Quick, name a drug that has its own -legally recognized- religion. If you said peyote, I can’t actually give you a prize, but congratulations: you were absolutely right. An overwhelming 420 hashtags make marijuana users look almost like a cult, but even their devotion doesn’t make marijuana use a religious act. Peyote on the other hand…
Fast legal fact: In the United States, though mescaline itself (active substance in peyote) is illegal and a schedule I hallucinogenic, you can legally ingest it in some states, as long as you prove you have sincere religious intent. In Canada, mescaline is a schedule III drug but peyote is legal. In other countries, it’s legal to buy and own mescaline-containing cacti as long as they’re only ornamental; so you can buy all the peyote you want but only if you plan on decorating your dining room table with it.
The variations in peyote’s legal status, say nothing about the plant itself or its history, so we’ve prepared a simple Q&A to shed some light on the ancestral cactus:
What is Peyote?
It is a small cactus with no thorns, that contains psychoactive alkaloids, especially mescaline. It looks like a small, flat, greenish button. Unseen, and deep into the ground, a root remains. Left untouched, it can sprout more buttons. Though, leaving it intact is almost an art form.
In a more spiritual sense, along with mother Ayahuasca, grandfather Peyote is a “spirit of medicine” and sometimes even a “spirit of wisdom”. Most Native American rituals and beliefs are sacred and therefore not widely available to the regular public. What we do know, is that they avoid labeling spirits as inherently good or bad; they “just are” and peyote is no different. So whatever your experience -good, bad, frightening, or awesome- it largely depends on you, not the cactus itself.
2. Where can I get Peyote?
Sadly, a more pertinent question would be “where does it still grow?” The keyword being “still”. Young peyote buttons are about 5-10 years old, the old ones are at least 20 years old. It takes a long time for one to grow and people are taking them out faster than they can grow them. It’s almost as if the cactus itself is telling you not to use it recreationally, but to save it for important meaningful quests.
One of the places where you can still find Peyote is Real de Catorce. A village in San Juan de Potosí, Mexico. Though it was quite a popular destination during the 19th century due to its silver mines, nowadays it’s pretty much a ghost town.
The one-thousand residents left in Real have witnessed the psychedelic travelers that arrive in town searching for peyote and they’ve begun taking advantage. Some offer peyote jam, peyote shots and there are peyote tourist guides. Some of these villagers actually take the precaution of not damaging the peyote root when taking it out, to ensure it can grow back in a few decades.
Peyote in San Juan de Potosí is supposed to be so powerful, that the Wixarika tribe often travels to Real just to get it. It’s actually the only peyote they use in their ceremony.
In Texas, Peyoteros have a license to harvest peyote -hence the name- so that they can sell to the Native American Church. Since NAC members often travel to Texas to buy from licensed dealers, there’s high demand and they overharvest. This has led to a dramatic decrease of wild peyote.
3. What kind of setting should I have for a Peyote trip?
Native Americans have been using peyote for centuries and they advise against doing it recreationally, regardless of setting. It’s supposed to be a guided journey that’s done to heal an issue, not something you just do to experiment. Even in the more new age ceremonies, there’s still a “vision quest” involved, so the setting should be as mundane as possible.
Of course, people are going to do whatever they want regardless of tradition, so experienced recreational users say it’s best done on a desert. This might be related to legal restrictions rather than the experience itself.
Technically it’s not safe to take peyote anywhere else, unless you want to have an awkward conversation with a law enforcement officer and perhaps spend some time in jail. In Mexico, if you’re not a member of the Huichol tribe, you can’t legally gather or possess peyote cacti. In the United States, you must be a member of the Native American Church. Most experienced psychonauts bypass this restriction, consuming peyote in the desert where they find it.
4. What do people use Peyote for?
Legally, use for introspection, healing or spiritual purposes is pretty much limited to ceremonies done by the Native American Church and The Peyote Way of Life Church. Though consumption outside of these churches should not be all considered recreational. We’ll refer to it as “experimental.”
The first thing we have to remember when talking about traditional use, is the fact that peyote is a “healing spirit” in a world full of many “spirits.” When you take it, you’re entering that world, and without proper guidance you are fair game for evil spirits.
Say you’re tripping on peyote and see an owl -an omen of death according to many Native American tribes-. You can ignore it and focus on the pretty visuals and sounds, but you were already playing by Native American rules when you took peyote and whether you believe in these or not, now you’ll have a decidedly bad spirit hanging around.
This is when the shaman comes into play. He’s trained to protect the ceremony against evil spirits and channel the journey towards healing.
As with ayahuasca, the details of the ritual change from tribe to tribe, but there are still common elements:
- Almost all traditional ceremonies take place in a designated tipi.
- Attendees sit around a fire -Eye of God- and the space is protected by the sacred Tobacco spirit.
- People sit in a half moon -Protector and savior in Native American mythology.
- Though the ceremony lasts all night, you’re not supposed to move.
- Most attendees report that the ritual has a distinct matriarchal feeling to it, as they are told to feel as if “they’re going back to the Great Mother.”
The ceremonies are usually very focused. Attendees are looking to solve a very specific problem. Though these ceremonies usually last about 10 hours, and involve many peyote shots, the dose is not enough for a full blown hallucinatory experience.
Experienced users put it this way: Shrooms allow you to clearly see inside your mind, LSD showcases your connections -internal & external- and peyote puts your soul on display and makes you intensely aware of your place in the world and everything that’s in it.
Potential psychonauts should be aware of the potency and intensity of peyote. Even if you’ve experienced other psychedelic substances, peyote is something else entirely. What may be helpful for an LSD trip, could be highly unenjoyable on peyote. Your usual dose for a 4 hour trip on mushrooms, might mean a 3 day trip on peyote.
