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In the 1960s and 1970s, acid, LSD, and magical mushrooms were popular, and so was a natural hallucinogen known as peyote. Today, peyote is starting to make a comeback. In fact, according to Medical Daily, peyote and other hallucinogenic drugs are as popular with the younger generation as they were back in the time of the baby boomers.
Peyote is a cactus that doesn’t have spines; instead, it has small buttons that contain a psychoactive hallucinogenic known as mescaline. Mescaline is a white, crystalline amphetamine, and it’s the main psychedelic compound in the cactus. These particular cacti grow in the southwestern region of the United States, Peru, and Mexico.
Because there aren’t many areas where the cactus grows, it does limit how much of the drug gets into the hands of Americans. Oftentimes, dealers sell LSD or PCP as mescaline. On the street, peyote goes by various names, such as:
The mescaline in the plant may be referred to on the street as:
Peyote is actually one of the oldest psychedelic agents. Its use dates back to the Aztecs in pre-Columbian Mexico, which is where it was revered as holy and magical. Soon, the use of the cactus spread from Mexico to the United States. Other Native American groups were informed about the medicinal purpose of peyote to treat certain illnesses, including alcohol addiction. Additionally, Native Americans used it during religious ceremonies. In 1918, the Native American Church arose in order to preserve the right to use peyote. In 1990, the Supreme Court made the decision that peyote was no longer legal for the Native American Church, except in rare cases.
Today, peyote and mescaline classify as Schedule I substances in the United States under the Controlled Substances Act. This means the substances have a high potential for abuse and aren’t currently accepted for medical purposes. This could change in the future as psychedelics are being examined for their medicinal purpose on psychiatric patients, as reported by The New York Times. The National Institutes of Health noted the use of peyote in treatment for those addicted to alcohol and other substances.
The buttons from the cactus are cut at the root. They are then dried and can be chewed. A person may soak them in water to create a liquid consisting of the active ingredient in the cactus. Some individuals who use the substance boil the cactus buttons for several hours to extract the psychoactive substance within the plant in order to make a peyote tea. It’s also possible for a person to grind the buttons into a powder to be smoked with another substance like tobacco or cannabis.
Mescaline falls into the category of a phenethylamine. Because of its classification, it’s not related to other psychedelics like psilocybin and LSD. It is, however, in the same classification as synthetic psychedelics like ecstasy, also known as MDMA.
Peyote acts on the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. Mescaline is actually similar to these neurotransmitters in structure; thus, it interferes with these chemical reactions in the brain. Psychology Today defines dopamine as a neurotransmitter that controls the reward and pleasure centers of the brain. It has an impact on both emotion and movement.
Norepinephrine is a stress hormone. It plays a role in the fight-or-flight response that occurs in the body. It also plays a role in response and a person’s attention span because of the area of the brain it affects.
People who use peyote see vivid mental images, or their vision may become distorted, resulting in what are known as hallucinations. The drug alters perception, as the user may “hear” colors or “see” music. It changes a person’s perception of space and time, and senses become heightened. For instance, colors oftentimes become brighter while images become visually sharper. As a result, the person may feel that they hear or taste things better.
The mescaline in peyote causes emotional, cognitive, and perceptual effects. Hallucinations and other effects of the drug vary greatly as a result of the following:
The user may no longer be able to distinguish the past from the present, leading to a loss of reality. It can cause a person to feel weighed down or weightless. Joy and exhilaration are also possible. The drug makes it difficult for the person to focus, concentrate, think, or pay attention. When someone uses the drug, they often become preoccupied with trivial experiences, objects, and thoughts.
Not everyone has pleasant mental effects from the drug, however. Someone who uses it may feel terror, extreme anxiety, or panic. This is often referred to as a “bad trip.” This adverse reaction causes depression, agitation, or paranoia. Hallucinations may be frightening, and it’s possible for the person to become confused and disoriented. Some individuals will experience extreme fear of death, episodes of insanity, or feel as if they are losing control, as noted by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.
According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR), some people experience physical effects when using the drug. It can cause numbness and weakness throughout the body, and muscles may begin twitching. In some cases, dizziness occurs. Pupils will dilate, and blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature rise as the brain is affected by changes to the neurotransmitters. The rise in body temperature leads to profuse sweating, as a natural effort from the body to cool itself down. The person may get chills or begin to shiver. Intense nausea and vomiting along with a suppressed appetite often occur from peyote use.
