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  • Medical Use Of Psychedelic Cacti: Mescal Cactus

Medical Use Of Psychedelic Cacti: Mescal Cactus

Table of Contents
Table of Contents

Many psychoactive plants are used to heal various mental health problems and ailments. Some plants used for such practices are psychedelic cacti, such as peyote cactus and San Pedro cactus. These hallucinogenic drugs have psychological and cognitive effects on one’s body and mind. They’re able to alter users’ state of consciousness, opening them to new emotional experiences, healing them, and improving their quality of life.

Peyote Cactus

Peyote is a small cactus, its natural habitat is the southwest parts of the United States, Northern Mexico, and most of South America. Potent compounds, such as mescaline can be found in this plant, the use of this compound has been reported to have hallucinogenic effects in humans.

Peyote has been used among Native Americans from the earliest recorded time, for its hallucinogenic effects which are used in various rituals for having an elevated spiritual experience.

Consuming peyote may have some health benefits, but research is still in its early stages, thus these claims can’t be proven, researchers say. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) restricted peyote and placed it on an illegal substances list. Being a Schedule I drug, peyote has a high potential for abuse, and in the United States, its medical use is not accepted in treatment.

The Origins Of Peyote Cactus

Lophophora williamsii, commonly known as peyote, got its name from the Nahuatl language. Mexico and the southern parts of the United States are the most common places to find this small, button-shaped cactus.

The cactus consists of a root and a crown. The crown is made up of disc-shaped buttons, which are cut from the roots and dried. Once dried, these buttons are most of the time chewed or soaked in water to produce a mescaline-infused tea.

The taste of raw or dried cacti is extremely bitter, therefore it’s most of the time ground into powder and placed in oral capsules these days. However, Native American tribes used to smoke this powder mixed with tobacco or marijuana in some cases.

It’s also important to note that there is also synthetic mescaline, which is available in the form of capsules or powder.

Typically about an hour after consuming peyote, the hallucinogenic experience takes place and lasts about 8 to 12 hours. However, people may be affected in various ways depending on the dosage, as doses extracted from the plant can vary widely.

Drug Enforcement Administration vs Native American Church

Being a Schedule I controlled substance, mescaline is illegal in the United States, but some organizations such as the Native American Church still manage to use the plant in religious ceremonies and are excluded from the scheduling.

Native American Church of North America recognizes a few cacti strains as sacred plants and implements the use of mescaline-containing cacti for religious ceremonies and spiritual practices.

DEA approved the use of peyote and other mescaline-containing cacti only in religious ceremonies conducted by Native Americans that are members of the church, listing them as special exempt persons, in any other case, mescal cacti are considered an illicit substance, and the prospects who are found with this substance will be arrested and prosecuted.

How Does it Work?

The psychedelic effects associated with peyote can be obtained by taking either the whole plant or its active alkaloid, mescaline.

5-HT2A receptors in the brain are affected by mescaline, which alters the way how the body uses serotonin.

These receptors are also triggered with the use of other classic hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD, and magic mushrooms. They are most likely responsible for the psychedelic “trip” users experience when ingesting these substances.

Psychedelic Effects

The peyote cactus is a classic hallucinogen meaning that it is in the same class as Psilocybin and LSD.

A person under the influence of peyote will most likely have a psychedelic “trip”. In peyote, mescaline, the psychoactive component, causes hallucinogenic effects.

Everyone’s “trip” will be different, though the majority of people who take mescaline will experience vivid hallucinations.

These hallucinations affect multiple senses. Many users report these experiences as a mixture of senses, some may “see sounds” and others may “feel colors”, the trip is a personal experience that is different for everyone.

Effects of consuming mescaline cacti also appear to enhance the senses. Colors may feel richer and the sounds may feel sharper. For some users the field of vision may shift, the objects may appear to change, and for some, the sense of time can become distorted.

With higher doses of mescaline, having visions is the common effect. They may feel very real to the person experiencing them, although they are not happening in the real world.

These visions may be overwhelmingly pleasant or terrifying. They may feel very chaotic, but in the user’s mind, they may seem highly significant.

Like other hallucinogenic drugs, mescaline can produce a “bad trip” for some people. This kind of experience most of the time involves negative feelings, emotions, and experiences.

The person may relive negative moments, or even be haunted by negative hallucinations. Severe anxiety may be present, and the user may feel trapped within his own thoughts and emotions.

It’s important to note that a “bad trip” is only temporary, and the effects will wear off as the body processes mescaline and remove it from one’s system.

What Are The Effects of Ingesting Mescal Cactus?

The intense psychedelic experiences, or as we refer to as a “trip”, may be satisfying and enlightening, or unpleasant. There is no way to determine how a user’s trip will play out at the end.

