What Is Mescaline, and What Are the Effects of Use?
Mescaline is a hallucinogenic drug that comes from several different species of cacti, and it can also be made synthetically.
Peyote (Lophophora diffusa or Lophophora williamsii) is a small spiny cactus that grows in the southwestern United States and Mexico. Two other species of cacti, the San Pedro cactus (Trichocereus pachanoi) and the Peruvian Torch cactus (Trichocereus peruvianus) grow in South America. All of these cacti are used as sources of mescaline, and this limits the distribution of natural forms of the drug; however, a synthetic form is also available in capsule form.
Typically, mescaline is obtained from the cacti by taking the “buttons” (small protrusions at the top of the cacti) and chewing them or making a tea. The synthetic option can be taken in pill or capsule form.
Mescaline: A Relatively Old Drug
Mescaline use has a long history. It was used for centuries as a medicinal drug as well as a mind-expanding drug that was considered to have spiritual properties. For example, the Aztecs considered peyote divine and used it frequently. Its use spread from Mexico into North America to Native American groups who routinely used it for medicinal and religious purposes. Even though mescaline is categorized as a Schedule I controlled substance by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), certain Native American groups still have the legal right to use the drug in religious services. Otherwise, the drug is considered to be potentially dangerous due to the DEA’s stance that it has no medicinal purposes and is likely to cause psychological dependence or an abuse syndrome in individuals who regularly use it (although, as outlined below, this stance is somewhat inconsistent with the research regarding mescaline).
As mentioned, mescaline can also be produced in the laboratory synthetically. It was first synthesized in the early 1900s.
According to the books Drugs and Society and Encyclopedia of Drugs, Alcohol & Addictive Behavior, the following is true of mescaline:
- About 5-10 percent of high school seniors admit to mescaline use at least once in their lives Aside from its legal use by a number of Native Americans, the demographic breakdowns of use of mescaline do not appear to be well established in the literature.
- Although the mescaline in peyote is a relatively potent hallucinogen, it is literally hundreds of times less potent than LSD. Some reports indicate that many products that are illegally obtained claiming to be peyote or mescaline are actually other hallucinogens, such as combinations of LSD and PCP. A combination of mescaline and ecstasy was popular in the 1990s and referred to as a “love trip.”
- The most common reactions to taking the drug at high doses are nausea and vomiting. Because of this, it is very rare for individuals to overdose on the drug.
- Mescaline is not a primary choice for individuals who use hallucinogens because of its relative unavailability. Most individuals who regularly use hallucinogens choose drugs like LSD or PCP.
Even though it appears that mescaline is not a major drug of abuse, it is still used by a number of people, mostly younger individuals.
Effects of Using Mescaline
As mentioned above, individuals who use mescaline often cut the buttons off the cactus and then dry them. They are either chewed or soaked in liquids and made into drinks like teas. In some instances, the drug may be smoked. The synthetic drug may be taken in a tablet or powder form.
A person who takes mescaline typically begins to feel the psychoactive effects of the drug within 1-2 hours after ingesting it. General effects include:
- Enhanced and markedly altered sensory and perceptual experiences: These include the perception that colors are much brighter and sounds are much more acute. Other effects include vivid hallucinations; an alteration in one’s perception of time, such that time appears to move much more slowly; an alteration in the perception of space, as if objects have no boundaries; synesthesia (mixed perceptual experiences, such as the perception that one can hear color or see sounds), and distorted perceptions about one’s own body, such that one may feel as if they are weightless or extremely heavy
- Alterations in thinking: One may have extreme difficulty focusing on objects or paying attention to singular aspects of the environment. In addition, one may experience extreme difficulty maintaining a consistent train of thought; very tangential thought processes, such as focusing on trivial aspects of thinking; changes in mood that can be very extreme, such as feeling very happy one moment and then very sad the next moment; anxiety that can be severe; and psychotic thinking due to the hallucinations and potential delusions they can create.
- Obvious issues with judgment and problem solving: Even though individuals feel that their mind has become more open and expanded as a result of the drug, these issues occur.
- Physical effects: These include increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, increased body temperature, changes in breathing rates, difficulties with motor coordination, weakness, dizziness, loss of appetite, extreme sweating, fever, chills, and pupil dilation. As mentioned above, some of the most common effects of using high doses of mescaline are nausea and vomiting.
Abuse of Mescaline
Tolerance to mescaline develops very rapidly. Tolerance occurs when an individual no longer gets the same effects from the typical dose they have been using. The individual finds that as they continue to use a drug or medication, they need more of the drug to get the effects that were once achieved at lower doses. This can result in the potential for abuse and physical dependence for many types of drugs.
No obvious withdrawal syndrome exists. Although tolerance does develop with mescaline use, there is no significant research to suggest that an individual using mescaline regularly will develop withdrawal symptoms or physical dependence. Physical dependence occurs when an individual has developed both tolerance and withdrawal symptoms to a drug. Withdrawal occurs when an individual stops using the drug and experiences a number of uncomfortable physical and emotional symptoms. Some individuals who use mescaline regularly may experience mild feelings of depression, anxiety, and vulnerability to stress after they stop using the drug; however, physical dependence does not appear to be a factor with mescaline use.
- Mescaline has an overall low abuse potential. Despite the DEA’s classification of mescaline, a number of studies have indicated that it has a very low potential for abuse and that individuals who chronically use drugs like mescaline do not have an increased risk for the development of any mental health disorder. In fact, some studies suggest that some individuals who use mescaline regularly, such as Native Americans, are at a decreased risk for the development of mental health disorders.
- Risks are associated with mescaline abuse. Even though mescaline is probably not a high candidate for abuse and does not appear to be associated with the development of physical dependence, there is evidence that use of mescaline can lead to a number of different potential risks. For instance, there are a few recorded cases of birth abnormalities in women who use mescaline while pregnant; there are some cases where individuals overdosed on mescaline and suffered negative physical effects (but fatalities are not common); and a small percentage of individuals who chronically use mescaline may be at risk to develop a disorder known as hallucinogen-induced persistent perception disorder.In this disorder, individuals experience the effects of being under the influence of the drug even though they have not taken the drug (commonly referred to as a flashback). These experiences can be very disconcerting and detrimental to one’s wellbeing.
While mescaline is considered to be a drug that has a low potential for abuse, this does not by any means indicate that it cannot be abused. The American Psychiatric Association lists a specific category for hallucinogen use disorder, which includes the abuse of or addiction to mescaline. Individuals who develop hallucinogen use disorders typically:
- Use hallucinogens more often or for longer periods than they originally intend to use them
- Spend quite a bit of time either using hallucinogens or recovering from hallucinogen use
- Continue to use hallucinogens despite experiencing negative ramifications associated with their use, including issues at work, in their personal relationships, and at school; failing to meet important obligations in life; or experiencing negative psychological or physical effects
- Repeatedly use hallucinogens when it is dangerous to do so
- Develop significant tolerance to hallucinogens
Individuals also often mix hallucinogens like mescaline with other drugs of abuse, such as alcohol, narcotic pain medications, or even stimulants. This can result in a very complicated situation for the person.
Individuals who have developed hallucinogen use disorders require the same treatment approach as individuals who have any type of substance use disorder.
This means that these individuals should ideally be enrolled in a professional substance use disorder treatment program, maintain abstinence, participate in support groups that foster recovery, and engage themselves in a long-term program of recovery.