Is Peyote an Addictive Substance?


What is Peyote?

Peyote is a small cactus plant that contains a psychoactive hallucinogenic known as mescaline.1 Mescaline is the main psychedelic compound in the cactus.1 Mescaline can either directly consumed or extracted from the peyote plant or produced in a lab synthetically.1

Though peyote and many other hallucinogens are not associated with significant physical dependence, repeated use can quickly lead to tolerance, necessitating increasingly large doses to feel anything Though many hallucinogenic drugs have less pronounced rewarding effects than those associated with more commonly abused substances like alcohol or opioids, compulsive or problematic use of peyote may be part of what’s known as a hallucinogen use disorder.”2,3,4

Where is Peyote Found?

The peyote cactus grows in the American Southwest and Mexico.3

Common Peyote Streets Names

On the street, peyote goes by various names, such as:1

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

Is Mescaline 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.1,5

The History of Peyote

Peyote Cactus

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

  • Indigenous peoples in the Southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico have used peyote since the earliest recorded time as part of their religious ceremonies.1
  • The Native American Church (NAC) was formed in Oklahoma in 1918 to resemble the structure of Christian churches and avoid legal repercussions for using peyote as part of religious rites.6
  • The Controlled Substances Act, which was effective in 1971, listed peyote as a Schedule I substance in the U.S., meaning it is considered to have a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use.7
  • In 1981, the Drug Enforcement Administration issued an exemption for peyote use in the religious ceremonies of the Native American Church.5
  • The 1994 Amendment to the American Indian Religious Freedom Act provided further legal protection for Native Americans using peyote as part of NAC ceremonies.4

What Are Peyote Buttons?

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 an intoxicating, 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).1, 3

Peyote Effects On The Brain

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.8

Other potential short-term psychological effects include:1,9

  • Euphoria.
  • Anxiety.
  • Altered thought processes.
  • Distorted perception of space and time.
  • Distortion in how the body feels (e.g., weightlessness).
  • More intense sensory experiences (seeing brighter colors, hearing more acutely, etc.).
  • Altered sense of reality (e.g., sense of being able to communicate with deities and/or transcend the earth).

Physical Effects Of Peyote

Peyote can have physical side effects in addition to its profound psychological effects. These may include:1,4 ,9

  • Dilated pupils.
  • Fever.
  • Tingling skin.
  • Sweating.
  • Excessive salivation.
  • Raised blood pressure.
  • Rapid heart rate.
  • Dizziness.
  • Loss of coordination.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Severe nausea/vomiting.
  • Lowered appetite.
  • Abdominal cramping.
  • Diarrhea.

Peyote Trip Experience

When someone uses peyote, the effects usually begin within about 30 to 45 minutes and peak within 2-3 hours. The effects will usually resolve within 8 hours. 4  While some people may experience desirable effects, others may have what is commonly referred to as a “bad trip.”

A bad trip is a frightening period of intoxication wherein the user may have 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.3, 4  Bad trips appear to be more likely in those who have little to no prior experience with hallucinogens but can happen to anyone at any time.3

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?

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 a hallucinogen use disorder.  Signs and symptoms of such a substance use disorder include:2

  • 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 prevalence data that specifically relates to peyote use is somewhat lacking, 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 2017.10

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.10 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.10

If you or someone you love is experiencing problems related to compulsive peyote use, 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. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2020). Peyote & Mescaline.
  2. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders(5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs.
  4. Miller, S. C., Fiellin, D. A., Rosenthal, R. N., & Saitz, R. (2019). The ASAM Principles of Addiction Medicine, Sixth Edition. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer.
  5. United States Department of Justice. (1981). Peyote Exemption for Native American Church.
  6. Sink, M. (2004). Peyote, Indian Religion and the Issue of Exclusivity. New York Times.
  7. United States Drug Enforcement Administration. (n.d.). Title 21 United States Code (USC) Controlled Substances Act.
  8. Luke, D. P., & Terhune, D. B. (2013). The induction of synaesthesia with chemical agents: a systematic reviewFrontiers in psychology4, 753.
  9. Dinis-Oliveira, R. J., Pereira, C. L., & da Silva, D. D. (2019). Pharmacokinetic and Pharmacodynamic Aspects of Peyote and Mescaline: Clinical and Forensic RepercussionsCurrent molecular pharmacology12(3), 184–194.
  10. 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.
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


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