I. The Basics of Peyote Addiction

This guide explains the effects, trends, and dangers of peyote use and provides an unbiased analysis of the medicinal and behavioral treatment methods for peyote addiction based on current research and publicly available statistics. In some cases, usage statistics are derived from general hallucinogen use, which can include peyote, LSD, DMT, and other psychedelics.

Primary Peyote Dangers

  • Addictiveness: Peyote is typically considered less physically addictive than substances such as heroin or even alcohol. Specifically, stopping the use of peyote doesn’t tend to cause the intense physical need to return to the drug that those addicted to opioids or other drugs might feel. However, peyote can lead to psychological dependence, which can have its own withdrawal issues. In a 2007 study by Nutt et al., various drugs were evaluated to determine their addictive potential. Mescaline was not one of those substances, but the hallucinogen LSD was. LSD only scored 0.3/3.0 as a danger for physical dependence (compare that to scores of 3.0 and 2.3 respectively for heroin and street methadone). However, LSD scored 1.1 for psychological dependence and 2.2/3 for pleasure, bringing its overall addictive score to 1.23. That makes it more addictive than khat, ecstasy, GHB, and solvents. Peyote likely has similar addictiveness.
  • Risk of overdose: Classic hallucinogens such as peyote don’t come with extremely high overdose risks in the traditional sense. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, using increasing amounts of peyote can lead to very unpleasant but not typically life-threatening issues. However, the NIDA does warn that excessive amounts of a hallucinogen can endanger someone’s life in the short-term because they don’t see the world as it really is. That can cause them to take life-threatening actions, including jumping out of a window or acting on suicidal ideations.
  • Unintended side effects: NIDA lists a number of physical side effects for peyote, including flushing, excessive sweating, increases in body temperature, increases in heart rate, and loss of coordination. The Center for Integrated Healthcare notes that more studies need to be done on the long-term impact of peyote outside of religious use, and it states that peyote users can experience flashbacks.
  • Legal risks: Peyote is a Schedule I drug. That means the Drug Enforcement Agency does not consider the substance to have any legal medicinal use. However, the DEA allows for the legal use of peyote in Native American Church ceremonies. Possession or use of peyote outside of those parameters is illegal and can result in prison sentences of up to 10 years (more for subsequent offenders) and large fines.

Peyote Background Information

Derived From Mescaline in the peyote cactus or created synthetically in labs
Ways Used Ingested as a liquid created by chewing or processing the cactus, brewed as a tea from the plant, ingested by eating dried portions of the plant, smoked
Scientific Name Lophophora williamsii
Slang/Street Names for Adderall Mesc, buttons, cactus, bad seed, half moon, P, nubs, tops
How Long in Bodily System The effects of mescaline can last up to 12 hours. It can take much longer for the drug to fully leave the body.
Punitive Legal Measures: Using/Possession Outside of sanctioned religious use by the Native American Church, peyote is considered a Schedule I substance. Someone convicted of possession of mescaline could face up to 20 years in prison, depending on other factors involved in the arrest and whether it was the first conviction for drug possession or not. They might also face fines of up to $100,000.
Punitive Legal Measures: Selling/Distributing Trafficking Schedule I drugs comes with even greater penalties for those who are convicted. Individuals can face fines up to $5 million and prison sentences up to 40 years, depending on what other factors are related to the arrest and the location where the conviction occurs.
DEA Drug Rating Schedule I

II. Signs of Peyote Abuse

Behavioral Symptoms of Peyote Usage and Abuse

How peyote affects the brain

Peyote and other classic hallucinogens cause someone to experience sensations that feel very real but are not based in reality. That can include experiencing sights, hearing sounds, smelling things, or feeling things that aren’t there.

The drugs work by disrupting certain functions in the brain and body, particularly with regard to how serotonin is made and used by neurotransmitters. Serotonin is a natural hormone your body uses to regulate a variety of functions, including muscle control, body temperature, sleep, mood, hunger, and sensory perception. This interruption of normal functioning is what drives the hallucinogenic effect.

Behavioral signs of peyote usage and abuse

Someone who is using peyote may not respond to the world around them as expected because they are not experiencing it in a normal way. They may report seeing, hearing, or feeling things that aren’t there or begin to interact with these “imaginary” things. They may also display distorted thinking that doesn’t follow a logical chain of thought.

During peyote use, someone might demonstrate a mixing of their senses, for example, reporting that they see a certain sound or can hear something visual, such as color. Because they don’t experience the reality around them, they might also lose track of time.

Potential behavioral signs of someone regularly abusing peyote can include:

  • Changes in sleeping or eating habits that are otherwise unexplained
  • Experiencing flashbacks
  • Experiencing hallucinatory episodes even when not using the drug
  • Paranoia or feelings of panic/anxiety
  • Mood swings

Physical Symptoms of Peyote Abuse

How peyote affects the body

Because peyote interrupts the body’s natural serotonin processes, it can have a number of physical effects. It alters the body’s temperature regulation, which can lead to higher-than-normal temperatures and excessive sweating. It can also change how the body regulates heart rate, breathing, and other critical functions.

Early physical effects of peyote

Peyote produces a range of short-term physical and psychological effects. Effects usually begin within 1 to 2 hours of use and continue for up to 12 hours after the drug was ingested.

