Peyote has been used by Native Americans since pre-Columbian times and was regarded as a panacea. 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.
See W. La Barre, The Peyote Cult (rev. ed. 1969).
Lophophora williamsii (lō-fof′ŏ-ră will-yăm′sē-ī), better known by its common name Peyote, (from the Nahuatl word peyotl), is a small, spineless cactus. It is native to southwestern Texas, through central Mexico. It is found primarily in the Chihuahuan desert and in the states of Tamaulipas and San Luis Potosi among scrub, especially where there is limestone.
It is well known for its psychoactive alkaloids particularly mescaline. It is currently used world wide as a recreational drug, an entheogen, and supplement to various transcendence practices including meditation, psychonautics, and psychedelic psychotherapy. Peyote has a long history of ritual religious and medicinal use by indigenous Americans. It flowers from March through May, and sometimes as late as September. The flowers are pink.
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 and the root won't rot. When poor harvesting techniques are used, however, 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. Peyote is extremely bitter and, most people are nauseated before the onset of the psychoactive effects.
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.
The flesh may also be applied topically to promote milk production (see galactogogue).
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.
Peyote and its associated religion are fairly recent arrivals among the Navajo in the Southwestern United States, and can be firmly dated to the early 20th century. There is no mention of peyote in traditional Navajo belief or ceremonial practice before its introduction by the neighboring Utes. The Navajo Nation now accounts for the largest number of members of the Native American Church and, according to some estimates, 20 percent or more of the Navajo population are practitioners.
The first person to draw the attention of the scientific world to peyote was Dr. John Raleigh Briggs (1851-1907).
A resurgence of interest in the use of peyote began in the 1970s with the early writings of Carlos Castaneda. In these works, which are widely regarded as wholly or mainly fictional, Don Juan Matus, said to be Castaneda's teacher in the use of peyote, uses the name "Mescalito" to refer to an entity that purportedly can be sensed by those using peyote to gain insight in how to live life well, but only if Mescalito accepts the user. In later works Castaneda asserted that the use of such psychotropic substances was not necessary to achieve heightened awareness, although, he reported, his teacher advised that its use was beneficial in helping to free some people's minds.
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?" In one of the last episodes of The Sopranos, "Kennedy and Heidi", Tony Soprano takes peyote in Las Vegas with his nephew's former girlfriend Sonya, wins at roulette, then falls laughing on the casino floor. The next morning Tony and Sonya are along the rim of a canyon. Tony sees the flicker of the sunrise, prompting an emotional reaction to a sudden insight. While looking at the sun and he yells out, "I get it. I get it!".
In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, a video game by Rockstar North, one of the characters (The Truth) mentions Peyote quite often in the game's cut scenes. There is also a classic-looking vehicle named Peyote in GTA IV.