Navajo Peyote Use: Its Apparent Safety

Robert Bergman, MD, in "Navajo Peyote Use: Its Apparent Safety," Amer. J. Psychit. 128(6):51-55/695-699, writes:

"Some rough estimates of the rate of negative reactions to peyote can be made. The Native American Church of Navajoland estimates its membership at 40,000. This estimate may be high and there may be inactive members, so we will use a population base of 30,000. Our informants report attending meetings with an average frequency of about twice a month. Since this may be exaggerated, we will assume an average attendance of only once every two months. This would result in a total of 180,000 ingestions of peyote per year by the population we serve. Assuming that all five of our cases represent true reactions to peyote and that we hear about only half of the cases occurring, the resulting (probably overestimated) rate would be approximately one bad reaction per 70,000 ingestions."

"This rate is much lower than others that have been reported for the use of hallucinogenic agents, and it calls for at least some attempted explanation. It is thought that the usually repressed emotions freed by hallucinogens sometimes are not integrated and cause panic or psychosis. I believe that the feelings made available at meetings are carefully channeled into ego-strengthening directions. Some of the crucial factors are a positive expectation held by the Peyotists, an emphasis on the real interpersonal world rather than the world within the individuals, emphasis on communion rather than withdrawal during the drug experience, emphasis on adherence to the standards of society rather than the freeing of impulses, and certain practices during the meetings."

As you can see from this estimate, the incidence of negative reactions among peyote users is very low when the substance is taken in controlled circumstances. We should note that there may be a sampling bias in the quoted estimate since people who experience repeated or severe problems after using psychedelics may drop out of the Church.

The 5 case reports which the article mentions involve: one man who, against rules, had been drinking and experienced a paranoid panic attack after taking peyote and who recovered in 24 hrs but quit attending the ceremonies; an acute schizophrenic episode which began at the time of the meeting and became worse over the next few days but improved after inpatient treatment and didn't prevent attendance at further meetings; a man who had attended ceremonies at the insistence of his wife and over the objections of his family and who reported feelings of anxiety and depersonalization which stopped after he quit attending meetings and worked out some of his feelings about the marriage; and two chronic schizophrenic patients who became anxious during meetings but who continued to attend them without untoward effects.

This is too small a sample of cases to say anything meaningful, but it is important to note that diagnosed schizophrenics are able to comfortably ingest peyote. This strongly suggests that mescaline and psychedelics do not cause psychotic episodes directly but at best trigger episodes through some stress-related mechanism. After all, if psychedelics directly inter- acted in a negative manner with whatever neurosystems go awry in psychosis and schizophrenia, then we would expect them to increase the symptoms of these disorders. This conclusion is in keeping with that of Rick Strassman's literature survey on the subject (which I have repeatedly quoted on the net and can e-mail copies of those postings to interested parties).


However, I must disagree with the claim that mescaline isn't as well studied as LSD. It is true that LSD has been studied more in the recent past, but this research has usually only used it as a pharmacological tool. Back when studies were being done on LSD's effects on health, parallel research was being done on mescaline. The fact that mescaline had a higher effective dose compared to LSD actually proved helpful since it made it easier to do studies on mescaline's disposition in vivo. The metabolic pathways of mescaline have been pretty exhaustatively characterized.

Furthermore, mescaline, unlike LSD, had a long tradition of use (1600 years among the Huichol Indians) which allowed long-term studies to be easily done. For example, Oscar Janiger and some others published a study on the effect of peyote on human chromosomes (Dorrance, Janiger, and Teplitz (1975), JAMA 234:299-302) among the Huichols and found no abnormalities. They estimated that the people they tested took peyote up to 35 times a year and had been doing so for essentially all of their lives. Another study, among the Yanomama Indians of Venezuela (Bloom et al (1970) Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 66:920-927), found no difference in chromosomal damage between males and females despite the fact that only males ingested peyote.

Admittedly, I can think of no studies which evaluate how carcinogenic mescaline is, for example. But on the other hand, have such studies been carried out with respect to LSD? I really do think that mescaline is as well characterized as LSD. Every time he writes something about mescaline, Sasha Shulgin likes to introduce it as one of the most thoroughly studied drugs WRT metabolism and biochemistry. We might worry about subtle effects on health, especially given the fact that the effective dose is a pretty significant one, but for now these worries are unfounded.