This table illustrates the possible short-term physical effects associated with peyote.
Short-Term Physical Symptoms
Initial (direct effects of drug, 30 – 60 min.) Most of the effects of peyote begin to occur an hour or so after taking the drug.
Lingering (within an hour of taking the drug) Hallucinations
Increased heart rate
Increased body temperature
Intense sensory experiences
Spiritual experiences
Excessive sweating
Potential feelings of panic
Post-Use (several hours to days after use) All of the lingering effects can last for up to around 12 hours after ingesting peyote

Severe and long-term physical effects of peyote

The long-term effects of peyote use are not fully understood, in part due to a lack of research on this topic. Studies of Native Americans that regularly use peyote as part of religious ceremonies did not indicate any long-term cognitive or psychological issues. However, these results don’t necessarily correlate to those who abuse peyote regularly for recreational or self-medication purposes.

One documented long-term impact of chronic peyote or mescaline abuse is a mental health state that involves episodes of prolonged psychosis. Individuals with previously existing mental health disorders may be at greater impact for this than others.

It’s important to realize that a dose of peyote — enough to drive hallucinogen effects — is around 300-500 mg. But users who consume peyote chronically — every few days — can develop a tolerance that requires them to use increasing amounts of the drug. Long-term use of that much peyote could potentially lead to physical consequences.

This table illustrates the possible long-term physical effects associated with peyote.
Long-Term Physical Symptoms
Casual Sweating
Problems sleeping
Changes in appetite
Uncoordinated movement
Dry mouth
Changes in blood pressure or breathing
Chronic
Including all of the above effects for casual use
Mood swings
Feelings of panic
Paranoia
Psychosis
Hallucination disorder
Withdrawal While peyote doesn’t tend to cause physical withdrawal symptoms, someone who is psychologically addicted to the substance might experience withdrawal symptoms that include:
Depression
Mood swings
Emotional or mental desire to use the drug, especially as an escape from reality

Further Resources

Both the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs offer in-depth information on both the symptoms and treatment of hallucinogen addiction.

III. Peyote Usage Statistics

Use of Hallucinogens in the U.S.

Around 2% of people aged 12 or older report having used peyote at least once in their lifetimes. When asked about mescaline, around 3% of people in that age range say they tried it at least once.

Total use of hallucinogens is a bit higher. More than 6% of people report using hallucinogens at least once in their lifetimes.

Percent of People Reporting Hallucinogen Use Within the Past 12 Months, by Age Group
Age 2015 2016 2017 2018
12 and older 1.8 1.8 1.9 2.0
12 to 17 2.1 1.8 2.1 1.5
18 to 25 7.0 6.9 7.0 6.9
26 and older 0.8 1.0 1.0 1.3

You can see from the table above that hallucinogen use was up slightly from 2015 to 2018 in total, but that adolescent hallucinogen use dropped by around 28% from 2017 to 2018. Use among college-age students remained roughly the same from 2015 through 2018. However, use among adults aged 26 and older increased by around 62% over those years. In 2015, less than 1% of adults aged 26 and older reported using hallucinogen within the past year; by 2018, 1.3% of adults reported doing so.

U.S. Potentially Leads Global Statistics for High School Hallucinogen Use

While overall hallucinogen use — and thus peyote use — has remained relatively low in the United States in recent years, it’s still high when compared to other nations. According to the NIDA, around 6% of high school students in the United States reported using hallucinogens at least once. That compares with 2% of high school students in Europe. It also put the United States at the top of the list of 36 countries in the study.

IV. How to Find Help

Because peyote is a natural substance with recognized spiritual uses, it may be difficult to admit that you are abusing it or have developed an addiction to it. That’s especially true since it doesn’t always come with the same recognizable withdrawal symptoms as substances such as opioids do. However, peyote is a psychedelic with very serious potential consequences, and you can definitely become psychologically addicted to it. The first step in finding help is to understand that truth.

The next step is reaching out for assistance. Talk to your doctor or contact an addiction treatment facility to find out more about your options for peyote treatment. Options can include inpatient or outpatient treatment, and it can be important to find a facility that works with you to develop an individual treatment plan that supports you through rehab and into long-term recovery. It’s also a good idea to ask potential treatment providers if they are experienced in treating those addicted to peyote or other hallucinogens, as various addictions may call for different treatment methods.

Peyote Rehab and Treatment

Staging an Intervention

If you have a loved one who’s struggling with addiction, staging an intervention is often the first necessary step towards sobriety, but it’s important to be strategic and loving in your approach. Even the most well-meaning of interventions can have a negative effect if they aren’t handled correctly.

5 Tips for Staging an Intervention

1. Don’t Do It Alone. A professional interventionist is always the most qualified to guide a successful intervention. Also, rely on non-addict family and friends — especially those who have a close relationship with you or the addict.
2. Research Ahead of Time. It’s best to do plenty of research ahead of time to gather insight on the addiction and how it affects the addict. Also, be prepared with local resources for getting help.
3. Write Out Your Statement. During the actual intervention, emotions will likely be running high, so it’s best to have a statement of how the person’s addiction has impacted you and your relationship with him or her. These statements should be honest yet written from a place of love — no personal attacks.
4. Offer Help. It’s important for everyone attending the intervention to offer tangible help and support as the person works through detox and rehabilitation.
5. Set Boundaries. If the person refuses to seek help and take the next steps outlined, it’s important that they understand that everyone present will end codependent and enabling behaviors.

V. Sources