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What Is Peyote? From Cactus to Hallucinogen

what is peyote

If you've ever heard of the drug peyote, you might associate it with Native American rituals, spiritual experiences, or even the world of hallucinogenic substances. But what exactly is peyote, and how does it transform from a humble desert cactus into a powerful hallucinogen? Moreover, is peyote use legal — or even safe? To answer these questions and more, let's embark on a journey to unravel the mysteries and risks tied to this unique plant.

What Is Peyote?

While you may immediately associate peyote with drug use, its roots are literally in the natural world. Peyote is no synthetic drug — rather, it is a naturally occurring plant. Specifically, it is a small, spineless cactus scientifically known as Lophophora williamsii. This unassuming cactus is native to the deserts of southwestern North America, primarily found in regions like Mexico and parts of Texas.

Despite its unpretentious and even cute appearance, peyote has a rich history of use among indigenous peoples for its psychoactive properties. The active compounds in peyote that induce altered states of consciousness are called mescaline alkaloids. When ingested, mescaline can lead to hallucinations, changes in perception, and a profound sense of connection with the natural world.

Why Do People Take Peyote?

Peyote has been used for centuries by indigenous peoples in religious and spiritual ceremonies. The Huichol people of Mexico, for instance, use peyote to connect with their deities and gain insight into the spiritual realm.

In contemporary times, more than 40 Native tribes in the United States and Canada still use peyote in sacred rites. But some individuals also seek out peyote for recreational use, hoping to explore altered states of consciousness, gain insights into their lives, or simply experience the profound visions associated with mescaline.

Is Peyote Use Legal?

The legal status of peyote varies widely depending on where you are in the world. In some regions, it is considered a controlled substance due to its hallucinogenic properties, while in others, it holds cultural and religious significance, leading to unique legal exemptions. In the United States, for example, the Native American Church has been granted legal protection to use peyote in religious ceremonies, as has been done for centuries. However, the use of peyote outside of these specific contexts is generally illegal.

Risks of Peyote Use

While peyote is often revered for its spiritual and mystical qualities, it is not without risks. On top of any legal ramifications, the hallucinogenic effects of mescaline can be intense and unpredictable, leading to a range of experiences, from euphoria to anxiety and confusion.

Some potential risks of peyote use include:

  • Bad Trips: Like other hallucinogens, peyote can lead to bad trips — in other words, unpleasant drug experiences. These may be characterized by intense fear, paranoia, and emotional distress.
  • Flashbacks: Individuals who use peyote may experience hallucinogen-persisting perception disorder (HPPD), where they have flashbacks or re-experience hallucinogenic effects long after the drug has left their system. The exact causes of this phenomenon are not well understood and can be difficult to predict. Some theories behind HPPD suggest that it occurs when the brain fails to return to its normal state after hallucinogen use, leading to ongoing sensory disruptions.
  • Physical Effects: In addition to mental symptoms, peyote can also lead to physical effects like increased heart rate, nausea, vomiting, and dilated pupils.

How to Tell If Someone Is on Peyote

Identifying whether someone is under the influence of peyote can be challenging, as the effects can vary widely from person to person. Some signs to watch for include:

  • Dilated Pupils: Like many hallucinogens, peyote can cause pupils to become significantly dilated.
  • Altered Perception: People on peyote may exhibit unusual behavior due to altered perception. They may seem disconnected from reality or experience intense sensory changes.
  • Emotional Changes: Mood swings, emotional intensity, and heightened sensitivity are common during a peyote experience.
  • Confusion: Peyote can lead to confusion and disorientation, making it difficult for individuals to engage in coherent conversations or tasks.

Again, it’s important to note that many of these signs and symptoms could also indicate the use of other hallucinogens, such as LSD, magic mushrooms, DMT, or salvia. In high enough doses, even ketamine may produce similar effects. 

Does Peyote Show Up on a Drug Test?

Standard drug tests typically do not screen for mescaline, the active compound in peyote. However, specific tests designed to detect hallucinogens may be able to identify mescaline use if conducted shortly after ingestion. In most cases, peyote use is not a primary concern for standard drug screenings.

How Long Does Peyote Stay in Your System?

The duration of peyote's presence in your system can vary depending on factors like dosage, frequency of use, and individual metabolism. In the unlikely case that you are being tested specifically for hallucinogenic drug use, mescaline can generally be detected in urine for up to 3 days after use. However, it is important to note that drug detection times can vary from person to person.

Get the Answers You Need with Countrywide Testing

Peyote is a fascinating plant with deep cultural and spiritual roots. While it offers unique experiences, it also carries risks, and its legal status varies around the world. If you are concerned that a friend or loved one may be using peyote outside of a sanctioned religious or spiritual setting, it is important to understand the effects and ramifications of this traditional drug.

Whether you have questions about recreational drug use, medication safety, or drug testing, Countrywide Testing has the answers you need. As an online purveyor of easy, at-home drug tests, we are well-versed in the health and safety challenges surrounding controlled substances.

Countrywide offers various drug testing products for workplace testing, healthcare emergencies, law enforcement purposes, and individuals trying to stay clean after rehab. Our test kits are convenient and affordable and ship to you quickly. Plus, our lab is accredited by SAMHSA, so you can rest assured that your test results are handled according to the highest industry standards.

Want more information on how Countrywide can support drug safety for a healthier lifestyle? Just contact our team today.