The psychoactive drug peyote is a variety of cactus that grows in the southwestern region of the United States and in Mexico. The top of this cactus features small discs, often called “buttons,” which contain a psychoactive chemical called mescaline. Mescaline is classified as a hallucinogen—the same class of drugs that includes LSD, DMT, and psilocybin. Like other psychedelic substances in this class, consumption of peyote will produce a number of characteristic psychoactive effects.
Peyote has a long history of ceremonial use by those who believed the cactus imparted magical powers or abilities granted by their gods.
Today, it is a drug of abuse that people will consume by 1:
- Chewing the buttons.
- Drinking a tea made from soaking it in water.
- Smoking the ground buttons with marijuana or tobacco.
Others will abuse synthetically–produced mescaline in powder, tablet, capsule, or liquid form 1:
In the U.S., peyote and mescaline are schedule I drugs—illegal to possess or consume in all situations, with the exception being occasional use of peyote by Native Americans for religious and cultural purposes 1. The drug can produce florid hallucinogenic effects when used. The accompanying disturbances in perception and mild depersonalization could potentially land the intoxicated individual into hazardous situations.
How Do I Know if I Need Help?
While peyote may not be addictive in the same manner that drugs like opioids are, abusing it can lead to a similar set of problems that addiction to any other drug causes and the signs that you need help are essentially the same.
You may have a problem with peyote if you 1,2,3:
- Have been investing more time and money to get and use peyote.
- Spend a big portion of your time getting, using, and recovering from peyote.
- Notice increased conflicts with friends or find yourself isolating yourself more often.
- Feel decreased satisfaction with life when you are not using.
- Have tried to end use without success.
- Use peyote in lieu of other responsibilities or hobbies that you used to enjoy.
You may also find you need help if you are noticing the side effects of peyote causing distress to your physical and mental health1,2:
- Hallucinations and distorted vision, like seeing music or hearing colors.
- Increased feelings of joy and pleasure.
- Higher blood pressure and body temperature.
- Lack of motor coordination.
- See more.
The use of classic hallucinogens like peyote has been associated with the development of a persistent psychosis as well as a phenomenon known as hallucinogen persisting perceptual disorder (HPPD). Both are rare to develop, but can cause long-term problems for the individual. Symptoms seen in cases of persistent psychosis and HPPD include 2:
- Spontaneous and recurring flashbacks.
- Recurrent hallucinations.
- Visual distortions such as halos or light-trails.
- Mood changes.
- Disorganized thinking.
- Signs that mimic neurologic deficits of stroke or brain tumors.
How to Approach a Peyote Addict
Worried your loved one is using but aren’t sure? Listen for these slang terms 1,2:
- Bad seed.
If you suspect that a person in your life is abusing peyote, you may be wondering what you can do to help the problem and get your loved one into recovery. Though you are not responsible for their use, you will need to do some work to handle the situation appropriately. Starting a confrontation spontaneously can damage your relationship and may even worsen the problem.
Consider an approach made up of 3 parts:
Education. When you want to make a change in the life of someone you care about, it helps immensely to get information. First, understand the prominent or visible symptoms your loved one may experience so you know when they are using and also what you’ll need to consider as you communicate. For example, when someone is high on peyote they may be distracted or have difficulty engaging in conversation; attempting to approach them during or shortly after use won’t be effective.
Differentiation. Substance abuse and mental illness can share many symptoms and effects, especially when the substance is peyote. The hallucinogenic effects may appear similar to a number of mental health symptoms related to diagnoses like 4:
- Brief psychotic disorder.
- Schizoaffective disorder.
Hallucinations can occur during major mood episodes associated with depression and bipolar disorder 4.
To better approach your loved one, it will be important to differentiate if the symptoms have peyote or mental illness as the source. If both are present, you may wish to guide your loved one into a program that treats dual diagnosis conditions (co-occurring addiction and mental health issues).
Communication. When approaching your loved one, it will be crucial to maintain a calm and steady disposition. Reacting with anger or other strong emotions can quickly cause the conversation to devolve into a fight and may cause your loved one to retreat further into substance use.
When communicating your concerns, try these tips 3,5:
- Have a plan for what you wish to communicate. Don’t wing it.
- Find a time when they are not intoxicated or highly emotional.
- Come from a stance of love, support, and teamwork instead of acting harsh or judgmental.
- Speak in encouraging terms while emphasizing their redeeming qualities.
- Ask questions to try to understand their perspective and struggles.
- Discuss your fears, potential consequences of their behavior, and your intention to stay consistent.
- Stress the need for professional substance abuse treatment.
Reacting with anger or other strong emotions can quickly cause the conversation to devolve into a fight and may cause your loved one to retreat further into substance use.
If you do not feel comfortable or capable of this type of communication, you may be a candidate for CRAFT. Community reinforcement and family training is a treatment protocol that involves people that are impacted by the substance use of someone close to them. Rather than focusing on the person using peyote, CRAFT focuses on the concerned significant other (CSO) and teaches them 6:
- Ways to identify current substance use.
- To acknowledge the role they play in their loved one’s use.
- Methods to reward sobriety and positive actions.
- To allow natural consequences to occur without intervening.
- How to improve quality and quantity of communication.
- To minimize distress and promote their self-care.
- To encourage and support treatment.
An intervention, whether familial or professional is another way to encourage treatment for someone that is abusing drugs. It is a planned, structured meeting that includes people who are central to the addict’s life telling the individual about the hardships associated with their use.
Rather than providing support and patience, an intervention uses peer pressure and the threat of negative consequences to spark a commitment to treatment.
It must be noted that interventions can lead to feelings of anger and potential aggression or violence due to the confrontational nature of the meeting and the potential for strong emotions from all involved.
For the best potential outcome, consider contacting a professional interventionist. This person is experienced in interventions and has skills to guide the meeting and direct people in more productive ways 3.
Although there are no specific treatments designed and utilized specifically for peyote addiction, people abusing it will benefit from a number of behavioral therapies including 7:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a treatment style used with a number of mental health, physical health, and substance use issues. This therapy works to build connections between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to understand how they contribute to substance use in order to better avoid relapse.
- Motivational interviewing (MI). MI has the goal of increasing the amount of intrinsic motivation the person has to end their substance use by emphasizing the differences between what the person says they want and what they actually do.
- Family therapy. By engaging the entire family unit, each person can make adjustments to aid the treatment and recovery of the person abusing peyote. Also, this can help family members recognize their contributions towards relapse and recovery.
- Contingency management (CM). A contrasting style to MI, CM provides many external rewards for engaging in activities associated with recovery like attending appointments, working, planning healthy community activities, and staying free from substances.
Since quitting peyote is not associated with any dangerous withdrawal symptoms, the above treatments can be performed on an outpatient basis without the need for any detoxification or medical interventions. This situation changes, though, if the person is concurrently abusing other drugs, is enduring a “bad trip” (marked by intense hallucinations), or is suffering from persistent psychosis. In this case, some form of residential or inpatient substance abuse help may be required 8.
How to Help Someone with Alcohol or Illicit Drug Addiction
Help for Prescription Drug Abuse
- Center for Substance Abuse Research. (2013). Peyote.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). Research Report Series: Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). What to Do If Your Adult Friend or Loved One Has a Problem with Drugs.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). Family Checkup: Positive Parenting Prevents Drug Abuse.
- Scruggs, S.M., Meyer, R, Kayo, R. (2014). Community Reinforcement and Family Training Support and Prevention.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Drug Facts: Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment.