|Peyote in the wild|
Echinocactus williamsii Lemaire ex Salm-Dyck
Lophophora williamsii (pron.: / /) is a small, spineless cactus with psychoactive alkaloids, particularly mescaline. It is known by many English common names including cactus pudding, devil's-root, diabolic-root, divine cactus, dry-whiskey, dumpling cactus, Indian-dope, mescal-buttons, turnip cactus, whiskey cactus, and white-mule. The Spanish common name is peyote (pron.: //; from the Nahuatl word peyōtl ['pejoːt͡ɬ]). Native North Americans are likely to have used peyote for at least 5,500 years.
It is native to southwestern Texas and Mexico. It is found primarily in the Chihuahuan desert and in the states of Coahuila, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas and San Luis Potosi among scrub, especially where there is limestone.
Known for its psychoactive properties when ingested, peyote is used worldwide as an entheogen and supplement to various transcendence practices, including meditation, psychonautics, and psychedelic psychotherapy. Peyote has a long history of ritualistic and medicinal use by indigenous Americans. It flowers from March through May, and sometimes as late as September. The flowers are pink, with thigmotactic anthers (like Opuntia).
The various species of the genus Lophophora grow low to the ground and they often form groups with numerous, crowded shoots. The blue-green, yellow-green or sometimes reddish green shoots are mostly flattened spheres with sunken shoot tips. They can reach heights of from 2 to 7 centimeters (0.79 to 2.8 in) and diameters of 4 to 12 centimeters (1.6 to 4.7 in). There are often significant, vertical ribs consisting of low and rounded or hump-like bumps. From the cusp areoles arises a tuft of soft, yellowish or whitish woolly hairs. Spines are absent. Flowers are pink or white to slightly yellowish, sometimes reddish. They open during the day, are from 1 to 2.4 centimeters long, and reach a diameter from 1 to 2.2 centimeters.
The cactus produces flowers sporadically; these are followed by small edible pink fruit. The club-shaped to elongated, fleshy fruits are bare and more or less rosy colored. At maturity, they are brownish-white and dry. The fruits do not burst open on their own and they are between 1.5 and 2 centimeters long. They contain black, pear-shaped seeds that are 1 to 1.5 mm long and 1 mm wide. The seeds require hot and humid conditions to germinate. Peyote contains a large spectrum of phenethylamine alkaloids. The principal one is mescaline. The mescaline content of Lophophora williamsii is about 0.4% fresh (undried) and 3-6% dried. Peyote is extremely slow growing. Cultivated specimens grow considerably faster, sometimes taking less than three years to go from seedling to mature flowering adult. More rapid growth can be achieved by grafting peyote onto mature San Pedro root stock.
The top of the cactus that grows above ground, also referred to as the crown, consists of disc-shaped buttons that are cut above the roots and sometimes dried. When done properly, the top of the root will form a callus and the root will not rot. When poor harvesting techniques are used, however, the entire plant dies. Currently in South Texas, peyote grows naturally but has been over-harvested, to the point that the state has listed it as an endangered species. The buttons are generally chewed, or boiled in water to produce a psychoactive tea. Peyote is extremely bitter and most people are nauseated before they feel the onset of the psychoactive effects.
Distribution and habitat 
L. williamsii is native to southern North America, mainly distributed in Mexico. In the United States it grows in southern Texas. In Mexico it grows in the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas in the north to San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas. It is primarily found at elevations of 100–1,500 m (330–4,900 ft) and exceptionally up to 1,900 m (6,200 ft) in the Chihuahuan desert, but is also present in the more mild climate of the state of Tamaulipas. Its habitat is primarily in desert scrub, particularly thorn scrub in Tamaulipas. It is common on or near limestone hills.
