Mescaline is a hallucinogenic and psychedelic substance found in the peyote cactus. You can also find it in many other Central and South American cacti species. It is a so-called alkaloid from the group of phenethylamines. The effects are similar to those of psilocybin, LSD, and DMT. Other names for mescaline are also “peyote” and “buttons.”
You find mescaline mainly in cacti, e.g., in the peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii), which is small and rounded; in the Peruvian thorn cactus, which in turn appears elongated, and in the San Pedro (Echinopsis pachanoi), which looks like the thorn cactus. There is also (semi-)synthetically produced mescaline, sold in powder or capsule form.
Name Active ingredient content (dried)
Peyote cactus 1 to 7%
San Pedro cactus 0.1%
Peruvian Torch 0.8%
(Semi)synthetic mescaline (powder, capsule) strongly fluctuating active ingredient content.
One can obtain mescaline by extraction from the respective cacti or produces it synthetically.
Types of mescaline cacti
Although there is a whole range of alkaloid-containing cacti, here you can find information only about those cacti that have mescaline as the main active ingredient.
Peyote ranks first in active alkaloid concentration with values between 1 and 7 % (dry). The peyote is probably the most well-known mescaline-containing cactus, also listed under the Latin term Lophophora williamsii. The cactus has a button-like appearance and grows relatively slowly. Its color is as greenish-blue or gray-blue. Where other cacti have spines, peyote has wool-like tufts that sprout from aureoles scattered about the cactus. It usually flowers with a single, but often with multiple flowers with pink leaves. These have light yellow anthers; these contain pollen. Between March and May, you can find these flowers on peyote. The plant grows from central Mexico to northern Texas. The indigenous peoples have been using it since the pre-Columbian era.
In contrast to the peyote cactus, the San Pedro or Trichocereus pachinoi (Echinopsis pachinoi) proliferates. Its appearance is columnar. Small spines grow along the aureole with clusters; 7 to 9 ribs spread out there. The San Pedro can grow up to four meters in height and produce a large amount of mescaline. It only blooms at night and has large, white flowers. First, flower pods appear on the stems; a few nights later, these flowers burst before regressing into the fruiting body after another two nights. Multiplication is by seeds; new plants can sprout from fallen San Pedro.
The Peruvian Torch or Trichocereus peruvianis features long, very sharp spines that fade from the base to its tip. Its growth is similar to the San Pedro cactus; under the same conditions, this is also very fast-growing; however, the two differ significantly in their effects, which are much more intense in the torch. It also has a more extensive scope; its flesh is gray-green.
One can consume mescaline in a variety of ways. The cacti are often cut into thin slices and then – dried or fresh – preferably eaten on an empty stomach or made into tea. The dried bark of the San Pedro cactus is often ground into a powder, as it otherwise tastes highly bitter. Since the psychedelic effect when smoking the cacti is much weaker and scratches the throat, smoking is not a common form of consumption.
The effect of mescaline depends on the cactus used. But also, among other things, the dose amount, the habituation effects, and last but not least, the set (psychological and physical conditions of the consumer) and setting (environment).
The onset of effect and duration
The onset of action when taking mescaline is about 1 to 2 hours. A high lasts about 5 to 8 hours; other sources even speak of 6 to 9 hours, with after-effects of up to 12 hours. The maximum effect sets in after about 3 hours. With (semi)synthetic mescaline in powder form, one can expect the onset of action after just 45 to 60 minutes.
Dosage and detection time
The active ingredient content depends on the cacti’s age, cultivation, and growth location and varies greatly. A psychedelic dose of the substance is around 200-400 mg or 3-5 mg/kg body weight. A hallucinogenic effect begins at about 20-35 g of dried peyote cactus. In the case of the Peruvian torch (dried), this corresponds to 30 – 45 g; 8 – 10 g for powdered San Pedro cactus.
One can detect mescaline in the blood for about 12 hours; in urine for 1 to 4 days.