Some of the common effects of mescaline are:

  • visual hallucinations

  • altered state of consciousness

  • open and closed-eye visualizations

  • euphoria

  • altered perception of space and time

  • a mixing of senses

  • altered body image

  • entering a dream-like state

Possible Side Effects of Taking Mescaline

Peyote is taken for its hallucinogenic effect and trip, but some people may experience adverse physical reactions as well.

Some of the possible side effects are:

  • increased heart rate

  • increased blood pressure

  • a rise in body temperature

  • impaired motor coordination

  • dizziness

  • anxiety, fear

  • headache

  • nausea

  • dilated pupils

  • diarrhea

  • chills

  • panic, paranoia, or even psychosis

  • posthallucinogen perceptual disorder

Risks of Peyote Use

The National Institute on Drug Abuse warned the population that because hallucinogenic drugs alter the perception and behavior of individuals, these types of drugs may make some people act in strange ways, unusual for them.

Some users report having flashbacks, weeks or even months after the initial trip. These flashbacks are described as recalling or feeling a trip vividly, while not under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs.

Overdosing on hallucinogens such as peyote is rare. Treatment involves easing any problematic symptom that may occur, such as fluid loss from vomiting or diarrhea, or a rise in body temperature and fever.

Using hallucinogens over a long period of time can lead to persistent psychosis, a series of mental ailments, and disturbances. However, this occurrence is very rare.

According to a study published in the journal Current Molecular Pharmacology, mescaline does not cause addiction or dependence. However, some people may be prone to abusing hallucinogens such as peyote, LSD, or psilocybin.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), peyote may affect the fetus of pregnant women researchers say.

Potential Health Benefits of Peyote Use

There are many cultures that believe that mescaline use has a vast number of health benefits for the body.

For example, peyote may be used to treat a number of ailments, such as wounds, snake bites, and even systemic problems such as skin conditions, general pain, and even diabetes.

Keeping in mind that peyote is a Schedule I drug in the United States, the lack of evidence on its potential healing properties is due to obtaining and studying this compound would be difficult.

San Pedro Cactus

What is San Pedro?

San Pedro (Echinopsis pachanoi/Trichocereus pachanoi), is one of several cacti strains that produce the alkaloid mescaline. San Pedro is a thin, columnar cactus that originated from the Andes mountains in South America.

It is looked upon as an ornamental landscape plant worldwide, best known for its short-lived and massive blooms. The flowers only open at night, lasting only for a few days before beginning to decay. Their scent attracts night-time pollinators like bats, fertilizing them, after which they produce round, pinkish juicy fruits.

This beautiful cactus got its name after the invasion of the Spanish conquistadors and their armies, they named it San Pedro, a Spanish word for St. Peter.

San Pedro has been utilized in spiritual ceremonies of various indigenous cultures for hundreds and even thousands of years, among other hallucinogens. As a result of these ceremonies, the experience of this psychedelic medicine is known for being empathogenic and possibly life-changing, promoting radical introspection and healing.

How Does San Pedro Work?

San Pedro contains variable concentrations of mescaline, which is mostly gathered in the outermost layer of the cacti’s flesh. Mescaline, being a phenethylamine like 2-CB and MDMA, is put in a different class of psychedelics than tryptamines like DMT and Psilocybin, or ergolines like LSD. This means that the effects of mescaline are different than most other psychedelics. In addition to mescaline, hordenine, anhalonidine, anhalonine, trichocerine, and tyramine are present in the cactus. The effects of these compounds are negligible compared to mescaline, but they may account for some of San Pedro’s alleged medical benefits.

Receptor Binding

Mescaline basically binds to all serotonin receptors in the brain, but its affinity is strongest in the 1A and 2A/B/C receptors. Due to its structural similarity with LSD, mescaline is often used as a benchmark hallucinogen in psychedelic comparison.

Like many other drugs that cause psychedelic and hallucinogenic effects, mescaline effects are likely due to its activity on serotonin 2A receptors.

Mescaline also affects dopamine receptors, either as a dopamine receptor agonist or a selective reuptake inhibitor.

This information leads us to the conclusion that mescaline binds to both serotonin and dopamine receptors, as this is the way most psychedelic substances act.

San Pedro Ceremony

The best solution for taking the San Pedro experience to the next level is in the context of a ceremony with a specialized spiritual healer. These kinds of ceremonies are traditional cultural practices, and are growing in popularity in the West, in addition, there is an increasing number of South American retreats specializing in San Pedro ceremonies. Although they’re considered therapeutic, they’re nothing like your classic group therapy.

