AskDefine | Define peyote

Dictionary Definition



1 a small spineless globe-shaped cactus; source of mescal buttons [syn: mescal, mezcal, Lophophora williamsii]
2 the hallucinatory alkaloid that is the active agent in mescal buttons [syn: mescaline]

User Contributed Dictionary



From Nahuatl peyotl.


  1. A small, spineless cactus (Lophophora williamsii) found from southwest United States to central Mexico that produces buttonlike tubercles that can be chewed as a narcotic. Also called mescal.
  2. A mescal button produced by the plant.
  3. The name-sake source of mescaline.



Extensive Definition

Lophophora williamsii (, lō-fof′ŏ-ră will-yăm′sē-ī), better known by its common name Peyote, but also sometimes called Mescal Button or the Divine Cactus, is a small, spineless cactus whose native region extends from the southwestern United States, specifically in the southwestern part of Texas, through central Mexico. They are found primarily in the Chihuahuan desert and in the states of Tamaulipas and San Luis Potosi amongst scrub, especially when limestone is present in the soil.
The cactus is well known for its psychoactive alkaloids and among these mescaline in particular. It is currently used world wide mainly as a recreational drug, an entheogen, and a supplement to various transcendence practices including in meditation, psychonautics, and psychedelic psychotherapy. Peyote has a history of ritual religious and medicinal use among certain indigenous American back thousands of years. The plant's pink flowers emerge from March through May, and in exceptional cases as late as September.


The cactus flowers occur sporadically, producing small pink fruit, which can be delectable and bitter-sweet-tasting when eaten. The seeds are small and black, requiring hot and humid conditions to germinate. Peyote contains a large spectrum of phenethylamine alkaloids, the principal of which is mescaline. The mescaline content of Lophophora williamsii is about 0.4% fresh (undried) and 3-6% dried. All Lophophora species are extremely slow growing, often taking three years to reach its root). Human cultivated specimens grow considerably faster, usually 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 to expedite the age at which the Peyote flowers.
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 callous as to not allow the Peyote root to rot. When poor harvesting techniques are used, however, the root is damaged and the entire plant dies. This is the current situation in South Texas where Peyote grows naturally, but has been over-harvested to the point of listing as endangered species. The buttons are generally chewed, or boiled in water to produce a psychoactive tea. The resulting infusion is extremely bitter to some people and, in most cases, the partaker experiences a high degree of nausea before the onset of the psychoactive effects.

Distribution and habitat

L. williamsii is native in southern North America where it is only found in the extreme southwest of the US in the state of Texas, as well as much of northern Mexico. It is primarily found at elevations of 100 to 1500 m and exceptionally up to 1900 metres in the Chihuahuan desert, but is also present in the more mild climate of the state of Tamaulipas. Altogether, peyote can be found in the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas in the north to San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas in the south. Its habitat is primarily in desert scrub, particularly thorn scrub in Tamaulipas, and it is most common on or near limestone hills.


The effective dose for mescaline is about 300 to 500 mg (equivalent to roughly 5 grams of dried peyote) and the effects last about 10 to 12 hours. When combined with appropriate set and setting, 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 properties, Native Americans used the plant for its curative properties as well. They employed peyote for treating such varied ailments as toothache, pain in childbirth, fever, breast pain, skin diseases, rheumatism, diabetes, colds, and blindness. The U.S. 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 principle antibiotic agent, a water-soluble crystalline substance separated from an ethanol extract of the plant, was given the name peyocactin. 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. It proved effective against 18 strains of penicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, several other bacteria, and a fungus. Specimens from a burial cave in west central Coahuila, Mexico have been similarly analysed and dated to 810 to 1070 AD. From earliest recorded time, peyote has been used by indigenous peoples, such as the Huichol of northern Mexico and by various Native American Tribal Groups, native to or relocated to the Southern Plains States of Oklahoma and Texas. Its usage has also been recorded among various Southwestern Athabaskan tribal groups, with the Mescalero and Kiowa (or "Plains Apache") having the dubious honor of being named or identified as the source or initial practitioners of the Peyote religion in the regions north of present-day Mexico. They are also the principal group that introduced peyote to newly arrived Northern Plains migrants, the Comanche and Kiowa.
Peyote and its associated religion, however, are fairly recent in terms of usage and practice among the Navajo in the Southwestern United States. Their acquisition of the peyote religion and use of peyote can be firmly dated to the early 20th Century. There is no mention of peyote in traditional Navajo belief or ceremonial practice prior to its introduction by the neighboring Utes. To date, however, The Navajo Nation holds the largest membership within the confines of the Native American Church. As a result of such a large percentage, some estimate as much as 20% or higher of the Navajo populace are practitioners, and there is a very real detrimental influx and change taking place with regard to the traditional ceremonial practices and beliefs of the Navajo in the 21st Century.
There is documented evidence of the religious, ceremonial, and healing uses of peyote dating back over 20,000 years. The tradition began to spread northward as part of a revival of native spirituality under the auspices of what came to be known as the Native American Church, whose members refer to peyote as "the sacred medicine", and use it to combat alcoholism and spiritual, physical, and other social ills. Between the 1880s and 1930s, U.S. authorities attempted to ban Native American religious rituals involving peyote, including the Ghost Dance. The Native American Church is one among several religious organizations that use peyote as part of their religious practice.
A resurgence of interest in the use of peyote was spawned in the 1970s by very detailed accounts of its use, properties, and effects in the early works of writer Carlos Castaneda. Don Juan Matus, the name of Castaneda's teacher in the use of peyote, used the name "Mescalito" to refer to an entity that purportedly can be sensed by those using peyote to gain insight in how to live one's life well, but only if Mescalito accepted the user. Later works of Castaneda asserted that the use of such psychotropic substances was not necessary to achieve heightened awareness, although his teacher advised that its use was beneficial in helping to free some people's minds.

