What to Know About Mescaline Use

Peyote harvest cactus with mescaline inside it
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Mescaline, also known as 3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine, is a hallucinogenic drug that occurs naturally in certain cacti plants native to the southwest United States, Mexico, and South America. These plants include the peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii), the San Pedro cactus (trichocereus pachanoi), and the Peruvian Torch cactus (trichocereus peruvianus).

Mescaline has been used by Native Americans for thousands of years in religious ceremonies and for the treatment of various physical ailments. Although the use of peyote is illegal in the United States, it is recognized as a sacrament in the Native American Church of North America.

When peyote is used in religious ceremonies, it is exempt from its classification as a Schedule I controlled drug under the 1994 American Indian Religious Freedom Act. This exemption has been an ongoing and contentious issue for many years, although case law has determined that even members of the Native American Church who do not have Native American ancestry can legally use peyote in this context.

Also Known As: Mescaline is also sometimes known as peyote, buttons, mescal, moon, and cactus.

Drug Class: Mescaline is classified as a hallucinogen.

Common Side Effects: People who take mescaline may experience unpleasant side effects including anxiety, rapid heartbeat, tremors, hallucinations, and psychosis.

How to Recognize Mescaline

Mescaline is made from the fruit or button-shaped seeds that grow on the outside of the cactus, which are cut off and dried and then eaten or sliced, boiled, and drunk as a tea. These buttons can also be dried and ground into an off-white powder put into pill capsules.

What Does Mescaline Do?

The effects of mescaline last for 10 to 12 hours, although the use of mescaline as a sacrament takes place over two days. As a hallucinogenic or psychedelic drug, mescaline induces an altered state of consciousness where people experience altered thinking and perception. People often describe this state as enjoyable, euphoric, and dream-like. 

Visual hallucinations are a common effect of mescaline use, and people often describe distortions in their experience of time. 

What the Experts Say

There is little research on mescaline use and its effects. But there have been some limited studies on its frequency of use, the potential for overdose, and effects on mental health.

Research suggests that:

  • Recreational use tends to be uncommon. Although peyote can be used by Native Americans legally for ceremonial purposes, a small proportion uses the substance recreationally. While the research available is not extensive, in one study of 89 Native American adolescents, only 10 (11.2%) reported the illicit use of peyote. Most of them said they had only used illicit peyote once or twice in their lifetime. Those who had used illicit peyote were more likely to report low levels of social support, low levels of self-esteem, and low identification with Native American culture, although they had similar levels of involvement in Native American traditional practices as those who did not use illicit mescaline.
  • Mescaline poisoning is rare. Another study of the California Poison Control System database for the years 1997 to 2008 showed that during that time there were only 31 cases of mescaline or peyote poisoning.
  • Mescaline use is not linked to mental health issues. A study published in PLOS One found that not only was there no link between the use of psychedelic drugs (which included LCD and mescaline) and mental health problems. In fact, the study found that the use of these substances was actually linked to a lower risk of mood disorders, psychosis, anxiety disorders, and psychological distress.

    Other Uses

    There has been limited research on mescaline's potential medical uses. Some speculation suggests that the drug may have used in the treatment of alcoholism and depression, but more research is needed.

    Common Side Effects

    According to one study, commonly reported effects of taking mescaline included:

    • Hallucinations, or seeing or hearing things that are not there or have no actual basis in reality. Although hallucinations are an expected or even desired effect of hallucinogenic drugs, sometimes users find them much more troubling or frightening than expected, and, although users typically know hallucinations that occur in a mescaline intoxicated state are not real, they can cause a lot of confusion and distress.
    • Tachycardia, or rapid heart rate. This was defined as a heart rate of over 100 beats per minute (bpm). While there may not be severe physical consequences of tachycardia for mescaline users, a fast heart rate can sometimes create anxiety in users, which can further speed up heart rate. Users can feel panicky, particularly if they are worried that using the drug is causing heart problems.
    • Agitation, an emotional state of nervousness or nervous excitement, can occur out of nowhere when people take substances such as peyote or mescaline. It can also result from excessive worrying about other symptoms such as whether hallucinations are real or and perceived heart problems. Agitation can quickly turn to panic for people who have taken hallucinogens, which can lead to dangerous agitated behavior such as running off into unsafe environments like city streets with traffic, or rural areas with environmental hazards such as heights, swamps, etc.

      Less common effects included seizures, loss of consciousness, and vomiting.

      While these more serious effects aren't common, it is important for users and potential users to be aware that taking these substances do carry these risks.

      Signs of Use

      Some possible signs that someone might be using mescaline include:

      • Flushed skin
      • Headaches
      • Poor coordination
      • Increased energy levels
      • Lack of appetite
      • Difficulty sleeping
      • Nausea or vomiting 
      • Changes in mood
      • Hallucinations
      • Presence of drug paraphernalia

      Myths and Common Questions

      Mescaline is sometimes referred to as mescal. This is commonly confused with the Mexican alcoholic beverage mezcal, which, despite drug folklore, is made from agave, not a cactus, and does not contain mescaline. The worm that is sometimes found in a bottle of mezcal does not, as often purported, induce a mescaline high because it does not contain the drug either.

      Although mescaline is not a particularly well-known street drug, it holds a special place in drug culture, particularly among psychedelic drug users who may believe that, like magic mushrooms and marijuana, psychedelic cactus are sacred plants and should be revered due to their origination in nature.

      As mescaline is often thought of as a "natural" or "safe" substance, users may be less likely to report effects than with "chemical" substances, instead perhaps choosing to manage the effects of the drug without the support of health services.

      Tolerance, Dependence, and Withdrawal

      There is no current research suggesting that mescaline use leads to physical dependence, psychological dependence, or addiction. Tolerance does take place, however, and tends to occur quite rapidly. Tolerance means that people need to take more of the drug in order to achieve the same effects. With repeated use, tolerance can occur in as little as three to six days.

      Cross-tolerance with other drugs such as LSD and psilocybin may also be possible.  

      How Long Does Mescaline Stay in Your System?

      The amount of time mescaline stays in the system depends on factors such as an individual's metabolism, hydration levels, body mass, and overall health. Mescaline can be detected in urine for between two to three days but can be detected by hair follicle tests for up to 90 days.

      Addiction

      Mescaline does not appear to be addictive, although further research is needed to determine if addiction is possible.

      That said, any substance that distorts the user's perceptions of reality is potentially harmful, as users can more easily misinterpret reality, or have accidents. In terms of toxicity, however, evidence may point to mescaline carrying a lower risk than many other recreational drugs.

      Withdrawal

      Quitting mescaline does not lead to physical symptoms of withdrawal, but people may experience psychological symptoms that lead them to seek out the drug. People sometimes utilize substances such as mescaline to self-medicate, to avoid life's problems, or to cope with stress. Giving up mescaline use may require addressing underlying psychological issues first.

      How to Get Help

      There are no treatments for mescaline use that are currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  

      Treatment for substance misuse and addiction often involves cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a process that addresses the underlying thought patterns that contribute to maladaptive behaviors. It is not uncommon for a combined approach that includes CBT with individual psychotherapy, group therapy, and support groups. Antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and other medications may be used to address the symptoms of underlying psychological conditions.

      Talk to your doctor if you are concerned about your mescaline use. You can also contact SAMHSA's national helpline at 1-800-662-4357 or search their online treatment locator for a referral to mental health services in your area.

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