Spectrum of efficacy
Mescaline users report a psychedelic-visionary, often ecstatic state accompanied by feelings of happiness. They also often speak of hallucinatory visions, dream images, a change in the sense of self, or feelings of self-dissolution and intense euphoria. The consumption of mescaline is also fundamentally associated with a temporal, spatial, and more powerful perception with all senses, such as intensive color vision. Also, it is not uncommon for synaesthesia to occur.
Nausea and partial vomiting are common even before the psychedelic effect sets in, blamed on the bitter taste. Hyperactivity, inner restlessness, and increased heart rate are typical signs of mescaline intoxication. Dry mouth, increased salivation, enlargement of the pupils, and a change in body temperature are also specific short-term side effects. There is often a reduced feeling of hunger during the intoxication, or when the effect wears off, consumers report cravings for sweets. Headaches the day after, anxiety, bad trips, and panic attacks are not uncommon symptoms of mescaline use.
Even a single consumption can trigger substance-induced psychoses or persistent perceptual disorders. So-called “horror trips” were also reported. However, if one takes the set (mental and physical condition of the user) and setting (environment of the user) into account, it is significantly reduced.
A 2013 retrospective cross-sectional study in the United States examined a statistical association between medical treatment for mental or psychiatric problems within the past year and at least one lifetime use of mescaline. There was no statistically significant connection. The authors assume that taking mescaline at least once during life is not an independent risk factor for mental problems in the past year.
Intense, sometimes devastating interactions cannot be ruled out if one combines mescaline with other drugs. The resulting risks are much higher than with mono consumption. The individual effects of the substances can be increased but also weakened. The effects are unpredictable; completely unexpected effects can occur. The point at which the different substances enter can also happen at other times and last for various lengths of time; Interactions may thus occur with a time delay.
Mescaline + alcohol
Nausea and vomiting are known effects of combining mescaline and alcohol.
Mescaline + hallucinogens
The effects of mixed consumption of mescaline and hallucinogens (e.g., cannabis, LSD, mushrooms) are entirely unpredictable. Hallucinogenic effects may overlap or are even more intense as a result. There is an increased risk of anxiety and so-called horror trips.
Mescaline + MAOIs
A particular risk is the combination of mescaline with MAO inhibitors. When one consumes mescaline and MAO inhibitors, it can seriously impact the circulatory system. An intensification and a prolongation of the effect are quite possible, to a significant and unpredictable extent. There is an incalculable risk. If taken simultaneously, it can even lead to life-threatening serotonin syndrome. These so-called MAO inhibitors can be found, for example, in some antidepressants, amber, passion flower, and nutmeg.
According to some internet sources, mescaline is not supposed to cause addiction, even with repeated use. One speaks of the so-called anti-addiction function: after four or five days of usage of mescaline, the substance loses its effect. However, tolerance can develop.
In 1888, Louis Lewin wrote about peyote. He extracted and examined this cactus named after him “Anhalonium Lewinii” (Lophophora williamsii). However, the first total synthesis and structural elucidation succeeded in 1919 by Ernst Späth.
In the drug scene of the 1960s, mescaline (alongside LSD) was widely used as an intoxicant.
Many psychotherapists and researchers turned to research on mescaline in the 1950s and 1960s when the substance was still legal. In 1967 it was made illegal in Germany with the Fourth Narcotics Equality Ordinance and subject to the narcotics regulations of the Opium Act. A worldwide illegalization occurred in 1971 through the UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances.
In Austria and Germany, living cacti containing mescaline, e.g., Lophophora williamsii, or cacti of the cactus genus Echinopsis (formerly Trichocereus) are not listed in the Narcotics Act. It means trading and possession for botanical purposes are permitted. However, the trade and possession of prepared plant parts to use intoxicants are illegal due to the mescaline it contains – handling it without special permission is, therefore, a punishable offense.
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