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Mescaline, also known as 3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine, is a hallucinogenic drug that occurs naturally in certain cacti plants native to the southwest United States, Mexico, and South America. These plants include the peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii), the San Pedro cactus (Trichocereus pachanoi), and the Peruvian Torch cactus (Trichocereus peruvianus).
Mescaline has been used by Native Americans for thousands of years in religious ceremonies and for the treatment of various physical ailments. Although the use of mescaline products is illegal in the United States, peyote is recognized as a sacrament in the Native American Church of North America.
When peyote is used in religious ceremonies, it is exempt from its classification as a Schedule I controlled drug under the 1994 American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA).
Also Known As: Mescaline is also sometimes known as peyote, buttons, moon, and cactus.
Drug Class: Mescaline is classified as a hallucinogen.
Common Side Effects: People who take mescaline may experience unpleasant side effects including anxiety, rapid heartbeat, tremors, hallucinations, and psychosis.
How to Recognize Mescaline
When naturally-derived, mescaline is found in the fruit or button-shaped seeds that grow on the outside of the cactus, which are cut off and dried and then eaten or sliced, boiled, and drunk as a tea. These buttons can also be dried and ground into an off-white powder put into pill capsules or smoked with tobacco.
Mescaline can also be produced through chemical synthesis. Mescaline sulfate is the pure form of the drug and appears as a white crystalline material.
What Does Mescaline Do?
The effects of mescaline last for 10 to 12 hours, although the use of mescaline as a sacrament takes place over two days. As a hallucinogenic or psychedelic drug, mescaline induces an altered state of consciousness where people experience altered thinking and perception. People often describe this state as enjoyable, euphoric, and dream-like.
Visual hallucinations are a common effect of mescaline use, and people often describe distortions in their experience of time.
What the Experts Say
There is little research on mescaline use and its effects. But there have been some limited studies on its frequency of use, the potential for overdose, and effects on mental health. Research suggests a few key findings.
Mescaline Poisoning Is Rare
A study of the California Poison Control System database for the years 1997 to 2008 showed that during that time there were only 31 cases of mescaline poisoning.1
Mescaline Use Is Not Linked to Mental Health Issues
A study published in PLOS One found that not only was there no link between the use of psychedelic drugs (which included LCD and mescaline) and mental health problems. In fact, the study found that the use of these substances was actually linked to a lower risk of mood disorders, psychosis, anxiety disorders, and psychological distress.2
Recreational Use Tends to Be Uncommon
Although peyote can be used by Native Americans legally for ceremonial purposes, a small proportion uses the substance recreationally. While the research available is not extensive, in one study of 89 Native American adolescents, only 10 (11.2%) reported the illicit use of peyote. Most of them said they had only used illicit peyote once or twice in their lifetime.3
Those who had used illicit peyote were more likely to report low levels of social support, low levels of self-esteem, and low identification with Native American culture, although they had similar levels of involvement in Native American traditional practices as those who did not use illicit mescaline.
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