Last updated: 10 September 2023 & medically reviewed by Dr. Kimberly Langdon
Peyote, which contains the psychoactive hallucinogen mescaline (3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine), is a species of cactus that has been used for centuries for its powerful hallucinogenic effects. But how does peyote affect the brain and what is a mescaline “trip” like?
Hallucinogens such as mescaline are believed to interact with neurotransmitters and neural circuits in the brain that affect mood, sensory perception, hunger, body temperature, and muscle control.
The plant has been used for thousands of years for its hallucinogenic effects caused by the plant's high mescaline content, both recreationally and as part of religious and cultural ceremonies.
As well as the religious dimension of peyote use, Native Americans also use the drug as a means of healing and treatment for mental and physical ailments.
Table of contentsToggle table of contents ↑ ↓
Table of contents:
What is peyote?
Peyote (Lophophora williamsii or Lophophora diffusa) is a species of cactus found in parts of South America and on the southern border of North America. The plant has been used for thousands of years for its hallucinogenic effects caused by the plant's high mescaline content, both recreationally and as part of religious and cultural ceremonies.
How Does peyote affect the brain?
Hallucinogens such as mescaline are believed to interact with neurotransmitters and neural circuits in the brain that affect mood, sensory perception, hunger, body temperature, and muscle control. The main neurotransmitter believed to be affected by mescaline is serotonin.
Like other psychedelic hallucinogens such as ayahuasca or psilocybin, mescaline can cause profound distortions of a person's perceptions and sensory relation to reality. This can include seeing, feeling, and hearing things that aren’t really there. This is what is commonly referred to as a mescaline trip.
The effects of peyote can typically begin to be felt within 30 minutes. Physical discomfort including nausea, chills, and sweating may present themselves during this time and may last until the drug peaks at around the two-hour mark. The hallucinogenic effects of the drug often last for around 12 hours (though maybe longer for some people) and gradually diminish over this period.
Click here to learn more about how long mescaline lasts.
What is a peyote trip like?
The high or trip felt from the mescaline in peyote can vary from person to person and no two people will experience the exact same reactions. Some have likened the trip from mescaline as similar to LSD or magic mushrooms, though less intense and less likely to incur a bad trip or dysphoric symptoms.
Many report powerful visual hallucinations, including distorted shapes, geometric patterns, and fluctuating, intense colors. Synesthesia is also common, where senses such as sound and vision can merge in the user's perception. Those who promote the use of the drug suggest it produces a connection with the universe as well as a floating, dream-like state.
While the drug has notoriety as a spiritual substance, long used by the Native American Church for spiritual journeys, not everyone will have a positive experience with peyote use. Mescaline has the potential to heighten emotions as well as force people to live painful memories in vivid sensory visions. Depending on an individual's mental health history, past trauma, current emotional state, and other co-occurring disorders; a mescaline trip may turn into a bad experience that can be upsetting and traumatic.
A person may also have a negative trip if they are combining mescaline with other substances like alcohol or opioids, and conversely if they have had limited exposure to hallucinogenic substances in the past.
Are there any benefits to peyote use?
Much like ayahuasca, the use of peyote as a means of spiritual practice in ceremonies has been dated back nearly 6,000 years to South American cultures like the Aztecs. While mescaline is classed as a Schedule I controlled substance and therefore illegal, it is legal to be used in religious ceremonies carried out by the Native American Church after the AIRFA bill was passed.
Ceremonies involving mescaline within the Native American Church are carried out by a healer known as a “Roadman” who guides participants through their mescaline trip so they may commune with a universal deity, often referred to as the Creator or Great Spirit.
For the people of the Native American Church, the practice of using mescaline from peyote plants as a way of deepening spiritual connection is a sacred and treasured process. Though not everyone who belongs to the church will take part in these ceremonies, those that do believe the drug will bring them closer to their spiritual leader.
As well as the religious dimension of peyote use, Native Americans also use the drug as a means of healing and treatment for mental and physical ailments. Research into peyote and other hallucinogens as a means of treatment for psychological disorders has progressed significantly in recent years and studies have been conducted with mescaline and other psychedelics in the treatment of conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and dementia.
One of the methods of hallucinogenic treatment that is being explored by scientists and medical professionals is microdosing.