Peyote is a type of spineless cactus which can be found in the deserts of Mexico and the Southwestern United States. The cactus produces a number of alkaloids, most notably mescaline, which cause hallucinogenic effects in humans when ingested. In Mexico it grows in the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and Tamaulipas in the north to San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas. Lophophora williamsii is a small spineless cactus with a flattened, globose, blue-green stem divided by five to 13 ribs that are often tuberculate. The adult cactus measures 4-11 cm in diameter but only 2-6 cm tall. It features small areoles arranged along the ribs and bearing soft whitish hairs. The subterranean portion of the stem, which is as wide as the aerial portion, extends several cm below the surface of the ground and transitions smoothly into a large taproot, which may extend over 25 cm below ground level.
Peyote is one of the oldest psychedelic agents known. Aztecs of Pre-Columbian Mexico who considered the cactus magical and divine often used it. Peyote use then spread from Mexico to North America to other Native American groups who used it to treat illnesses, communicate with spirits, and for highly religious ceremonies. In 1918, The Native American Church was formed to preserve their right to use peyote.
Peyote was first described by western man in 1560 but it was not until the nineteenth century that any plants reached the Old World for scientific study. Apparently the French botanist Charles Lemaire was the first person to publish a botanical name for peyote, but unfortunately the name that Lemaire used for the plant, Echinocactus williamsii, appeared in the year 1845 without description and only in a horticultural catalog.
Ever since the arrival of the first Europeans in the New World, Peyote has provoked controversy, suppression, and persecution. Condemned by the Spanish conquerors for its “satanic trickery”, and attacked more recently by local governments and religious groups, the plant has nevertheless continued to play a major sacramental role among the Indians of Mexico, while its use has spread to the North American tribes in the last hundred years. The persistence and growth of the Peyote cult constitute a fascinating chapter in the history of the New World – and a challenge to the anthropologists and psychologists, botanists and pharmacologists who continue to study the plant and its constituents in connection with human affairs.
The active substance in peyote is mescaline, one of several naturally occurring hallucinogenic drugs . An alkaloid, mescaline tastes bitter, causes an initial feeling of nausea, then produces visions and changes in perception, time sense, and mood. There are no uncomfortable aftereffects, and the drug is not physiologically habit-forming. It is important in the Native American Church , which fused Christian doctrine with peyote-eating tribal ritual. The use of peyote is said to produce a mental state that allows celebrants to feel closer to their ancestors and their Creator.
In 1970, the state of Texas legalized peyote for use by Native Americans in religious ceremonies; a federal law confirming this protection was enacted in 1995. Aside from this use, peyote is a controlled substance, illegal in all 50 states. The U.S. government classifies peyote as a Schedule 1 drug. This means that it is illegal to possess, sell, or use peyote in the United States.