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Peyote (Lophophora williamsii) is a cactus that contains the hallucinogenic chemical mescaline;[note 1] when animals ingest it, they tend to have an unpleasant experience, and learn to avoid eating the plant in the future. This is because water is a scarce commodity in the American southwest, and many plants have evolved deterrents to prevent animals from eating them and taking their water away.
However, some 10,000 years ago, a new animal species with a much more complicated brain arrived in the southwest. Rather than getting the simple message not to eat the plant, this animal interpreted its experience with the cactus as a supernatural message and incorporated it into its culture. Today, it is an illegal drug with the exception of its sacramental use in Native American and South American religious rituals. Healing of both mental and physical ailments have been claimed. Originally, peyote was only used by indigenous people from modern-day northern Mexico such as the Huichol. However, after Kiowa and Comanche Indians visited Mexico in the late 18th century, peyote would quickly spread throughout the Great Plains and later the entire continent. Eventually, Quanah Parker founded the Native American Church in the face of the U.S.'s attempts to suppress peyote use, and starting with the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, peyote use by members of the church would be tolerated.
It is also possible to use San Pedro cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi) to get a similar effect.
You can buy it legally in the UK — it is readily available in the London borough of Camden and via various online stores — but they'll probably close this loophole soon, so get your arse in gear! In the United States, it is generally only legal for religious purposes and can only be legally purchased from one of the three licensed growers in the country; in some states purchases are further restricted to individuals of verifiable Native American descent only.
- No relation to 'mescal agave' (Agave parryi), which is used to make tequila.
- Peyote: Plant Medicine for the Body, Mind and Soul by Stacy B. Schaefer (April 18, 2017) Chacruna.
- Peyote, peyote.org
- San Pedro cactus. Encyclopedia. Azarius Seedshop.