Common doses for pure mescaline range from roughly 200 to 400mg. This translates to a dose of roughly 10 to 20g of dried buttons of average potency; however, potency varies considerably between samples, making it difficult to measure doses accurately without first extracting the mescaline. The effects last about 10 to 12 hours. Peyote is reported to trigger states of "deep introspection and insight" that have been described as being of a metaphysical or spiritual nature. At times, these can be accompanied by rich visual or auditory effects (see synesthesia).
In addition to psychoactive use, some Native American tribes use the plant for its curative properties. They employ peyote to treat such varied ailments as toothache, pain in childbirth, fever, breast pain, skin diseases, rheumatism, diabetes, colds, and blindness. The US Dispensatory lists peyote under the name Anhalonium, and states it can be used in various preparations for neurasthenia, hysteria and asthma. Screening for antimicrobial activity of peyote extracts in various solvents showed positive microbial inhibition. The principal antibiotic agent, a water-soluble crystalline substance separated from an ethanol extract of the plant, was given the name peyocactin. It is now called hordenine.
In the same study, mice were used for preliminary animal toxicity tests and protection studies to determine the degree of the inhibitory action of peyocactin against normally fatal infections with the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. In every case, the mice that had been given a peyocactin extract survived, while those in the control group died within 60 hours after infection. Peyocactin proved effective against 18 strains of penicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, several other bacteria, and a fungus.
Long-term use 
A 2005 paper published in Biological Psychiatry found that "...compared to Navajos with minimal substance use, the peyote group showed no significant deficits on the Rand Mental Health Inventory (RMHI) or any neuropsychological measures...", and that they scored significantly better than non-users on the "general positive affect" and "psychological well-being" measures of the RMHI, a standard instrument used to diagnose psychological problems and determine overall mental health. By contrast, alcohol abusers did significantly worse than the control group (non-users) in all measures of the RMHI.
In 2005 researchers used radiocarbon dating and alkaloid analysis to study two specimens of peyote buttons found in archaeological digs from a site called Shumla Cave No. 5 on the Rio Grande in Texas. The results dated the specimens to between 3780 and 3660 B.C. Alkaloid extraction yielded approximately 2% of the alkaloids including mescaline in both samples. This indicates that native North Americans were likely to have used peyote since at least five and a half thousand years ago.
From earliest recorded time, peyote has been used by indigenous peoples, such as the Huichol of northern Mexico and by various Native American tribes, native to or relocated to the Southern Plains states of present-day Oklahoma and Texas. Its usage was also recorded among various Southwestern Athabaskan-language tribal groups. The Tonkawa, the Mescalero and Lipan Apache were the source or first practitioners of peyote religion in the regions north of present-day Mexico. They were also the principal group to introduce peyote to newly arrived migrants, such as the Comanche and Kiowa from the Northern Plains. The religious, ceremonial, and healing uses of peyote may date back over 2,000 years.
Under the auspices of what came to be known as the Native American Church, in the 19th century, American Indians in more widespread regions to the north began to use peyote in religious practices, as part of a revival of native spirituality. Its members refer to peyote as "the sacred medicine", and use it to combat spiritual, physical, and other social ills. Concerned about the drug's psychoactive effects, between the 1880s and 1930s, U.S. authorities attempted to ban Native American religious rituals involving peyote, including the Ghost Dance. Today the Native American Church is one among several religious organizations to use peyote as part of its religious practice.
Peyote and its associated religion are fairly recent arrivals among the Navajo in the Southwestern United States, and can be firmly dated to the early 20th century. Traditional Navajo belief or ceremonial practice did not mention the use of peyote before its introduction by the neighboring Utes. The Navajo Nation now has the most members of the Native American Church. According to some estimates, 20 percent or more of the Navajo population are practitioners.
Dr. John Raleigh Briggs (1851–1907) was the first to draw scientific attention of the Western scientific world to peyote. Arthur Heffter conducted self experiments on its effects in 1897. Similarly, pioneering Norwegian ethnographer Carl Sofus Lumholtz studied and wrote about the use of peyote among the Indians of Mexico. Lumholtz also reported that, lacking other intoxicants, Texas Rangers captured by Union forces during the American Civil War soaked peyote buttons in water and became "intoxicated with the liquid". Arguably, this is the first documented use of peyote by non-native Americans.
