Peyote is a small, spineless cactus plant that contains a hallucinogenic substance called mescaline. Peyote is illegal in the United States, except when it is used in the formal, religious rituals of certain Native American groups in the Southwest.
Although peyote does not appear to be physically addictive, continued use will cause you to develop a tolerance to the drug’s effects that will necessitate an increase in dosage.
Understanding Peyote Abuse
Peyote, also known as buttons, cactus, and mesc, is a hallucinogen that has been used in religious rites and ceremonies by Native American groups in Northern Mexico and South Texas since prehistoric times.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains that “The top of the peyote cactus, also referred to as the crown, consists of disc-shaped buttons that are cut from the roots and dried. These buttons are generally chewed or soaked in water to produce an intoxicating liquid.”
This extract is extremely bitter, so many users prefer to drink a tea made by boiling the cacti for several hours. It usually takes 2 to 3 hours before the effects can be felt after ingestion, but once intoxication begins, it lasts for about 12 hours.
According to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, peyote’s “effects can be different during each use due to varying potency, the amount ingested, and a person’s expectations, mood and surroundings… [users] sometimes experience enjoyable sensations, but also report terrifying thoughts and anxiety, fear of insanity, death and of losing control.”
The careful, ritualized approach to peyote seen in Native American religious ceremonies is designed to provide a safe experience on the drug—but even then, safe does not necessarily mean pleasant. The drug is meant to be spiritually and psychologically beneficial, not fun.
Signs and Symptoms of Peyote Abuse
When someone is under the influence of peyote, their mood and behavior are likely to appear odd and erratic. They could swing from anxiety, to extreme calm, to euphoria. They may also exhibit an inability to distinguish reality from fantasy as they respond to visual and auditory hallucinations that feel real to them.
According to the Drug Enforcement Agency’s publication on Drugs of Abuse, users also may experience the following physical symptoms:
- intense nausea
- dilation of the pupils
- increased heart rate
- increased blood pressure
- a rise in body temperature that causes heavy perspiration
- muscle weakness
- impaired motor coordination
Dangers of Peyote Abuse
One of the most frightening dangers of using peyote is the possibility of developing HPPD, or hallucinogen persisting perception disorder. Although sometimes referred to as “flashbacks,” this experience isn’t limited to isolated episodes, but can be a continual, debilitating experience of hallucinogenic effects in a trip that never ends.
While peyote has not been proven to be addictive, regular use will lead to a tolerance for the mood-altering effects of the drug, forcing you to increase your dosage. Usually tolerance is an effect that increases the risk of dying from overdose, but peyote does not seem to have a fatal dosage level. Peyote-related deaths are caused by accidents and by violent behavior induced by paranoia, panic attacks and delusions, not by overdose, although the higher your dose of peyote, the more likely you are to suffer a “bad trip.”
Studies on Native Americans who use peyote for religious purposes have found no physical or cognitive impairment from long-term usage. However, the findings may not be applicable to recreational peyote users, who do not take the drug in the same controlled, ceremonial fashion.
Who Abuses Peyote?
Writers Hunter S. Thompson and Jim Carroll wrote about experimenting with peyote in a way that increased the drug’s appeal to individuals who wish to connect with that image of psychedelic, counterculture adventure. Another famous writer, John-Paul Sartre, wrote and spoke about a less enjoyable experience on the drug. He saw lots of little crabs during a mescaline trip, and after it was over, the crabs remained all around him, going everywhere with him for years.
You may take peyote hoping for a mind-expanding experience that will open your consciousness and teach you something new about yourself. Perhaps you have been inspired by the traditional, Native American religious approach to the hallucinogen.
Or maybe you think a peyote trip would be a fun way to spend 12 hours. And perhaps it will be. Or perhaps not. Peyote, like most hallucinogenic drugs, is notoriously unpredictable. Experiences can range from the blissfully spiritual, to that of a nightmare come to life.
Even though peyote is not considered physically addictive, the psychotropic effects can provide an escape if you are suffering in your current life situation or emotional state. You may become dependent upon the radical shift away from reality that the drug produces.
Anytime you start using something as a “crutch” to get through life, it is a sign that there is some psychic injury that needs to be healed.
Am I Addicted to Peyote?
The 12-step program Narcotics Anonymous lists the following questions in their publication, Am I an Addict? Honestly consider each one to figure out if you might be addicted to peyote.
- Do you ever use alone?
- Have you ever substituted one drug for another, thinking that one particular drug was the problem?
- Have you ever manipulated or lied to a doctor to obtain prescription drugs?
- Have you ever stolen drugs or stolen to obtain drugs?
- Do you regularly use a drug when you wake up or when you go to bed?
- Have you ever taken one drug to overcome the effects of another?
- Do you avoid people or places that do not approve of you using drugs?
- Have you ever used a drug without knowing what it was or what it would do to you?
- Has your job or school performance ever suffered from the effects of your drug use?
- Have you ever been arrested as a result of using drugs?
- Have you ever lied about what or how much you use?
- Do you put the purchase of drugs ahead of your financial responsibilities?
- Have you ever tried to stop or control your using?
- Have you ever been in a jail, hospital, or drug rehabilitation center because of your using?
- Does using interfere with your sleeping or eating?
- Does the thought of running out of drugs terrify you?
- Do you feel it is impossible for you to live without drugs?
- Do you ever question your own sanity?
- Is your drug use making life at home unhappy?
- Have you ever thought you couldn’t fit in or have a good time without drugs?
- Have you ever felt defensive, guilty, or ashamed about your using?
- Do you think a lot about drugs?
- Have you had irrational or indefinable fears?
- Has using affected your sexual relationships?
- Have you ever taken drugs you didn’t prefer?
- Have you ever used drugs because of emotional pain or stress?
- Have you ever overdosed on any drugs?
- Do you continue to use despite negative consequences?
- Do you think you might have a drug problem?
Peyote Addiction Treatment
Addiction treatment programs come in all types, from rural to urban, and from nurturing to “tough love,” and offer a spectrum of care from residential to outpatient. No matter what your program’s style or dominant philosophy may be, there are certain treatment modalities that are incorporated into all treatment plans.
- Detox: Before you can truly engage with treatment, you need to abstain from your drug of choice and allow your body and brain to detoxify. Although there are no FDA approved medications that can be used to treat withdrawal from hallucinogens like peyote, this is not a particular problem, as the drug does not seem to produce any significant physical withdrawal symptoms.
- Counseling: Individual, group and family talk therapy will be central to your recovery process.
- Support groups: 12-Step groups and other support meetings are a great resource that you will be able to turn to again and again after leaving treatment.
- Relapse prevention: Your program will likely counsel you about how to avoid relapse, and how to quickly get back on track if you do suffer a temporary setback.