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Is Peyote an Addictive Substance?

What is Peyote?

Peyote is a small cactus plant that contain a psychoactive hallucinogenic known as mescaline. Mescaline is a phenethylamine hallucinogen and the main psychedelic compound in the cactus. When synthesized in a laboratory, pure mescaline is a white, crystalline material that may be used in pill or capsule form (though the raw peyote plant materials may be consumed as well).

Peyote is not associated with physical dependence; however, people may become addicted to it and use it despite it causing physical or mental harm.1,4

Where is Peyote Found?

These particular cacti grow in the American Southwest, Peru, and Mexico.1

What are the Street Names for Peyote?

On the street, peyote goes by various names, such as:2

  • Buttons.
  • Cactus.
  • Mesc.
  • Peyoto.

Is Peyote Legal?

Generally, no. Peyote is a Schedule I controlled substance, making its use illegal in the United States. However, an exception is made for religious ceremonies conducted by Native American Church members.1

The History of Peyote

Peyote Cactus

Peyote is one of the oldest known psychedelic drugs.1 Here are some highlights of its history:

  • 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.1
  • As word of peyote spread to North America, certain Native American groups began to use it as a treatment for certain illnesses, a way to communicate with spirits, and as part of religious ceremonies. Peyote became so integrated in their culture that they formed the Native American Church in 1918 as a way to cement their right to use it.1
  • In 1990, the Supreme Court made the landmark decision that members of the Native American Church could use peyote legally in religious ceremonies.1
  • Today, peyote and mescaline classify as Schedule I substances in the United States under the Controlled Substances Act, which means the substances have a high potential for abuse and have no currently accepted medical use.

How Is Peyote Used?

When peyote is prepared, the “buttons” that grow from the cactus are cut at the root. The buttons are then dried and can be chewed or soaked in water to create a drinkable liquid.1 This peyote plant extract is extremely bitter, so some users will boil the buttons for several hours to create a tea.3

Some individuals who use the substance will grind down the dried buttons to make a powder that they can add to tobacco or marijuana and smoke.1

Peyote Side Effects

Peyote is a classic hallucinogen, and its effects will be somewhat similar to other drugs in the same class such as LSD or “magic mushrooms” (psilocybin).2,3

Peyote use results in visual or auditory hallucinations.3 The drug can produce a phenomenon known as synesthesia, where an individual may experience alterations in perception such as hearing colors or seeing sounds.1

Other short-term psychological effects include:1

  • Distorted perception of space and time.
  • Distortion in how the body feels (e.g., weightless).
  • More intense sensory experiences (seeing brighter colors, hearing more acutely, etc.).
  • Altered sense of reality.
  • Feelings of exhilaration.
  • Feelings of anxiety, fear, or even terror.
  • Impaired ability to focus.
  • Intense focus on thoughts or ideas that would normally seem trivial.

Peyote use can also sometimes result in a “bad trip,” a frightening period of intoxication wherein the user has scary hallucinations, anxiety, paranoia, confusion, panic, terror, and/or other troubling experiences. Some individuals will experience extreme fear or feel as if they are losing control.1,3 A bad trip can happen to anyone at any time.

Peyote can have physical side effects in addition to its profound psychological effects. These may include:1

  • Dilated pupils.
  • Severe nausea/vomiting.
  • Lowered appetite.
  • Dizziness.
  • Loss of coordination.
  • Muscle twitches.
  • Fever.
  • Sweating.
  • Chills.
  • Raised blood pressure.
  • Rapid heart rate.

The experiences someone will have on peyote will vary based on the user’s:1

  • Dose.
  • Personality, mood, and expectations.
  • Environment.
  • Previous experience with hallucinogenic or other psychoactive drugs.

Are There Long-Term Effects of Peyote Use?

Woman having flashback

The long-term physical and psychological side effects of peyote have not been extensively investigated; however, it is known that just one use can produce some negative long-term effects in some users.

Even when a person isn’t on the drug, the person may hallucinate, or have a “flashback.” The occurrence of flashbacks is known as hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD).3

Though extremely rare, hallucinogen use may also lead to persistent psychosis, characterized by:3

  • Disorganized thoughts.
  • Visual disturbances.
  • Mood changes.
  • Paranoia.

Persistent psychosis and HPPD can sometimes occur together, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.3

Can a Person Become Tolerant to or Dependent on Peyote?

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.3 With this particular substance, tolerance begins quickly with daily use. Per the Center for Substance Abuse Research, tolerance begins in as little as 3-6 days.1 With abstinence, however, tolerance diminishes quickly and is usually lost after just a few days of stopping the drug.3

Per the Center for Substance Abuse Research, there have been no reported cases of physiological dependence. NIDA notes a person will not likely experience a withdrawal syndrome when quitting peyote.3

Is Peyote Addictive?

While peyote does not appear to be associated with physical dependence, a person can certainly use peyote compulsively despite the negative consequences, which is the hallmark of addiction. The inability to stop using hallucinogens such as peyote is referred to clinically as an “other hallucinogen use disorder”. Signs and symptoms of such a substance use disorder include:4

  • Taking a hallucinogen like peyote more often or in higher amounts than intended.
  • Wanting to stop using but not succeeding.
  • Spending a lot of time getting hallucinogens, using them, or recovering from them.
  • Craving or strongly desiring hallucinogens.
  • Failing to fulfill obligations at home, school, or work because of hallucinogens.
  • Continuing to use hallucinogens despite relationship conflicts that are created or worsened by use.
  • Giving up important activities (social, professional, or recreational) to use hallucinogens.
  • Using hallucinogens when doing so could be hazardous, such as prior to operating machinery.
  • Continuing hallucinogen use despite knowing that it causes or worsens physical or mental health problems.
  • Needing to take more and more to get the desired effects (tolerance).

How Common Is Peyote Use?

While there is minimal data on the use of peyote specifically, there is data on hallucinogen use in general. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) conducted a National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2018. The survey revealed that nearly 5.6 million people used hallucinogens within the last year, which is an increase of nearly half a million from 2017.5

Results from the survey indicate that past month hallucinogen use has risen since 2002. In fact, in 2018 alone, 1.6 million people, which is equivalent to 0.6% of the population, reportedly used a hallucinogen in the past month.5 Past month hallucinogen use is more prevalent among males than females—904,000 males reported using hallucinogens within the prior month, while only 534,000 women reported such use.5

If you or someone you love is struggling with an inability to stop using peyote, other hallucinogens or any other drug, we are here for you. Greenhouse Treatment Center’s team of licensed, empathetic, qualified staff can help you attain recovery and learn the skills you’ll need to sustain it once you leave our doors.

More on Hallucinogens

References:

  1. Center for Substance Abuse Research. (2013). Peyote.
  2. United States Drug Enforcement Administration. (n.d.). Peyote And Mescaline.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs.
  4. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
  5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2019). Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables.
About The Contributor
Scot Thomas, M.D.
Senior Medical Editor, American Addiction Centers
Dr. Thomas received his medical degree from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. During his medical studies, Dr. Thomas saw firsthand the multitude of lives impacted by struggles with substance abuse and addiction, motivating... Read More