If you decide to experiment, go slow. Be careful and don’t make any assumptions.
5. What are the effects? How long does Peyote Last?
The effects should start about 45 minutes after you eat a button. As with LSD and mushrooms, the effects seem to come in waves. Just as they seem to be decreasing in intensity, they go up again.
The peak happens 2-4 hours after consumption and though most people report 8-10 hour trips, others have felt the effects for up to 24 hours. The most common symptoms are:
Feeling nauseous or vomiting
Traditional users and New Age users, take this as the body ridding itself of things it doesn’t need for the trip, or alternatively, as a cleansing stage.
Experimental users take this as proof that the peyote is real. Some guides actually tell you not to ingest anything too heavy prior to consumption.
You stop perceiving time
This is one of those aspects that’s hard to grasp if you’ve never had a psychedelic experience. Time stops feeling linear and it’s suddenly very clear that it is just a human made construct.
It’s as if the past, present and future, are not real, much less separate entities. They all seem to be happening at once. Though it sounds chaotic, it’s actually a very mellow feeling.
You’ll see open and close eyed visuals
This is exactly what it sounds like. These will be the common fractal visuals associated with psychedelic use and you’ll be able to see them whether your open your eyes or not.
Imagine you’re looking at a horse and it slowly transforms into a wallet. That’s the kind of visual users have reported. You start seeing something and it gradually becomes something else entirely. Usually, these hallucinations are more patterned than organic. So it’s more about people seeing a pretty simple polka dot pattern turn into intricate fractals.
You get the sense of being able to perceive the whole universe
Not only is everything connected -like with LSD- but you can also perceive it all. This is related to the feeling that you belong to something.
As if you turned up a contrast setting for your eyes. Every color is decidedly more vibrant than before.
You feel in touch with something bigger
Users report feeling as if they were tapping on the collective consciousness. Like there was some higher power they could see or feel.
This is the typical effect of psychedelic drugs. You can hear, touch, or see sound, or taste what you see. It’s when your senses get in touch with each other.
The world turns cubist
This one is unique to peyote and mescaline. Your surroundings become geometrical and flattened. 3D objects look more like Hanna-Barbera characters or cubist representations.
6. Can I take Peyote if I just did LSD/Mushrooms/MDMA?
This is a great time to talk about tolerance and cross tolerance. Peyote acts on the 5-HT2A receptor, belonging to the serotonin receptor family. If you’ve been reading my psychedelic articles, you’ll recognize that weird looking word, as the receptor usually tackled by LSD and psilocybin. So, in short: If you just did LSD or magic mushrooms, you will be significantly less sensitive to peyote. To experience any effect, it’s better to wait at least a few days.
7. Are there any long term side effects?
Following the misinformation trend surrounding other psychedelics, there aren’t lots of studies in long term peyote use either. In fact, most of what we now know about long term side effects of peyote use, is thanks to the work of Dr. John Halpern.
The Harvard assistant professor of Psychiatry, has been interested for several years in the medicinal use of psychedelics. He’s been especially interested in what psychedelics can do in long term addiction and alcoholism.
He was looking to re-explore previous studies that claimed subjects stopped abusing alcohol thanks to LSD, mushrooms, and even peyote. To do that, he also needed to know what the long term effects of each individual drug were. This is where old studies of long term psychedelic use were of absolutely no use. Most of them used subjects that took other hallucinogens and sometimes different types of drugs as well. But just as that door closed, a tipi opened.
It turned out members of the Native American Church, lived by some very strict guidelines: no alcohol was allowed, and of course the use of other psychedelic drugs besides peyote, was strictly forbidden.
It was the perfect opportunity to study a very clean set of subjects. He gathered a group of Navajos that consumed peyote regularly, another group that didn’t consume peyote or any other drugs, and a third one of recovering alcoholics. The result was that he didn’t find any significant differences between the peyote group and the clean group. Long term peyote use was not associated with any significant loss of cognitive ability and overtime peyote users reported feeling more emotionally satisfied.
8. Can I participate in a traditional Peyote Ceremony?
Peyote retreats are less common than ayahuasca retreats, but you can still find them. Your best bet is to stay in touch with members of the Huichol tribes, the Native American Church, or The Peyote Way of Life Church.
Luckily you don’t have to wander into the desert hoping someone will show up. There are lots of sites and organizations dedicated to spreading the word about shamanism and traditional practices.
If you’re set on getting into a Native American Church ceremony, you will be required to be honestly interested in the traditional use of peyote and Navajo traditions. If you are just interested in a peyote trip, they are likely to turn you away, and even if they don’t, you’ll end up disappointed since the traditional ceremony doesn’t include high doses of peyote.
If that’s your case, and you want a more “trippy” experience, look for modern retreats instead. They call their ceremonies “Spirit journeys”, “Spirit walks”, “Vision quests”, and “Spiritual retreats”. Usually, they are offered near the Chihuahuan desert or the Arizona desert. Be alert to any of those terms, and remember to thoroughly research all the retreats you find.
The Peyote Way of Life Church, offers Spirit Walks, and most psychonauts have reported immensely positive experiences with them. All they require is that you apply for membership and then send them an email or give them a call to set up the date. Just make sure you can spend three days there, as that is the standard duration of the retreat. You will also be asked to fast for at least 24 hours so that your body is cleansed and ready to receive the medicine. Then you will set up the place where you’ll be drinking the peyote tea you’ll be given and the ceremony will take place.
Though they prepare the experience for just one person at a time -there aren’t any sitters present either- they have made some exceptions for couples that want to do it together.
As with all the other psychedelics I’ve covered, most of the information is anecdotal, so feel free to share your own experience with me and let me know in the comments if you have any questions that I haven’t covered.