You are correct that the duration isn't particularly different. I was estimating from limited personal experience, but the various authorities don't seem to support that idea. It seemed to me that there initial phase 'cut into' the psychedelic phase, but, again, I don't have any real evidence to support that. I haven't noticed a significant difference in onset.



Newsgroups: alt.drugs
Subject: How to legally obtain mescaline
Message-ID: <> Date: Thu, 22 Apr 1993 17:02:16 GMT

"The scientific discovery of mescaline and related molecules in cacti other than peyote began in 1945 with the first report that the San Pedro cactus (Trichocerus pachanoi) was used in rituals by the Indians of Andean Ecuador. These shamanic practices were quite similar to rituals developed in Mexico for peyote. By 1950, it was established that mescaline constitutes about 1-2 percent of the San Pedro cactus when dried, about 0.12 percent of the fresh plant."

"The San Pedro cactus in the fresh form has about 0.01 percent mescaline, which is a fairly typical percentage for nine of the ten Trichoceri known to contain mescaline. Trichocerus peruvianus, however, is at least ten times as potent as the others. This branching, candelabra type of cactus, originally collected in Peru, has a mescaline content equal or superior to that in peyote."

-- Psychedelics Encyclopedia 3rd Edition by Peter Stafford

"Trichocereus spp of Ethnopharmacologic Interest: Each of these hardy Trichocereus species are excellent as grafting stock for smaller, slower, low-growing cacti. These are also the 'best' types in terms of their known properties for ethnopharmacological specimen collectors. Trichocereus are the fastest growing cacti, very easy from seed. Within 12-18 months quantities of vigorous stock can be raised to sizes which are the equivalent of beginning by vegetative cuttings, but in far less space and at considerable savings. Researchers should note that genetic variation between seedling individuals will give rise to interesting new characteristics (i.e. rate of growth, hardiness, bioactivity) unobtainable from cloned populations or cuttings.

T. pachanoi (very rapid, hardy, columnar) T. peruvianus (very fast, huge, columnar) T. peruvianus var trujilloensis (new variety!)

select one of above Trichocereus seeds ... 100 for $5"

"Trichocereus pachanoi 'San Pedro Cactus' San Pedro is a large columnar cactus of unusually rapid growth (12-18"/year) and is tolerant of a broad range of conditions. It is especially popular as a specimen because of its near lack of spines and its lovely, hypnotic, huge 10" night-blooming flowers which fill the air with their heavenly, quite unforgettable fragrance. Prefers rich, drained composted soil, abundant watering and full sun. Tolerant of frost. Does well indoors in pots. Easy to cultivate. We generally ship this hardy species year-round. Healthy, well-rooted 6"-10" specimens in vigorous growth.

$15 per plant"

-- ...of the jungle 1993 Catalog

Write: ...of the jungle
P.O. Box 1801
Sebastopol, CA 95473

Postage & Handling Rates:
For orders up to $15 add $3.50
orders $16-$50 add $5.00
orders $51-$99 add $8.00
orders over $100 add $10.00

Newsgroups: alt.drugs
From: (Rick Graul)
Subject: Re: Cacti..
Date: Thu, 27 Jan 1994 22:14:51 GMT

[quoted articles deleted -cak]

San Pedro is not illegal to possess in the U.S. It would be illegal to try to extract mescaline from San Pedro, or even just to attempt to eat the San Pedro for a mescaline effect. If you get caught with San Pedro in a baggie, etc, you're probably busted.

If one lived in a place where it was legal to eat and if one were so inclined to eat it, it would require about 6" worth of the green outer layer (don't eat the center woody pithe). Sometimes a tea is made from it. None of it tastes good.

It is a fast grower, growing up to 18" per year.

If you happen to live in the SF Bay Area, you can also buy San Pedro in Hayward from Dave Brown of Cactus King (510)-537-5096.

Or, you can mail order San Pedro from "of the jungle" in Sebastapol.

I'm sure all this is in a faq somewhere . . .

