By Lauren Smith
Updated: 18 September 2023
Publicly traded Canadian company Lophos Pharma has begun “sustainable” cultivation of the cactus peyote, the source of the psychedelic drug mescaline, in order to sell and further research the plant.
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Peyote cactus cultivation is legal in Canada
Lophos operates a 10,000-square foot “research and cultivation” facility in Napanee, Ontario, where it grows Lophophora williamsii, more popularly known as the peyote cactus. 
While mescaline, the psychedelic compound derived from the cactus, is a Schedule III controlled substance under Canadian law, peyote itself is exempted from prohibition due to its spiritual use by indigenous peoples. 
That loophole means Lophos’ cultivation of the peyote cactus is legal. The company hopes to refine its indoor cultivation techniques and develop and market peyote-based natural health products (NHPs). 
In the wild, peyote cacti can take 16 years to mature and become suitable for harvest. Lophos has developed new cultivation methods to accelerate that growth cycle and is able to harvest in just three years. 
By the summer of 2024, the company hopes to begin selling dried peyote seeds, known as buttons, and the part of the cactus that contains mescaline.  These peyote buttons produce psychedelic effects similar to those induced by LSD and psilocybin (magic mushrooms): euphoria, distorted senses, and visual hallucinations. 
"Our goal is to provide a sustainable source of peyote that is responsibly grown at our licensed facility," Claire Stawnyczy, founder and CEO of Lophos, said. 
Indoor cultivation could protect the endangered peyote cactus and indigenous practices
Lophos is committed to the sustainable and sensitive cultivation of a plant that’s sacred for many indigenous peoples and at risk of extinction.
Peyote is native to southwestern Texas and northern Mexico, lands known as “peyote gardens” where the small, bulbous cacti grow in clusters.  Its hallucinogenic seeds have been used by indigenous peoples in religious ceremonies for millennia and today are central to the rituals of the Native American Church, the largest indigenous religion in North America. 
However, the peyote cactus and its habitat are endangered by land development in south Texas and by unsustainable harvesting and poaching to feed the recent interest of non-native people in psychedelics. 
Lophos believes its sustainable indoor cultivation of the cactus can remove pressure on plant populations in the southwest.
Evan Stawnyczy, Indigenous Affairs advisor for Lophos, told Vice News: “Illegal and improper harvesting of peyote is one of the major reasons that this traditional plant has neared extinction and I'm hopeful that by Lophos providing an ethically sourced peyote option, we can provide a positive example for others while reducing the impact to the Indigenous peyote lands and their traditional caretakers.”
Mescaline could be a treatment for mental health conditions
The company also has a license from Health Canada to produce mescaline for research. Initially, this research will focus on analyzing the chemical compound of mescaline, improving peyote cultivation, and considering what impact different atmospheres and soil content have on the plant and the mescaline it yields. 
But in the future, Claire Stawnyczy wants to research mescaline as a pharmaceutical treatment, specifically for mental health.
Other psychedelic substances, including psilocybin and MDMA, have shown promise as treatments for mental health conditions including depression, PTSD, and even addiction. Lophos believes mescaline could have similar potential but researchers have shied away from it because of controversies about over-harvesting and poaching.
“Most of the money to date has gone into these other [psychedelic] molecules. And so we're further down the line with things like psilocybin and MDMA and DMT than we are with mescaline,” Claire Stawnyczy said. 
While mescaline is “under-researched,” it “has the longest documented use of any natural psychedelic,” she told Truffle Report. “Humans have been using this as a medicine for millennia.”
In particular, Stawnyczy believes mescaline could work in a microdosing type therapy. “Mescaline can interact with the receptors in the brain in a more specific way, by binding to and stimulating the serotonin and dopamine receptors in the central nervous system, than other psychedelics,” she said.
Lophos will consider the indigenous use of peyote in developing it as a pharmaceutical. “When you look at the traditional use of peyote, what people are intending to heal themselves from are things like addiction and depression,” Stawnyczy said.