These ceremonies most of the time last all night long, and are repeated over a period of several days. In addition to San Pedro, healers may use other plants, including other mescaline-containing cacti and other psychedelics such as datura, Brugmansia, and Isotoma.

Before consuming San Pedro, participants of the ceremony are “purified” with a bath of “spiritual flowering”, they often snort tobacco as part of the purification. Afterward, each individual is diagnosed and treated by the healer, which can involve the invocation of spirits from both Christian and Andean cultures. A sword or a staff is passed over the patient’s body in form of a cross to determine the illness. In some cases, a guinea pig is passed over the body instead, then executed and dissected to determine the source of the illness.

Cures and healing effects are attributed to the plant itself. A healer or a shaman is just considered a facilitator, who will help stimulate the five senses of the patient, using music, perfume, sigils, and other ritual elements.

In some cases, shamans may recognize the medical causes of the disease and integrate pharmaceuticals. However, generally, they look beyond the strictly physical aspects of an illness, they are searching for its underlying spiritual basis.

Preparing for a San Pedro Experience

Depending on whether a San Pedro ceremony will be conducted or not, preparation may vary. Traditional rituals may require a higher level of preparation.

Conducting a traditional San Pedro ceremony will require a greater level of preparation, such as limiting meat, alcohol, and other rich foods in the days before the ceremony. Some people suggest that meditating, journaling, and other spiritually-oriented practices are good ways to prepare for the ceremony. In a traditional ceremony, the local healer also referred to as a Yachakkuna, will consume San Pedro as well.

Before the San Pedro ceremony begins, an altar called a mesa will be created. This altar should feature all the meaningful items collected by the healer over time. Stones, flowers, and other objects are placed in a specific way to help shape the energy of the experience and transfer its power to the Yachakkuna.

When planning on consuming any psychedelic compound, preparation should include intention setting and self-reflection, the same goes with San Pedro. It’s also advised to arrive filled with gratitude and reverence so that the plant can make the healing possible.

What to Expect From San Pedro

The use of synthetically isolated, pure mescaline will most likely impact the trip differently, in addition to San Pedro. Cacti are living organisms, and every single cactus grows a little bit differently. Having this in mind, the concentration of alkaloids, including mescaline can vary. Typically, the range is from 150mg to 1.2g of mescaline per 50g of dried cactus.

Fresh San Pedro cactus might be sliced into wedges, and dried cactus is ground into a fine powder, after which it’s boiled in water to make tea. Most of the time in traditional ceremonies, the participants will receive a smaller dose than the healer and may not even experience full-on psychedelic effects. It all depends on what the Yachakkuna determines is the cause of the disease, also additional plants may be prepared for the treatment as well.

Many people feel nauseated and vomit after drinking the bitter tea, which tastes unpleasant most of the time.

After consuming San Pedro, the effects are noticeable within 15-40 minutes after ingestion, for some people it could take up to three hours to experience its full hallucinogenic powers.

In the first few hours after taking San Pedro, it’s common to feel drowsy, dizzy, and tingly throughout the body, or even “electricity in the veins”, as they mention in Healing Arts Press.

Coming down from the trip takes another three hours approximately, which makes the whole experience usually last about 10 hours or so. The user could have trouble falling asleep after the effects wear off due to San Pedro leaving a lasting afterglow.

Many users feel an intense difference when ingesting San Pedro compared to other psychedelic drugs. San Pedro will mostly leave you with feelings of deep relaxation and control, which is not usually the case when taking a psychedelic drug.

The effects of San Pedro use, typically produce visual hallucinations, bright colored lights, peripheral vision flashes, kaleidoscopic patterns in vision, and even ghostlike outlines around people. Out-of-body experiences are also common when taking San Pedro, or mescaline in general, especially in higher doses. Mixing of senses can also be present, with feelings of mild depersonalization and distortions of spiritual awareness. Ordinary things around you could appear more beautiful and interesting. The mescaline experience is also described as having amazingly mystical qualities.

Therapeutic Use

The curative properties of San Pedro are mostly anecdotal, there are some people with bold claims about its healing powers. For example, a woman fighting cancer reported that during the ritual she learned why she had cancer and that she had a choice not to have it anymore. According to her healer, she realized that life is just too precious, once she saw it through the eyes of San Pedro, therefore she just decided not to have cancer anymore.

Although research into mescaline’s psychotherapeutic potential is limited, there is evidence that suggests its efficiency, such as recoveries from mood disorders. Mescaline’s potential as a therapeutic substance was conducted in peer-reviewed studies in the 1950s and 1960s, like with many other psychedelics at the time.

Early results suggested that mescaline found in peyote could be used to successfully treat addiction, anxiety disorders, and depression. Researching this compound came to an end shortly after the drug was made illegal.