-- Rick Graul

From: (Deleted)
Newsgroups: alt.drugs
Subject: Re: T. Peruvians
Date: 7 Jul 1994 06:56:00 GMT
Message-ID: <2vg8u0$>

Regarding the relative concentrations of alkaloids in Trichocereus pachanoi and Trichocereus peruvianus:

1) Crosby, D.M. & McLaughlin, J.L. (1973). Cactus alkaloids. XIX.
Crystallization of Mescaline HCL and 3-Methoxytyramine HCL from
Trichocereus pachanoi. Lloydia, VOl 36, No. 4.

2) Pardanani, J.H., McLaughlin, J.L., Kondrat, R.W., & Cooks, R.G. (1977).
Cactus Alkaloids. XXXVI. Mescaline and Related Compounds from
Trichocereus peruvianus. Lloydia, Vol 40., No. 6, pp. 585-590.
In the former article, a concentration of 0.331% mescaline base was obtained from freeze-dried Trichocereus pachanoi. Note that the sulfate salt has a heavier weight and requires 300-500 mg for a full dose; the hydrochloride salt is less heavy and requires 225-375 mg for a full dose; the free base requires 205-343 mg for a full dose. Thus, a full dose of the cactus would be 57-96 grams, dry weight. In the latter article, a concentration of 0.82% mescaline base was obtained. Thus, Trichocereus peruvianus analyzed by these authors was somewhat less than three times as potent as the T. pachanoi. The effective dose of T. peruvianus would thus be 25-42 grams of the dried cactus. Hope that information is helpful.

Newsgroups: alt.drugs
Subject: Address for cactii (better than ...otj)
Date: 20 Jul 1993 00:20:03 GMT
Message-ID: <>

Hello all, thought I would share some info I received while cruising around in snail-mail. Although ...of the jungle offers the trichocereus seeds (priced at 100 seeds for $5) you may consider writing to :

New Mexico Cactus Research
P.O. Box 787
Belen, New Mexico 87002

I recently received their catalog and they have quite a difference in price (regretably I had just sent my order into ...otj). For 100 seeds the price is a whopping .90 while for 1000 seeds the price is $6. I haven't as of yet ordered anything from this company and do not know how good they are (although the catalog did not take too long to arrive). If anyone out there has any info on the service they provide I will enjoy hearing from you as I intend on ordering a few things from them. If I don't hear form anyone I will let you all know later what kind of experience I had with them.

From: (Yves Tanguy)
Newsgroups: alt.drugs
Subject: Mescaline Extraction (a culled guide)
Date: 21 May 1993 19:31:37 GMT
Message-ID: <1tjamp$>

The following is merely for informational purposes only. By no means is it meant as instruction for anyone to break the law.

The following was mailed to me and I'm just posting it.

Care should be taken with solvents and strong acids and bases. Out of concern for safety I would advise the use of methylenechloride as a safer alternative to chloroform or benzene as a non-polar solvent.

From Edward F. Anderson's Peyote: The Divine Cactus (without permission):

Several methods are available to isolate and identify mescaline within plant or animal tissue. Extraction is accomplished by methanol; this initial stage is then completed by filtration of the extract and its evaporation to dryness. The extract is then treated with chloroform and 0.05 N hydrochloric acid in a sep- aratory funnel; the aqueous portion is retained after several washings with chloroform. Ammonia or sodium carbonate is added to the aqueous solution in sufficient quantities to produce a slightly basic solution with a pH of about 8. This is followed by further extraction with chloroform and chloroform-ethanol (3:1). After adjusting the pH to about 10 a final chloroform-ethanol extraction is made. The chloroform extract which contains the alkaloids is then dried. The alkaloids can be separated into phenolic and non-phenolic groups by passing the extract (redissolved in chloroform) through Amberlite IRA-400 (OH-) ion-exchange resin. If thin layer chromatography is used for alkaloid separation and identification, several spray reagents are particularly useful. For example, Flourescamine (4-phenyl- spiro [furan-2 (3H), 1'-phthalan]-3,3-dione) readily distinguishes phenethylamines from tetrahydroisoquinolones. Mescaline may then be identified by comparison with known samples using infra-red spectrophotometry.