Cultural significance 
Huichol culture 
The Huichol religion consists of four principal deities, the trinity of Corn, Blue Deer and Peyote and the Eagle, all descended from their Sun God, "Tao Jreeku". Peyote's importance can sometimes supersede other deities as in ethnographer, Stacy B Schaefer’s, documentation of a conversation with a San Andres Shaman, "Peyote is everything, it is the crossing of the souls, it is everything there is. Without peyote nothing would exist". Schefuer has interpreted this to mean that peyote is the soul of their religious culture and a visionary sacrament that opens a pathway to the other deities.
Popular culture 
Many authors, especially those of the Beat Generation, wrote about their experiences with peyote, or were otherwise influenced by the plant.
- Ken Kesey, while working as a night watchman at a psychiatric ward, was peyote-inspired to write his novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. "'Peyote... inspired my chief narrator, because it was after choking down eight of the little cactus plants that I wrote the first three pages.' (As quoted in John Clark Pratt's "Introduction to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", The Viking Critical Library, ed. John Clark Pratt, expanded edition, 1996)."
- Michael McClure wrote "Peyote Poem" after experimenting with peyote and other psychedelic drugs.
- Allen Ginsberg's poem, "Howl", was partly inspired by his use of peyote on October 17, 1954 in his apartment at 755 Pine Street in San Francisco, when he had a vision of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel and the Medical Arts buildings being transformed into the ancient Phoenician god Moloch.
- In the 1970s, the early writings of Carlos Castaneda sparked a resurgence of interest in using peyote as a psychoactive drug.
United Nations 
- A State on whose territory there are plants growing wild which contain psychotropic substances from among those in Schedule I and which are traditionally used by certain small, clearly determined groups in magical or religious rites, may, at the time of signature, ratification or accession, make reservations concerning these plants, in respect of the provisions of article 7, except for the provisions relating to international trade.
However, this exemption would apply only if the peyote cactus were ever explicitly added to the Schedules of the Psychotropic Convention. Currently the Convention applies only to chemicals. Peyote and other psychedelic plants are neither listed nor regulated by the Convention.
Mescaline is listed as a Schedule III controlled substance under the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, but peyote is specifically exempt. Possession of peyote plants and seeds not intended for consumption is legal. Canada allows the consumption of peyote in a religious context.
United States 
Where there is exclusive federal jurisdiction or state law is not "racially" limited, peyote use by Native American Church members is legal and "racially" neutral in the United States. This exemption from federal criminalization is as old as creation of federal law creating peyote related offenses.
This law has been codified as a statute in the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, and made part of the common law in Peyote Way Church of God v. Thornburgh, (5th Cir. 1991); it is also in administrative law at the 21 C.F.R. 1307.31. The C.F.R. part dealing with "SPECIAL EXEMPT PERSONS" states:
Section 1307.31 Native American Church. The listing of peyote as a controlled substance in Schedule I does not apply to the nondrug use of peyote in bona fide religious ceremonies of the Native American Church, and members of the Native American Church so using peyote are exempt from registration. Any person who manufactures peyote for or distributes peyote to the Native American Church, however, is required to obtain registration annually and to comply with all other requirements of law.
U.S. v. Boyll, 774 F.Supp. 1333 (D.N.M. 1991) addresses this racial issue specifically and concludes:
For the reasons set out in this Memorandum Opinion and Order, the Court holds that, pursuant to 21 C.F.R. § 1307.31 (1990), the classification of peyote as a Schedule I controlled substance, see 21 U.S.C. § 812(c), Schedule I(c)(12), does not apply to the importation, possession or use of peyote for 'bona fide' ceremonial use by members of the Native American Church, regardless of race.
