What is Peyote? Cactus Origins, Psychedelic Effects, and Risks

Peyote is a type of cactus that contains mescaline, a hallucinogenic substance and has been used by many Native American tribes as a spiritual medicine in their rituals. Non-Native American people also use peyote and non-synthetic mescaline as a recreational drug. Peyote is typically considered less physically addictive than substances such as alcohol or heroin. Although it does not tend to cause physical withdrawal symptoms, it can lead to psychological dependence.


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The Origins and History of Peyote

Native to northern Mexico and the southwestern United States, the peyote cactus has been used for thousands of years by Native American tribes for religious ceremonies and medicinal uses such as for the treatment of snakebites, fever, toothaches, and rheumatism. During the 19th century, under the support of the Native American Church, peyote use in religious practices became more widespread. Members of the Native American Church refer to peyote as “the sacred medicine” and is used to treat physical, social, and spiritual ills.

The use of the peyote plant has long extended to more northern tribes, far beyond where it is naturally sourced. Today, many Native American tribes continue to use peyote for ceremonial and medicinal practices. In recent history, there has also been a rise in the use of hallucinogenic drugs for recreational purposes, including peyote and synthetic mescaline.

Understanding the Psychedelic Effects of Peyote

Peyote contains mescaline, a hallucinogenic substance, which increases the amount of serotonin and dopamine bonded to receptors in the brain. These neurotransmitters are responsible for feelings of happiness and well-being, but in large quantities, can produce euphoria and psychedelic effects, such as hallucinations.

Users report feeling profound joy and often claim they can “see music” or “hear colors.” Peyote effects can also include an altered perception of space and time, experience visions, colors to appear brighter, and sounds more distinct. As with other hallucinogens, such as LSD, some people can have a negative experience with peyote, such as feeling extreme terror or dramatic emotional experiences.

Traditional Uses of Peyote in Indigenous Cultures

For thousands of years, Indigenous cultures in the U.S., Mexico and Canada have used peyote for ceremonial and medicinal purposes. Native American tribes believe that it may have curative properties for a wide range of issues, including toothaches, skin disease, childbirth, pain, fever, diabetes, colds, and even alcoholism and other drug addictions.


In the ceremonial context, peyote is believed to enable individuals to commune with the Great Spirit (God) and the spirits, including those of the departed, during which they can receive guidance, spiritual power, and healing. Led by a peyote “chief,” the peyote ceremony includes prayer, contemplation, water rites, singing, and sacramental eating of peyote.  

How Peyote is Consumed and Its Active Ingredients

The top buttons of the peyote plant, or the crown, are cut from the roots and dried. These buttons are what contain the psychedelic mescaline, which can cause audible or visual hallucinations. The fresh or dried peyote plant buttons are chewed or soaked in water to make tea. Peyote ceremonies typically consume it this way.

The peyote button can also be ground into a fine powder to be put in capsules or smoked with tobacco or cannabis. These methods are used to avoid the bitter taste. The active ingredient, mescaline, can also be drawn out from the plant and made into pills or liquid. It can also be synthetically created in a lab.

The Risks and Side Effects of Using Peyote

Many people feel that peyote is safe to use because it comes from a plant and is natural. However, there are many risks and side effects associated with using peyote. Some of the short-term effects of peyote physically on the body include:

  • Tension.
  • Numbness.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Fever.
  • Chills.
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Headaches.
  • Sweating.
  • Shivering.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Dilated pupils.

Some potential short-term psychological effects of peyote include:

  • Anxiety.
  • Altered thought processes.
  • Euphoria.
  • Distorted perception of space and time.
  • Altered sense of reality.
  • More intense sensory experiences, such as seeing brighter colors or hearing more acutely.

Hallucinogens such as peyote and mescaline can alter perception and behavior, which can lead individuals to act in ways that are unusual for them. They can be put in dangerous situations, leading to physical harm, which is when you should consider addiction rehab

Legal Status of Peyote in the United States

Between the 1880s and 1930s, US authorities attempted to ban the use of peyote for Native American rituals out of concern about the drug’s psychoactive effects. Today, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies peyote as a Schedule 1 substance and is illegal to cultivate, possess, or distribute outside of ritual context. Federal law permits only members of the Native American Church (NAV) and can prove 25% Native American ancestry can use peyote.

However, in Colorado, Minnesota, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, New Mexico, and Utah, the “bona fide religious use” of Peyote is exempted, regardless of Native American ancestry. Within these states, the cultivation of Peyote is protected by the First Amendment when religious intent is evident.  

Recognizing Peyote Abuse and Dependence

While peyote is not physically addictive, over long-term use, a person may become addicted to some of its psychological effects. A person will not experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms as with other addictive substances, such as alcohol or heroin. However, peyote can be abused, and those who use it repeatedly may experience psychological consequences. Individuals can develop a tolerance to peyote with regular use, meaning they need higher doses to achieve the same desired effect.

Psychological dependence is possible. A person can feel they need the drug to unwind, let go of stress, or feel they can only interact socially when using it. They may not become addicted to the substance itself but rather to the trips and experiences peyote creates.

Recognizing peyote abuse and dependence is not much different from that of other drugs. Some signs and symptoms of abuse include:

  • Needing larger amounts of peyote over time.
  • Spending large amounts of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the drug.
  • Inability to cut down use.
  • Craving peyote or the experience.
  • Continued use despite interpersonal, physical, mental, or professional problems.
  • Needing larger amounts of the drug to obtain desired effects.
  • Giving up other activities to use the drug.
  • Using peyote in dangerous situations, such as while driving.

Experiencing two or more signs of substance use disorder described above may indicate a problem with peyote. Seeking treatment through support groups or a recovery program can help individuals abstain from peyote abuse.

Treatment Options for Peyote Addiction at WhiteSands Treatment

If you or someone you love is experiencing peyote abuse or addiction, WhiteSands Treatment is here to help. Our treatment programs focus on individualized treatment approaches to address each person’s unique circumstances, which have led them to develop a substance use disorder. We offer an effective step-down treatment program that allows patients to go through several levels of care at their own pace for effective reintegration into their daily lives without the use of peyote or other drugs.

At WhiteSands Treatment, we focus on supporting patients by helping them create healthy habits while letting go of harmful, addictive behaviors. Relapse prevention plans aim to help patients take control of their recovery long-term while providing resources and support long after completing their program. Understanding the science behind addiction is a key component of our approach, as it helps patients and their families comprehend the complexities of the disease and the importance of ongoing support.

If you would like to learn more about our treatment options for peyote addiction at WhiteSands Treatment or are ready to begin the journey toward your new life, please do not hesitate to give us a call at (877) 855-3470.

If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.

About the Author

Jackie has been involved in the substance abuse and addiction treatment sector for over five years and this is something that she is truly eager about. She has a passion for writing and continuously works to create informative pieces that not only educate and inform the public about the disease of addiction but also provide solutions for those who struggle with drug and alcohol abuse.