More recent studies suggest that mescaline use may be responsible for an increase in blood flow, increased blood pressure, and activity in the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that is in charge of problem-solving, planning, and emotional and behavioral regulations. Low activities in this area of the brain are linked to anxiety and depression, which led scientists to believe that mescaline could help treat the symptoms of these disorders.

As mescaline use also activates serotonin receptors in the brain, mood improvement effects could be present. One of the first therapeutic uses for peyote was an antidepressant.

A fun fact, among members of the Native American Church, where peyote is commonly used, depression scores are reportedly low.

However, self-medication is not always the best thing to do, professional medical advice would determine if you should or shouldn’t incorporate mescaline use in your life.

Ingesting peyote, San Pedro, or any kind of psychedelic drug on your own without medical supervision is not advised.

Is Using San Pedro Ethical?

Nagoya Protocol was established by the United Nations in 2010, to ensure that San Pedro’s use remains ethical. For any current or future research involving this healing cactus, it will be essential to consider the implications of applying the Nagoya Protocol.

San Pedro could be exploited by patenting traditional healing modalities, such as communal ceremonies, or antimicrobial peptides found in the cactus. Biopiracy is also a risk due to San Pedro’s additional medicinal properties. An ethical future for San Pedro will have to keep indigenous sovereignty as its priority.

Risks of Consuming San Pedro

As an internationally regulated substance, research into mescaline’s potential side effects and risks is not precisely determined. A lethal dose hasn’t been identified so far, but it’s probably way too high to be taken accidentally.

Indirect deaths associated with mescaline use have included suicides and one fatal case of excessive vomiting. That’s why closely monitoring the dosage is important.

A study conducted in 2005, about the ceremonial use of peyote among Native Americans, found that there are no detrimental long-term effects.

In other contexts, its use may not be as safe—studies have found that prior mental health problems can lead to bad trips. It’s also important to note that mescaline appears to present a risk of flashbacks or HPPD (hallucinogen-persisting perception disorder).

People who struggle with drug abuse are also at risk of facing negative side effects, because of their addictive nature.

San Pedro Legal Status

Mescaline is considered a Schedule I drug, therefore it’s illegal in the United States. Out of all mescaline-containing cacti, only peyote is specifically scheduled as a controlled substance. However growing San Pedro and other mescaline-containing cacti besides peyote is perfectly legal, only if you don’t have the intent to sell, prepare or consume them as psychedelics.

In some cases, the law is clearer. For instance, The City of Oakland, CA voted to decriminalize all entheogenic plants containing tryptamines, indoleamines, and phenethylamines putting them on the list of controlled drugs. This law allowed adults aged 21 and over to use these plants medicinally or for any other reason without fear of criminal prosecution.

The situation is similar in Australia and New Zealand. Many European countries like UK and Germany have the same approach.

On the other hand, Switzerland specifically prohibits both San Pedro and Peruvian torch cacti.

In Canada, where peyote is specifically excluded from the mescaline ban, prosecutors may need to show strong evidence of intent.

In Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and other Andean countries San Pedro is legal, even as a psychedelic.

Is Mescaline Addictive?

Mescaline doesn’t appear to have addictive properties, although more research should be conducted to determine if addiction is possible.

Toxicity vise, evidence suggests that mescaline carries a lower risk than many other recreational drugs.

What Is The Half-Life of Mescaline in Your System?

The exact amount of time mescaline stays in your system depends on multiple factors, such as one’s metabolism, body mass, and overall health.

Various tests can detect mescaline during the following timeframes:

  • A saliva test can detect mescaline for up to 10 days

  • Mescaline can be detected in the urine for around 2-3 days

  • A blood test can detect mescaline for up to 24 hours.

  • Mescaline can be detected with a hair follicle test for up to 90 days.

Mescaline Withdrawal

Giving up mescaline doesn’t lead to any physical withdrawal symptoms, however, some people may experience psychological symptoms. As some people use substances such as mescaline for self-medication, in order to avoid life’s problems or to deal with stress, this may lead them to seek out other psychedelic drugs. Quitting mescaline use may require addressing underlying psychological issues first.

Conclusion – Peyote

Peyote and San Pedro are important plants for many Native American tribes that utilize their healing powers in many spiritual practices and rituals.

Some people may use these mescaline-containing cacti recreationally, however, it’s important to note that they can cause numerous side effects. Chances of overdosing are very unlikely, but it could cause psychological trauma, therefore these psychedelic plants should be treated with respect and caution.

Some users may claim that these plants have some health benefits, but research doesn’t yet back up these claims. With more research around mescaline conducted, more potential uses may come to light.

A Comprehensive List of Psychoactive Plants

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