United States federal law (and many state laws) protects the harvest, possession, consumption and cultivation of peyote as part of "bonafide religious ceremonies" (the federal statute is the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, codified at 42 U.S.C. § 1996a, "Traditional Indian religious use of the peyote sacrament," exempting only use by Native American persons, while some state laws exempt any general "bonafide religious activity"). American jurisdictions enacted these specific statutory exemptions in reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990), which held that laws prohibiting the use of peyote that do not specifically exempt religious use nevertheless do not violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Peyote is listed by the United States DEA as a Schedule I controlled substance.
See also 
- Convention on Psychotropic Substances: Psychedelic plants and fungi
- Icaro (shamanic tool to prepare ayahuasca)
- Psychedelic experience
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- El-Seedi HR, De Smet PA, Beck O, Possnert G, Bruhn JG (October 2005). "Prehistoric peyote use: alkaloid analysis and radiocarbon dating of archaeological specimens of Lophophora from Texas". J Ethnopharmacol 101 (1–3): 238–42. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2005.04.022. PMID 15990261.
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- "Year by year progress report documenting the increased growth rates of grafted peyote". The Lophophora Blog. Retrieved 30 December 2008.
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- Zimmerman, Allan D.; Parfitt, Bruce D. (2006). "Lophophora williamsii". In Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America 4. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 242
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- Halpern, J.; Sherwood, A.; Hudson, J.; Yurgeluntodd, D.; Pope Jr, H. G. (2005). "Psychological and Cognitive Effects of Long-Term Peyote Use Among Native Americans". Biological Psychiatry 58 (8): 624–631. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2005.06.038. PMID 16271313. Lay summary – MedPage Today (November 04, 2005).
- Bruhn JG, Lindgren JE, Holmstedt B, Adovasio JM (March 1978). "Peyote Alkaloids: Identification in a Prehistoric Specimen of Lophophora from Coahuila, Mexico". Science 199 (4336): 1437–1438. doi:10.1126/science.199.4336.1437. PMID 17796678.
- Lumholtz, Carl, Unknown Mexico, New York: Scribners, 1902
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- Jan G. Bruhn and Bo Holmstedt, "Early peyote research: an interdisciplinary study", Economic Botany, Volume 28, Number 4, October 1973, accessed 15 Nov 2009
- Daniel Perrine, "Visions of the Night: Western Medicine Meets Peyote, 1887-1899", in The Heffter Review of Psychedelic Research, Vol. 2, 2001, p.42, accessed 15 Nov 2009
- Lumholtz, Carl, Unknown Mexico, New York: Scribners (1902)
- Lumholtz, Carl, Unknown Mexico, New York: Scribners (1902), p.358
- Stacy B. Schaefer, Peter T. Furst. People of the Peyote: Huichol Indian History, Religion, and Survival. UNM Press, 1997. Pg 52-53
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- "Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression." Edited by Bill Morgan and Nancy J. Peters
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Further reading 
- Calabrese, Joseph D. "The Therapeutic Use of Peyote in the Native American Church" Chapter 3 in Vol. 1 of Psychedelic Medicine: New Evidence for Hallucinogens as Treatments Michael J. Winkelman and Thomas B. Roberts (editors) (2007). Westport, CT: Praeger/Greenwood.
- Feeney, Kevin. "The Legal Basis for Religious Peyote Use." Chapter 13 in Vol 1 of Psychedelic Medicine: New Evidence for Hallucinogens as Treatments Michael J. Winkelman and Thomas B. Roberts (editors) (2007). Westport, CT: Praeger/Greenwood.
- Baggot, Matthew J. A Note on the Safety of Peyote when Used Religiously. Council on Spiritual Practices, 1996.
- Rätsch,Christian, "The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants, Enthnopharmacology and Its Applications" 1998/2005, Rochester, Vermont, Park Street Press, ISBN 978-0-89281-978-2