"Applied chemists" within the drug cult have devised ingenious methods of extracting pure mescaline from dried or fresh plant material. The basic process varies somewhat but a typical one is as follows: the plant material is first boiled to extract the alkaloids; this extract is then made basic by the addition of sodium hydroxide (lye). Next benzene (try methylenechloride) is added to further separate the alkaloids. The aqueous and benzene portions are allowed to separate following a gentle shaking. Dilute sulfuric acid (hydrochloric works as well) is next added in small quantitites to the benzene portion and the solution is again shaken. The mixture is allowed to stand, and the process is repeated several more times with the addition of a more dilute acid every time. A white precipitate will soon settle and can easily be dried. This is mescaline sulfate (or hydrochloride) and further steps can make it quite pure.

Joseph A. Tucker

From: (RBrennan)
Newsgroups: alt.drugs
Subject: Re: San Pedro
Date: 20 Aug 1994 17:17:04 -0400
Message-ID: <335rsg$>

The species name is Trichocereus pachanoi, it is a columnar Ecuadoran/Peruvian cactus. Some research leads:

Douglas Sharon has written several books and articles on San Pedro Marlene Dobkin de Rios has written articles R.E. Schultes, Plants of the Gods Peter Furst, Flesh of the Gods Peter Stafford, Psychedelics Encyclopedia Donald Joralemon, several articles Backeberg, cactus books Britton & Rose, Cactacae Articles can be found in old issues of Cactus & Succulents Journal, National Cactus & Succulents Journal and Lloydia

There are other articles and books, but this should give you a start

"believe it if you need it; if you don't, just pass it on"


From: (RBrennan)
Newsgroups: alt.drugs
Subject: Re: San Pedro
Date: 1 Sep 1994 02:47:02 -0400
Message-ID: <343td6$>

I'm going to post this once, and only once, so take good notes. All the usual disclaimers apply (this is intended for informational purposes only).

1) Take a 12" to 16" by 3" piece (per one person dose) of San Pedro (Trichocereus pachanoi) and cut it into very thin slices (as if you were slicing bread). Put all of it (skin, spines, everything) into a large stockpot (large stainless steel works very well) and fill with water.

2) Add lemon juice (not much, just a few ounces) to increase the acidity of the water.

3) Turn on the heat and bring to a boil. (The Dictionary of Alkaloids lists the melting point of latent mescaline (that is, un-extracted mescaline) as 35 degrees C and the boiling point is around 180 degrees C). So, keep the pot boiling at a temperature below 180 degrees C.

4) Boil for 8 hours, adding water as necessary.

5) Filter out the cactus pieces by pouring the water from your stockpot into a receptacle, filtering through a nylon stocking.

6) If you want to be really thorough, boil the cactus pieces for another hour and repeat step 5, adding the water from the first boiling to the water from the second boiling. Discard the cactus pieces.

7) Put all the water back into the stockpot. Boil the water (which should be an olive green color) on medium heat down to a greenish-brown tar (this should take from 30 minutes to half an hour).

8) Scrape all the tar out and put it in a flat baking dish.

9) Add a small amount of hot water to the remaining tar/residue in the stockpot and boil this down again. Repeat step 8.

10) Repeat step 9 once or twice.

11) Leave the baking dish out to dry for a day or two.

12) Place the baking dish in the freezer for one week.

13) Take the dish out of the freezer and scrape it out. Cut the tar into aspirin sized pieces and swallow with water over the course of half an hour.

14) Wait for a couple of hours and if nothing happens, you got the wrong cactus.

From: (Jazz92)
Newsgroups: alt.drugs
Subject: Re: San Pedro
Date: 18 Sep 1994 16:00:05 -0400
Message-ID: <35i685$>

According to instructions in Jim Dekorne's "Psychedelic Shamanism," San Pedro can be dried and stored more or less indefinitely in the following way:

Cut off as much of the cactus as you plan to use, freeze it overnight, thaw it (and save the goo that drips out), cut into chunks and put the chunks in a blender or food processor along with the goo saved from thawing, blend into a very fine green "mush", spread the goo thinly on lots of wax paper, let dry until it's not moist at all (drying in the sun is best), and crumble what's left into a powder or flakes. This eliminates all the water, but preserves the good stuff! Store in a mason jar and seal until ready to prepare. Dekorne estimates that 100 grams of dried San Pedro will yield 300 milligrams pure mescaline.

Hope that helps.

The Sputnik Mescaline Pages.

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