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, for example, while working as a night watchman at a psychiatric ward, was inspired to write his novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. One night while he was on the job under the influence of peyote he thought up Chief Bromden, who would turn out to be the central character in the novel, described by Tom Wolfe as "a full-blown Indian -- Chief Broom -- the solution, the whole mothering key, to the novel". Another example is from William S. Burroughs' semi-autobiographical novel Queer. The protagonist and his unrequited lover are setting out to search the Amazon jungle for yage, another psychedelic drug, prompting the protagonist to recount his idiosyncratic struggles with the peyote experience. Also, an image of the plant, and by extension its possible usage, can be seen in the gonzo fist symbol attributed to Hunter S. Thompson.Hunter S Thompson also recounts experiences with mescaline, most notably in 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas'
The image of the peyote plant has made its way into other media as well. The Eagles song "Bitter Creek" contains the line, "Oh peyote/She tried to show me/You know there ain't no cause to weep/at Bitter Creek." In the movie, Zoolander, hippie model Hansel talks about his psychedelic experience with peyote, falling off a mountain, and later realizing he had never even been to such a place. In the movie "Young Guns" the band of outlaws led by Billy the Kid while hiding from a pursuing posse consumed a peyote drink prepared by their native companion. They then proceeded through a hostile Indian village under the influence. The Indians all looked at them a bit bemused and Billy asks "Why ain't they killing us?"


United States

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 42 USC §1996a, "Traditional Indian religious use of the peyote sacrament," exempting only Native American use, 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, , 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. Although many American jurisdictions specifically allow religious use of peyote, religious or therapeutic use not under the aegis of the Native American Church has often been targeted by local law enforcement agencies, and non-natives attempting to establish spiritual centers based on the consumption of peyote as a sacrament or as medicine, such as the Peyote Foundation in Arizona, have been prosecuted. The Peyote Way Church of God in Arizona is a spiritual center that welcomes all races to Peyotism.


Mescaline is listed as a Schedule III controlled substance under the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, but peyote is specifically exempt.


Article 32 of the Convention on Psychotropic Substances allows nations to exempt certain traditional uses of peyote from prohibition:
''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.


  • Shaman Golden Eagle Red Hawk, Choctaw Nation Mississippi River Clan

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.
peyote in Bulgarian: Пейот
peyote in Catalan: Peiot
peyote in Czech: Peyotl
peyote in Danish: Elefantfodkaktus
peyote in German: Peyote
peyote in Estonian: Uimakaktus
peyote in Spanish: Lophophora williamsii
peyote in French: Peyotl
peyote in Galician: Peyote
peyote in Italian: Lophophora williamsii
peyote in Hebrew: פיוטה
peyote in Lithuanian: Viljamso lofofora
peyote in Hungarian: Pejotl
peyote in Macedonian: Пејоти
peyote in Dutch: Lophophora williamsii
peyote in Japanese: ペヨーテ
peyote in Norwegian: Peyote
peyote in Polish: Pejotl
peyote in Portuguese: Peiote
peyote in Russian: Пейотль
peyote in Finnish: Myrkkykaktus
peyote in Swedish: Giftkaktus

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

DET, DMT, LSD, Mary Jane, STP, THC, acid, antidepressant, ataractic, diethyltryptamine, dimethyltryptamine, gage, ganja, grass, hallucinogen, hash, hashish, hay, hemp, joint, kava, marijuana, mescal, mescal bean, mescal button, mescaline, mind-altering drug, mind-blowing drug, mind-expanding drug, morning glory seeds, pot, psilocin, psilocybin, psychedelic, psychic energizer, psychoactive drug, psychochemical, psychotomimetic, reefer, roach, stick, tea, tranquilizer, weed
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