The residual effects of hallucinogens are not well understood. Studies from accredited institutions show mixed results on the safety of long-term hallucinogen use. Those who have used the drug just one time may even experience negative long-term effects in some instances, per the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Even when a person isn’t on the drug, the person may hallucinate or have what’s known as a “flashback.” People who experience repeated flashbacks may suffer from hallucinogen persisting perception disorder, also known by the acronym HPPD.
The Center for Substance Abuse Research reports that few long-term side effects are known to arise as a result of taking peyote; however, cases of individuals developing paranoid schizophrenia have been reported from using peyote for long periods of time. It does appear that those who already have a mental health diagnosis are at an increased risk to develop additional mental health problems from long-term exposure to the drug.
A study published by the National Institutes of Health’s U.S. National Library of Medicine revealed long-term effects were not found from repeated use of the drug. The study consisted of three groups of Navajo Native Americans between the ages of 18 and 45. Of these individuals, 61 were members of the Native American Church, which regularly used peyote. Thirty-six of the individuals had a prior instance of alcohol dependency but were sober for at least two months prior to the study. Seventy-nine people reported using alcohol, peyote, or other drugs infrequently. A screening interview, a mental health inventory, and 10 standard neuropsychological tests regarding memory and attention functions were given during the course of the study. The Navajos with minimal substance use and the peyote group had similar results in cognitive function and memory. The ones who formerly had alcohol abuse problems had significant deficits on two of the neuropsychological tests and in every aspect of the mental health inventory. The results suggest long-term peyote abuse has no effect on psychological or cognitive measures.
A study conducted by Boston’s McLean Hospital, which is affiliated with Harvard University, regarding peyote use and cognitive function suggested peyote has benefits on mental performance. The study focused on individuals who used peyote during religious ceremonies. The report indicated there weren’t any adverse, long-term effects of peyote used for religious purposes. Moreover, its use appeared to increase certain areas of mental performance.
There is controversy over these findings, however. It’s largely agreed that the full extent of long-term peyote use is not known.
No data is currently available that represents how common peyote use is, although statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse show just how common hallucinogenic use is in the US. The US ranked number one out of 36 countries in terms of the percentage of high school students who used LSD or another hallucinogenic in their lifetime. The survey indicated that 6 percent of US students admitted to using a hallucinogen at least once in their lifetime while only 2 percent of European high school students admitted to hallucinogen drug use.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) conducted a National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2014. The results of the survey indicated first-time use of hallucinogens has remained about the same since 2002. The survey revealed 936,000 people ages 12 and older used a hallucinogen for the first time over the course of the prior year.
Results from the survey indicated hallucinogen use within the past month has remained steady since 2002 as well. In fact, in 2014 alone, 1.2 million people, which is equivalent to 0.4 percent of the population, reportedly used a hallucinogen in the past month. The usage rate of hallucinogens in the past month as documented by the survey revealed males used this type drug more often than females. In fact, 784,000 males admitted to using hallucinogens within the prior month while only 426,000 women admitted to such use.
As a person uses peyote on a regular basis, it’s possible for the individual to build up a tolerance to the drug, meaning more and more of the drug is needed at one time to feel the same initial effects. With this particular substance, tolerance begins quickly with daily use. Per the Center for Substance Research, tolerance begins in as little as 3-6 days. The tolerance doesn’t last long though. Within a few days of refraining from using the drug, the person’s original sensitivity generally returns.
Currently, no reported cases of peyote addiction have been recorded, per information provided by the Center for Substance Abuse Research. It doesn’t seem to have the properties to cause physical dependence, mainly because of its mechanism of action. Although no cases of psychological dependence have been documented, that doesn’t mean it’s not possible for a person to become addicted. A person can become psychologically addicted to almost any substance or behavior, so it’s possible for a person to become addicted to peyote.
In addition, those who abuse peyote may use it in conjunction with other substances, such as alcohol. In cases of polydrug abuse, professional treatment is always recommended in order to leave such substance abuse in the past.
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