12 hours 2,4. Ingesting peyote is known as a “trip,” and the overall experience can be highly unpredictable.
The experience and intensity of peyote’s effects are highly impacted by various factors, including the amount of peyote consumed, as well as the user’s 4:
- Expectations of peyote trip.
A good trip can provide enjoyable sensations, mental stimulation, and a feeling of heightened insight, while a “bad trip” can cause horrifying thoughts and emotions, such as anxiety, despair, or fear of loss of control, madness, or death 4.
How Many People Use Peyote?
While substance use in America is monitored through the use of regular surveys, hallucinogens are studied as a class, making it somewhat difficult to tease out data specific to the substance. The category of hallucinogens includes LSD, PCP, peyote, mescaline, psilocybin mushrooms, and MDMA 7.
The following 2014 statistics associated with hallucinogen use were reported 7:
- Approximately 1.2 million Americans aged 12 or older reported current use of hallucinogens.
- 322,000 more men than women reported past month hallucinogen use.
- More than 930,000 people aged 12 or older tried hallucinogens for the first time.
- About 136,000 Americans between the ages of 12 and 17 reported using hallucinogens.
- About 502,000 Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 were current hallucinogen users.
- An estimated 535,000 Americans aged 26 or older reported current hallucinogen use.
- Drug Enforcement Administration. (2015). Peyote and mescaline.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). DrugFacts: Hallucinogens.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). Why Do People Take Hallucinogenic or Dissociative Drugs?
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). How Do Hallucinogens (LSD, Psilocybin, Peyote, DMT, and Ayahuasca) Affect the Brain and Body?
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). Hallucinogens and dissociative drugs.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2015). Behavioral health trends in the United States: results from the 2014 national survey on drug use and health. HHS Publication No. SMA 15-4927, NSDUH Series H-50.