Medically reviewed by L. Anderson, PharmD Last updated on Sep 17, 2018.
Common or street names: peyote, buttons, cactus, mescaline, mesc, peyoto
What is mescaline?
Mescaline is a psychedelic hallucinogen obtained from the small, spineless cactus Peyote (Lophophora williamsi), the San Pedro cactus, Peruvian torch cactus, and other mescaline-containing cacti. It is also found in certain members of the Fabaceae (bean family) and can be produced synthetically.
People have used hallucinogens for hundreds of year, mostly for religious rituals or ceremonies. Mescaline leads to rich visual hallucinations. From the earliest recorded time, peyote has been used by natives in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States as a part of traditional religious rites. It has an effect that is similar to LSD or psilocybin (magic mushrooms), other hallucinogenic drugs.
The top of the cactus above ground, or the crown, consists of disc-shaped buttons that are cut from the roots and dried. These buttons are generally chewed or soaked in water to produce an intoxicating tea. It can be consumed raw or dried but is extremely bitter. The hallucinogen may also be ground into powder for oral capsules, or smoked with marijuana and tobacco. The hallucinogenic dose is about 0.3 to 0.5 grams (equivalent to about 5 grams of dried peyote) and lasts about 12 hours. However, different doses can affect people in various ways, and doses extracted from plants can vary widely.
Mescaline is used primarily as a recreational drug and is also used to supplement various types of meditation and psychedelic therapy. It is classified as a schedule I drug in the U.S., making it illegal in all forms (including peyote); however, it remains legal in certain religious ceremonies registered by the Native American Church1,2, 3 Schedule I drugs have a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.
Use and effects
"Trips" for the users may be pleasurable and enlightening or anxiety-producing and unpleasant (known as a "bad trip"). There is no way to know how a user's experience may ultimately play out. Common effects after use may include:
- visual hallucinations and radically altered states of consciousness (psychedelic experience)
- open and closed eye visualizations
- dream-like state
- slowed passage of time
- a mixing of senses (synesthesia, such as "seeing a sound" or "hearing colors")
- pupil dilation
Side effects or risks
Side effects or risks of mescaline use may include:
- anxiety, fear
- racing heart beat (tachycardia)
- excessive sweating
- nausea, vomiting
- accidental injury
- psychosis, panic or paranoia
- amnesia (loss of memory)
- posthallucinogen perceptual disorder (flashbacks)
- rarely, suicidal thoughts or actions
Like most psychedelic hallucinogens, mescaline is not physically addictive; however, it can cause tolerance meaning higher doses are need to achieve the same hallucinogenic effect. Mescaline-containing cacti can induce severe vomiting and nausea, which is an important part to traditional Native-American or Shaman ceremonies and is considered a cleansing ritual and a spiritual aid.
If you take prescription medications, there are no well-controlled studies to determine the overall effect of drug interactions. Medications that have an effect in the brain and may affect serotonin levels (for example: antidepressants, antipsychotic agents, medications for bipolar disorder) may have the potential for dangerous drug interactions when combined with mescaline. Drugs that affect the circulatory system, heart, or have stimulant affects may lead to rapid pulse and dangerous outcomes. Other drug interactions are also possible, although scientific data are limited.
Use in Pregnancy
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), researchers have found that mescaline found in peyote may affect the fetus of a pregnant woman using the drug.5
There are no FDA-approved medications to treat abuse of mescaline or other hallucinogenic drugs. Research needs to be completed to evaluate the effects of behavioral therapies for these substances.4
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- Peyote And Mescaline. U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Accessed Sept. 17, 2018 at https://www.dea.gov/factsheets/peyote-and-mescaline
- Harvard Drug and Alcohol Peer Advisors (DAPA). Peyote/Mescaline. Accessed Sept. 17, 2018 at https://harvarddapa.org/peyotemescaline
- Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs. National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA). Accessed Sept. 17, 2018 at https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/hallucinogens-dissociative-drugs/what-are-dissociative-drugs
- Commonly Abused Drugs Charts. National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA). Accessed Sept. 17, 2018 at https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/commonly-abused-drugs-charts#mescaline-peyote-
- Gilmore HT. Peyote use during pregnancy. S D J Med. 2001 Jan;54(1):27-9. Accessed Sept. 17, 2018 at https://misuse.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/error/abuse.shtml
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